Statement by CARICOM Chairman, President Chandrikapersad Santokhi of Suriname, on International Youth Day 2022

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As the Lead Head for Community Development, Cultural Cooperation (including Culture, Gender, Youth, and Sport), and Industrial Policy, I feel compelled today, on International Youth Day 2022, to bring a message to my fellow CARICOM citizens. This year’s theme is “Inter-generational solidarity: Creating a world for all ages.”

I repeat Secretary General Guterres’ message to join hands across generations to break down barriers and work as one to achieve a more equitable, just, and inclusive world for all people. As a region, when we are self-reflective, we have not always reached across generations to give youth a voice in the world we are creating.

CARICOM Chairman, President Chandrikapersad Santokhi of Suriname

But we have to remain optimistic, and when I look at Grenada, I see the youngest leader in our Region now have a seat at the political table.

And this is all the more important because we cannot look at the world we created and maybe realize that some of the things we did, do not leave our planet, our ecological systems, and our respective direct environments in the best shape. And then we say the youth will solve the problems! No, we will have to do this together. But young people may be more adept and ready to use the tools my generation created and adapt them to create a better world for us all. And we will have to do this all together.

So, to our young people and future, I want to say that maybe my generation and generations before mine could not consistently facilitate your needs, talents, and potential. But I commit, on behalf of the Community, to protect you and have you harness your potential and creative minds and youthful energy.

As stated so passionately by the Dean of the CARICOM Youth Ambassadors’ program during the official proceedings of the 43rd Heads of Government meeting in Suriname last month, and I quote, “new and recurring challenges continue to impact the lives of the Region’s youth.”

In keeping with the theme of this year’s Youth Day, we must not only recognize that regional youth development is a multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral challenge, we must face it using equally relevant multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral strategies. We must also acknowledge that we must break down the barriers that keep us from working together across generations, preventing our people from reaching their full potential and comprehensively contributing to their Community.

At the opening ceremony of the 43rd Regular CARICOM Heads of Government Meeting at the beginning of last month in Paramaribo, CARICOM Secretary-General Dr. Carla Barnett stated the following: “A major consideration, in going forward, is striving to make a difference in the lives of our youth. Sixty percent of the population of the Caribbean Community is under the age of 30. Our young people are central to our efforts at building a sustainable and resilient society. We must, therefore, never cease in our attempts to create opportunities to develop and utilize their creativity and innovative skills, and to explore avenues to facilitate youth involvement in planning and preparation for the future.”

As CARICOM chair, I wish to lead the discussions on how to ensure we as regional leaders do so. It is against this background; that, as Chair, I am confident in making the following proposals to the CARICOM Heads of Government. Some of my suggestions might seem unconventional, but we live in unconventionally challenging times. As I have often mentioned, we can’t continue with the business-as-usual approach.

Therefore, I propose the following in addition to endorsing the recommendations made by the Dean of the CARICOM Youth Ambassador Program during our last Heads meeting.

1. In alignment with Commonwealth nations, as they decided at the last CHOGM meeting in Rwanda that the year 2023 be named the year of youth, we within the Caribbean Community should also recognize the importance and the significance of joining the Commonwealth in establishing the year 2023 as the Year of Youth, making extra efforts and resources available next year to make a considerable leap in our youth development process regionally

2. I underscore the necessity that the CARICOM Secretariat convene a Special Council of Human and Social Development (COHSOD) on youth development to take forward matters concerning the reform of the CARICOM Youth Ambassadors Program and the CARICOM Youth Development Action Plan (CYDAP). In addition, I propose that the Heads of Government commit to and support organizing a special regional summit on youth development no later than the end of this year co-hosted by Suriname. If we take the future of our Region seriously, we need to tend to the present with a serious sense of urgency. Hence my push for making the special summit on youth a reality by December 2022.

3. Encourage Member States to swiftly provide full engagement of their respective technocrats across the public sector in the consultations to finalize the reconstruction and revision of the CYDAP based on a Result-Based Management Framework.

4. I ask all-Member States and Associate Members to join together in making a significant financial contribution to the CARICOM Youth Development Fund. This regional fund will be instrumental in getting from rhetoric to action.

5. I also advocate restructuring the Youth Development department within the Directorate of Human and Social Development within the CARICOM Secretariat. We must ensure the availability of all the needed financial, technical, and human resources to ensure the planning, implementation, and monitoring of our regional youth policy spearheaded by this department.

6. Youth development is a multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral regional issue that needs a similar approach for us to succeed in guaranteeing CARICOM’s future-proofing. Therefore, as Chairman, I respectfully but urgently ask all relevant community stakeholders for their serious consideration in endorsing and adopting our proposals.

In keeping with the theme of this year’s youth day of Inter-generational Solidarity, we need to acknowledge:

  • The Inter-generational gaps in the relatively slow adoption of new innovative technology by generations born before the so-called 4th industrial revolution, the information age. We must also ensure that we facilitate all current generations to use new ways of living a more healthy, inclusive, and prosperous life. Educational opportunities for our elders are crucial, and our young people can support and assist earlier generations by becoming patient teachers.
  • We must also incorporate policies to address the ever-widening regional and intergenerational knowledge gap that continues to haunt our Community when facing the reality of systemic dropouts and the brain drain exodus out of the Caribbean.
  • If we want to meet the objectives of the SDGs, we will need a well-educated, passionate labor force equipped to handle CARICOM’s current and future needs.
  • We also need to make our young people and other generations even more aware and actively involved in mitigating environmental risks that threaten the very existence of all ages.
  • Inter-generational solidarity has proven to be a valuable element in our recent past in international cooperation concerning global crises like the Corona virus pandemic. Working together across generations will be needed to tackle worldwide challenges that have unintended consequences for everyone on the planet.
  • Countless families, communities, towns, districts, cities, and states have lost loved ones in every generation still alive in the world today. Thus losing inter-generational knowledge, history, skills, and often just the opportunity to experience the pure joy of being together.

We have a rich culture within the Caribbean of caring for the elderly just like they took care of us when we were just children. It is that intrinsic love and sense of responsibility towards one another that is the binding factor and one of the fundamental pillars that make up the essence of our societies within CARICOM. This is also a testament to the example we set and can teach from that will always have the potential to make the rest of the world learn from our indigenous habits of compassion and solidarity that is engrained in our DNA as CARICOM citizens.

I call on my generation, the generations before me, and the generations after me to keep coming together to align on a different way of minding the business of our youth and our future in inter-generational solidarity while creating a world for all ages to prosper.

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