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Americas' Youth: a Reflection of Ourselves and a Glimpse into the Future.

Earlier this summer I was invited to address a youth assembly hosted by an international organization based here in Washington DC. As ] walked into the auditorium of a few hundred students, I couldn't help but notice the diversity in the faces that stood to greet me. Students from across the Americas were here to discuss common issues. In this one room was a glimpse into the future of our hemisphere.

There are approximately 151.9 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 living in the Americas, about 17 percent of the total population of the region. If we include everyone in the hemisphere under the age of 24, this group is collectively about 42.4 percent of the population of the Americas. Any group with such a significant presence can't be ignored in our societies and economies, or for that matter in the average election or at the average institution. If it were a matter of a poll, politicians would be courting them, seeking their vote and ensuring their voices are heard and their opinions factored in. When it comes to the youth of the Americas however--the very future of our hemisphere--the tendency to overlook this group is real.

Millions of youth across the hemisphere continue to be voiceless. Many in Latin America and the Caribbean are still being raised in homes where the average income is less than one US dollar a day. Hundreds of thousands don't know where their next set of clothes or tomorrow's meal will come from: millions are confronting sexual violence, insecurity, uncertainty and unemployment. Others by contrast, are growing up in a world heavily influenced by advances in information and communication technology. Cyberbullying, isolation, and alienation are everyday challenges. Fierce competition in everything from education and employment to sports defines their lives from early on. The Western Hemisphere is the most unequal region in the world. It's a place that promises more for our youth, but recently has delivered less. The recent economic slowdown has increased pressure on this group. Police divisions across the hemisphere are now reporting an increase in suicide attempts, crimes committed by youth, and murders of persons within this age group.

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The diverse issues affecting our youth must become even more of a priority for governments in this hemisphere. While there is no single or straightforward solution to the range of issues they face, there are basic concepts which I believe can make a difference. My personal view is that our leaders must work harder to facilitate more frequent and meaningful mechanisms for engagement with youth, not just in terms of dialogue, but also in terms of concrete policy-making and implementation. The views and needs of some 42 percent of the hemisphere must be heard and reflected in everything from national budgets to legislation.

Governments must also be willing to allocate more resources to youth related issues, starting with comprehensive, relevant, and reformed education systems. The days of executing a one-dimensional approach to basic education are far behind us. With competition for education and employment at all time highs, governments must be willing to invest in new education initiatives, focusing on trade, marketing, and technology. The creative industries hold significant untapped potential. Partnerships with countries and institutions must be sought out where necessary. New industries will be born out of new talent. We must lay the foundation now for generations to come.

During the 2008 General Assembly in Medellin, Colombia, themed "Youth and Democratic Values," OAS member states renewed their commitment to the hemisphere's youth by resolving to "foster among the youth of the Americas the values set forth in the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter, so as to strengthen their political, social, and economic participation in the framework of a democratic society."

Leaders of this hemisphere must remember this pledge in their policy making. It is our responsibility to instill democratic values in the next generation of leaders and ensure the survival and growth of our democracies. Our youth, regardless of income bracket or social standing, must be engaged, included, and empowered. If the goals of democracy, peace, security, and stability in our world are to be sustainable, then the generation of leaders to come must recognize and embrace these values early on. Concepts of the common good and the collectivity of societies must be understood, and aspirations toward leadership must be fostered. Some segments of our youth population must be taught about the challenges of poverty, social exclusion, inequality, and injustice; others must be given hope that opportunities exist and that change is possible.

Recently, I travelled to New York to meet with a group of youth from Haiti who had flown in for a conference on Haiti's future. Some in the group were still living in tents; others had lost loved ones in the earthquake of 2010 and in the hurricanes that followed. A thirteen-year-old girl sat next to me at the head table looking out to an audience of "stakeholders." Her hands trembled for a moment under the table and her voice wavered as she began to speak. For a second, she paused and closed her eyes. In the moments that followed, one of the most eloquent plans for reform and reconstruction that I have ever heard, from either adult or child, was delivered. This is the generation of leaders that I look forward to: a generation that knows its environment, understands its challenges, makes a plan, and is ready to work. This is the generation of youth that I hope will move forward with conviction and strength to lead the Americas and make it a better place to live.

by OAS Assistant Secretary General Albert R. Ramdin
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Title Annotation:OAS YOUTH
Author:Ramdin, Albert R.
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2011
Words:1015
Previous Article:Iguazu.
Next Article:Towards Inclusive Regional Development with New Youth Leadership.
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