Youth Services Today… Are We Wired?

Chris Valentino sdb

It is always a sticky situation fraught with great risk when trying to jot down a few points on a topic which is close to so many hearts, especially more so when speaking about ‘the category’ for our existence, moving and being as Salesians. However, since this opportunity has been accorded me, I willingly seize it to put forth what I perceive as the direction our youth work must now take… considering the fact that very soon the PC2010 will be officially upon us, if not already!

Thinking of the emergent developments in the world today and particularly their impact on the youngsters of today, I personally feel that it is high time we begin thinking on a possible course of action with set targets, plausible solutions and newer mindsets. A clear policy, a coordinated effort, a process of animation with appropriate settings and the inevitable outcomes need to be urgently studied and implemented. The need of the hour is to ask ourselves: What makes an effective youth worker and how could I help the young people to enjoy their life, while raising their expectations and aspirations?

The world of today is caught in a flux… youngsters are in a transition phase… traditional models of security and value are fast collapsing in a massive heap. There is a perceivable mismatch between established models of transition and the actual transition that is taking place… attitudes, characteristics, experiences are all going in for a toss! Significant socio-economic changes coupled with political unrest are throwing up increasing uncertainty, unpredictability and risk. The shaping of young minds is no longer what it used to be a few years ago. There is now a strong-emphasis on the ‘live-earn-spend-save-spend-die’ lifestyle which only adds, increase pressures and expectations. The speed at which things are happening is, well, just to use the phrase that most youngster use these days – awesome! Perhaps ‘our icebergs are melting?’

Hence, my young friends are indeed living in a changing world. It is changing for me and it is definitely changing more for them. Each new day brings newer discoveries, newer innovations, newer possibilities of living than did their parents and elders. The things that matter are career, doing well, earning money (however that may be), having a steady income, developing friendships (includes one-night stands, no compulsion-quick-fixes), and most importantly just enjoy, party, live (if not, die instantly)! Invented identities, virtual selves, online personalities… it can go on and it can only get more confusing for those among us who are not willing to catch up!

Hence, as a youth worker, as an educator I would want to create pathways, an environment where identities are respected, where there is health, well being, physical and emotional safety. I would look at a paradigm shift, a perspective shift, an intervention model that would seek to understand, empathise and ultimately help.

Perhaps our ability to bridge the gap or narrow the divide between our policy v/s our practices is the only answer. Perhaps all the while we have followed the ‘top-down’ intervention model… the time has now come to implement the ‘bottom-up’ interventional model. We can’t simply go on with our dichotomous models of functioning and educating. Or perhaps we may need to combine these models, and thereby effectively affect our youngsters while empowering, encouraging and guiding them.

In this respect, when we look at the Youth Ministry in our province it is not only or it need not only be ‘youth-fests,’ ‘altar-servers rallies’ or some type of gathering whereby we can pride ourselves or pat ourselves, feeling elated that we have achieved some success! We ought to look beyond these, far beyond mere gathering of youngsters for some game or activity. What are the processes we have evolved or what are the interventions that we have pioneered or are we just flogging some dead horse as youth work?

A few pointers would help:
§ Every institute must engage in introspection, with regard to specifics such as target group, projectible outcomes, scalable deliverables and the changing perspectives.
§ Youth Development ought to be our priority. Perhaps it needs to be completely unshackled from its confused, unclear, chaotic and oftentimes vague processes. Clear strategies and the pertinent methodologies need to be defined.
§ At some level, the young people with and for whom we work need to be taken into consideration. We have to involve our parents, teachers, etc. to create systems for implementation and education, beginning with commensurate training and processes which will include our young people right from the planning stages to the final outcome stage.
§ Eminently sustainable activities that will lead to livelihood skills and better livelihood need to be focused on.

Perhaps the positive form of our prevention system is promotion. Promotion can be the new prevention if we understand it as the effort to advance positive youth development. Can we not promote wellness, optimization of development assets? Can we not promote the essential qualities of life: bonding, resilience, life-competencies, self- determination, self-efficacy, clear positive identity, belief in future, recognize pro-social involvement, spirituality? We are called to preventive intervention, which in a newer parlance could mean promotive intervention. Why not? New forces are emerging… let us look at new beginnings, structural changes and perspective shifts. Whether it be the categorized aspects of Higher Education, Catechesis, Human Rights, Neighbourhood Apostolates and the Young-at-Risk or the broad spectrum of youth in general, we definitely need a rethink!

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