Schoolchildren who congregate at street corners are bored and looking for excitement
Stabroek News
February 13, 2004

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Dear Editor,

Your article "School children 'maced' on Croal Street" has brought to the fore a serious problem in our society manifesting itself as most things do, in the main commercial areas of the city. (7/2/2004). Interestingly, this seems to be going on almost unnoticed by the appropriate authorities and organisations that work with our youths.

The large congregation of school children at the corners of some of our busier streets, every afternoon, but especially, on weekends, and their exuberant behaviour signal the urgent need for careful analysis of the matrix of the value and reasons for such activities, and how we could help ensure the integrity of our city. While there is no clear line of demarcation, it seems to be reasonable to suggest that the youths who hangout at these places appear to be individuals who face housing situations and economic problems. This provides for a "having-things-in common" arrangement, which allows for a distinct lifestyle with distinct interests, motives, values and perceptions. This gives those, engaged in such activities a sense of belonging and a feeling of "weness", which becomes part of one's social identity.

It is an observable fact that these kinds of arrangement serve as a good recruitment source to delinquent gangs, and other undesirable groups. And yet, we have not noticed any social worker or youth leader working at these "liming spots." This is the regular learning environment for those youngsters. Here is where they learn "road sense" or how to be smart, and survive the vicissitudes of life.

These groups are characterized by certain features, which inform the perception, attitude and behaviour of their members.

One such feature is the preoccupation with trouble. "Staying out of trouble as well as getting into trouble" often keep the groups together. There is this sense of being good at doing bad things or moving together to avoid trouble, and staying clear of getting into confrontation with the law. Members are so preoccupied with trouble that they really hardly have time to think about achieving any success in life. In a sense, it perpetuates poverty among certain segments of our population, and robs Georgetown of the usefulness and energy of some of our young people.

Another feature is the question of toughness, which means for those who are involved, physical power, physical strength, fighting skills and ability. These are influenced by their heroes, in sport, law-enforcement, and romance. These are underscored by the wearing of certain clothes, hairstyles and tattoos. Sometimes, girls and boys must show this quality of toughness by committing brave acts, even in defiance of the law and authority, and accept punishment if necessary, without showing any remorse.

The tough young man sees women as objects of conquest, not showing any "softness" or sensitivity or sentimentality. This aspect of it is given an extra boost by some of the songs with lyrics that seem to all but promote the disrespect of women. We suspect that this was one of the reasons why the war on bad manners was declared by the authorities. Even his affection for his friends is expressed through heavy teasing, jokes and "show off" aggressive behaviour.

The thing is that this kind of perception of toughness seems to be influenced by what is offered through the mass media. Frankly, some of the shows aired on some of our television channels are really not good for our children but there is nothing else for them to watch. Local programmes to inculcate good citizenship are extremely inadequate, and largely unattractive.

Some time ago, the Mayor suggested that there should be a course included in the school curriculum to teach students how to care for their environment, and the city. Indeed, this could go a far away to help our young people to take responsibility for the state of their surroundings. Then, too, many of these boys are raised in matricentric homes that lack a consistent male figure with whom they can identify and from whom they can learn the basic essentials of the male role.

Then, there is the question of excitement. Because many of these youths are deprived of many things in life, partially through poor economics and an indifferent attitude to life, they seek excitement in a variety of activities.

Apart from compensating for this lack with the mass media, music and dance, they look for new experiences in the form of "kicks" and delinquent or semi-delinquent activities. This is the main reason why our school children take to the street corners, to riding minibuses around the city, preferring those with boom-boom boxes. This is why they would rather stay on the streets and "gaff' until the setting of the sun. This is why they are preoccupied with trouble.

This is why, too, they litter the corners with the peelings and chewings of sugar cane, the wrappings from sweets, and empty food boxes and beverage cans.

They also sit on the rails of city bridges, and encumber other facilities.

It appears as though many of these youths have left their future to fate, and so feel exonerated of guilt for any negative actions. A way of accepting laziness, "poor values," and the rejection of deference of gratification.

Clearly, these things have serious implications for the development of our country. It is not that similar situations do not exist in other countries. But Guyana, with a relatively young population of less than a million people can ill-afford to allow this kind of thing. Already we are alarmed at the truancy rate, and other negative conditions.

Worse is the worrying increase in the incidence of HIV/AIDS. This presents certain challenges to our society. First, to the educational institutions. To continue to be alert and develop programmes and activities that will tackle the variety of complex situations affecting our school children. Guidance, counselling, success planning and allied programmes should be emphasized. Perhaps there is need to look again at some of the reading material used in our schools; and to make them more relevant to our local communities. Perhaps, social organisations and community-based groups, can use the "hangout" areas as fields to sow the seeds of good values, good citizenship and high standards.

Health and social workers can use the opportunity to talk to our youths about the seriousness of things like HIV/AIDS and other STDs, the importance of a healthy life style, and the need to take wise decisions to achieve success in life.

Maybe, these groups could be organized by providing some designated place or places, where these youths can hang out under the supervision of law-enforcement agents, and other responsible individuals in our society, a situation that would allow this energy to be managed in a way that will help our society, and protect the lives of our young people, while we win their hearts and minds, prodding them along to do the right thing.

There should be more recreational and other facilities. Here is where the private sector and other concerned businesses can join in partnership with the City Council to do their bit. Investment in this area today can save Georgetown from many social and other problems tomorrow.

The City has been working with the Lotto Company and other organisations to rehabilitate some of our playgrounds. However, there is still much more to be done, and we would certainly welcome any such assistance, from groups and individuals, who see the need for such facilities, in our Capital City.

We could no longer turn a Nelson's eye to this increasingly worrying problem without doing our youths and Georgetown a great disservice.

Yours faithfully,

Royston King,

Public Relations Officer,

Mayor and City Council