The past week, I accompanied Clare and Marie, the WYA North America Director and Director of Operations respectively, to a high school in the city for the school’s first WYA Chapter meeting of the year. There we met students who are interested in learning about WYA and becoming more involved in our organization. We saw eager and attentive faces as Clare talked about the origins of WYA and the importance of recognizing and promoting the human dignity of each person in all aspects of life. The girls expressed interest in discussing issues such as domestic abuse and other pertinent issues to society today. A number of them even wanted to get started on Track A training! It was truly wonderful to see such young and passionate students become a part of our WYA family.
Our trip to the WYA high school chapter reminded me of my own students that I had mentored back in Vancouver, Canada. For almost 3 years, I was involved in a mentorship program which catered to newly immigrated students and provided a safe and welcoming environment for them to adjust to their new life in Canada.
These students are usually from disadvantaged communities and are at risk of suffering abuse or becoming targets for recruitment into notorious gangs in the city. Majority of them immigrated as part of the Caregiver Program wherein their mothers moved to Canada at least 5 years prior to the children. More often than not this results in an estranged relationship between the mother and the child when they are reunited again in Canada. Our mentorship program aims to help these youth adjust to their environment and feel that they are accepted and that they belong. As mentors, we serve as their big brothers and big sisters whom they can trust. We have weekly workshops that touch on topics such as self-esteem, goal-setting and other similar themes. There are also tutorials where we give them academic guidance and help them improve their language skills. In this way, we hope to nurture an environment for these kids where they would feel that their voices are heard and valued. Through programs like these, these students can be kept off the streets and in their classrooms and homes.
In the years that I spent in the mentorship program, I heard multiple stories of students wishing they had their parents, especially their mother, with them during the turbulent moments of their adolescence. Until today, they struggle to reconcile with their parents despite being reunited in Canada. It saddens me to hear of these youth growing up without a mother and a father figure to guide them in their development. With 2014 declared as the Year of the Family by the UN, this brings to light the importance of the family as the backbone of society. It is becoming more challenging for families to fulfill their numerous responsibilities. Similar to these students, families struggle to overcome poverty and provide for the younger and older members. Aside from financial responsibilities, the intergenerational bonds that sustained families in the past are becoming weaker in the present day. The focus on the family by the UN this year has come at a very appropriate time. Governments, civil society and the private sector must all contribute in supporting and addressing these concerns faced by the modern day family.
World Youth Alliance aims to contribute to this dialogue through our different programs particularly the Emerging Leaders Conference (ELC). This year, the different WYA regions have decided to focus on different aspects of the family as the theme for the ELC. In the North America region, this year’s conference centers on the theme “Mad Men, Modern Family: Examining the Role of Men in Social Development.” We aim to examine the role of fatherhood, family and the contemporary myths about manhood and masculinity. Through a series of lectures, discussions and panels, young leaders will learn about the pressing issues of today and gain the skills necessary to directly impact their schools and communities. Interactive forums and activities will provide participants with the opportunity to share their ideas and build networks with other youth leaders from across North America.
As a fundamental unit of society, the family ensures the sustainability of civilization and culture. It takes on essential tasks in the care of all, especially the weakest and the most vulnerable. We must all do our part in ensuring that the sanctity of the family remains protected and upheld for generations to come.
To learn more about the WYA North America ELC you can visit: http://wya.net/elcnorthamerica
By Pauline Go, an intern for WYA North America