En­cour­ag­ing Young Peo­ple’s Par­tic­i­pa­tion

Young Peo­ple’s Par­tic­i­pa­tion

mailife - - Contents - By DR VANISHA MISHRA-VAKAOTI Photo by KAMA CATCH ME

Young peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion (or lack thereof) re­ceives a lot of at­ten­tion in the me­dia, re­search re­ports and aca­demic ar­ti­cles. While many of the rec­om­men­da­tions for en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion fo­cuses on estab­lish­ing fo­rums, groups and phys­i­cal spa­ces there is of­ten lit­tle at­ten­tion on the role of par­ents and fam­i­lies. I too have fallen into this mind­set, with many of my own rec­om­men­da­tions fo­cus­ing on pol­icy and pro­grams – which I main­tain are nec­es­sary and im­por­tant but I feel there has been an el­e­ment miss­ing in my ap­proach. An el­e­ment that has be­come so much more ap­par­ent now that I am rais­ing a child of my own. Dr Brene Brown in her au­dio­book The Gifts of Im­per­fect Par­ent­ing says, “you can­not give your chil­dren what you don’t have”. I am not one for au­dio­books but this is a book I have kept on phone and lis­tened to with my hus­band nu­mer­ous times be­fore the birth of our child, and many more times since. That one phrase changed my ap­proach to par­ent­ing and, I be­lieve, is a good place to start when con­sid­er­ing young peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. If you want to raise chil­dren and young peo­ple who are in­volved in and con­trib­ute to com­mu­nity you must in­tro­duce them to a com­mu­nity. If as par­ents you are not en­gaged in vol­un­teerism and ac­tivism, it be­comes harder for chil­dren and young peo­ple to do so. In­tro­duc­ing chil­dren to com­mu­nity, par­tic­i­pa­tion, and en­gage­ment be­yond them­selves is a steady foun­da­tion on which they can build as they grow. As a child’s first role model you are the ex­am­ple he or she will mimic. Par­tic­i­pa­tion and en­gage­ment stems from an un­der­stand­ing of com­mu­nity and is­sues and a sense of be­long­ing to a group or com­mu­nity. En­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion is a long-term in­vest­ment. A sin­gle con­ver­sa­tion about be­ing a use­ful mem­ber of so­ci­ety prob­a­bly will not even­tu­ate in much. Small steps through­out a child’s life, steps where par­ents are in­volved might yield bet­ter re­sults. We have a friend who has taken her child to a rest home ev­ery week since the child was a few months old to keep the el­derly res­i­dents com­pany. A touch­ing ges­ture which pro­vides great joy to the res­i­dents but is also teach­ing the child a lot about in­ter­ac­tion, age, em­pa­thy and com­mu­nity. We have started a tra­di­tion with our son in which for his birth­day we ask for a do­na­tion of books to be made to the chil­dren’s read­ing space we help sup­port in Le­vuka, in lieu of gifts. In keep­ing with this, for my 30th birth­day, I asked guests to do­nate to my World Vi­sion ma­ter­nal health fund. I hope to nur­ture in him val­ues that I have (but con­tinue to work at) in my­self. On Christ­mas Day, we share in a com­mu­nal lunch with the el­derly and home­less in our com­mu­nity. You might con­sider let­ting you child of­fer some food to a home­less per­son on the street. Or sim­ply of­fer kind greet­ings to them, in­stead of hur­riedly walk­ing past try­ing to avoid the re­al­ity of is­sues in our coun­try. In do­ing so, what are we teach­ing our chil­dren? How are we en­cour­ag­ing them to par­tic­i­pate? Will these things, tak­ing chil­dren to rest homes, be­ing kind to the home­less, for­go­ing presents, change young peo­ple’s par­tic­i­pa­tion overnight? No. Most cer­tainly not. But it might cre­ate a shift in think­ing. It might nur­ture a cu­rios­ity to un­der­stand­ing why some peo­ple are dif­fer­ent. It might help raise chil­dren who have a strong sense of worth without be­ing self-in­dul­gent. If noth­ing else, they might be lit­tle mo­ments in an oth­er­wise hec­tic life that you stop to con­sciously and in­ten­tion­ally im­prove your habits and cre­ate me­mories and ex­pe­ri­ences for your­self and your chil­dren. While pol­icy mak­ers and prac­ti­tion­ers have im­por­tant roles to play, let’s look at what we can do to­day, by ex­am­ple, to demon­strate and sup­port our chil­dren and young peo­ple who will par­tic­i­pate and en­gage, and ul­ti­mately make a dif­fer­ence to the so­ci­ety we live in.

Where pos­si­ble and ap­pro­pri­ate our son Rafa joins us in our work in the field, in com­mu­nity events and phil­an­thropic projects.

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