Onyka Barrett – a partner in youth development and contributor to 50/50 Youth – shares a perspective in the following SPOTLIGHT on the nexus between volunteerism and youth participation. Onyka Barrett is the Regional Advisor/Programme Manager for National Volunteering (Caribbean) at Cuso International.
Volunteerism: A vehicle for Mobilizing Youth Participation
Social integration, poverty alleviation and employment are at the heart of people’s participation in their societies (UNV 2011). As such a key dimension of poverty is a lack of voice and participation.
In the Caribbean, the voices of young women and men, especially those living in poverty, are often excluded from their society’s development agenda and this exclusion serves to foster a cycle of poverty, disenfranchising their ability to make positive decisions for themselves, families & communities.
The process of inclusion is especially important for youth to help them experience the sense of belonging and responsibility to become productive citizens and active participants in their society. Moreover, it influences young people’s perception of their ability to achieve their dreams and aspirations. Research conducted by CIVICUS, IAVE and UNV concludes that volunteerism is an important strategy for fostering people’s participation in social change and shaping development.
The fourth action point of the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment (PAYE) speaks to “Promoting the participation of young people in decision-making”. Volunteerism has been identified as a critical tool to support youth involvement in Decision Making.
Cuso International is an international development organization that works to reduce poverty and inequality through the efforts of skilled volunteers. As practitioners in the field of development through volunteerism, we believe that volunteers can share expertise and perspectives, and help to unlock potential wherever they are. For over fifty (50) years, Cuso International volunteers have worked with local partner organisations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, creating lasting impact on projects within the following sectors: Health, Education, Participation & Governance, Secure Livelihoods & Natural Resource Management, Gender & Climate Change.
At a time in the Caribbean region when young men and women are disproportionately affected by poverty, inequality, unemployment and crime, we see volunteerism as an effective vehicle for allowing these young persons to also input to the decision-making processes, policies and practices that influence these social conditions. As an organisation we see our role as one to strengthen the capacity of relevant institutions to ensure they are better able to create a space for continued input of the youth voice, through the fulfilment of their organisational mandates.
Volunteerism is also a valuable tool for increasing employability skills, improving livelihoods and demonstrating active citizenship.
As such, alongside our international volunteering programme, we work with local partners to help them create or co-ordinate their own volunteering programmes. In this way, we have contributed to creating opportunities for young Jamaicans and Guyanese to engage in volunteerism as a way to own the process of development and influence decision-making processes. Over the past 50 years we have built an approach to improving participation & governance through volunteerism. This includes:
- Working in partnership – We do not recruit local volunteers, but rather use our expertise to help our partner organisations create and run their own volunteering programmes.
- Promoting active citizenship, learning, innovation and networking through volunteerism.
- Advocating for enabling policy and legal environments conducive to the growth of in-country volunteering initiatives.
- Engaging in reflective learning and knowledge sharing processes.
- Working with the private sector – increasing knowledge and awareness of the mechanisms for and value of supporting volunteering as an effective and sustainable tool to fight poverty and disadvantage
- Promoting effective gender equality programming
As a part of Cuso’s strategy for youth empowerment across the region, we will expand our efforts for the empowerment of youth socially and economically to include five countries – Grenada, Dominica, Jamaica, Guyana and Belize. Apart from youth Participation, voice & volunteerism, we will also focus on Access to Justice and Entrepreneurship/Employment.
We envision a Caribbean region in which all young women and men, particularly the most marginalized and disadvantaged are active and responsible citizens within their societies and are valued as partners in the development process. We see volunteerism as a very effective tool for achieving this.
For more information on CUSO International initiatives, please contact:
Ms. Onyka Barrett – Regional Advisor/ Programme Manager, Cuso International in the Caribbean
 CIVICUS, IAVE, UNV: Volunteering & Social Activitsm: Pathways for participation in human development, World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme, 2007/8.