Organized youth working for social wellbeing

Two youth leaders in Nicaragua talk to Karla Jacobs about how government policies are affecting youth, May 18th 2011

Leonor Hernández, Coordinator of the of the Sandinista Youth “Promotoría Solidaria” (or “Solidarity Action”) movement.

The young people involved in the “Promotoría Solidaria” are involved in constant activity, working  with Nicaraguan families as part of an attempt to tap into people's conscience and transform the model by which we live, so that the lives of all members of our society can be filled with respect, love, solidarity and union.  

We want every single Nicaraguan family to be able to live in an environment of peace and harmony. This is the aim towards which we work as young solidarity volunteers within this process to bring greater dignity to the lives of Nicaraguan families, a process which involves us in different ways from the construction of new homes for poor families, to repair work on school buildings which fell into disrepair during previous governments.

The “Promotoría Solidaria” is also involved in the daily labour of caring for street children who find themselves in neglect. We also take part  in the care of children of working mothers who are looked after in government Child Development Centers (CDIs) or as part of other government programs. These are children who do not have the privilege of belonging to an integrated family unit as a result of various adversities present within our society. 

The work carried out by the “Promotoría Solidaria” is more than a simple mechanism of support for government programs: It is the means by which young people are converting themselves into the protagonists and leaders of this process of bringing people greater dignity.

Since 2007 and the FSLN's new electoral triumph, the Sandinista Youth has undergone a a series of changes and has also experienced significant growth in terms of its membership in all of the country's municipalities and departments. Indeed we have grown to such an extent that we can safely say that the Sandinista Youth is present in all communities and neighbourboods throughout Nicaragua, because in every single community and every single neighbourhood there are young people who take part in the different activities promoted by our various movements.  

Two and half years ago the Sandinista Youth was one homogenous organization. Today there are many different movements within the Sandinista Youth each of which represents the different interests of young people in Nicaragua today. There is a sports movement, a cultural movement, an environmental movement, there is a network of young social communicators, there is the “Promotoría Solidaria” among others. 

I would say the Sandinista Youth has been successful in creating spaces that truly represent the different interests and concerns of young Nicaraguans and, as a result, more and more young people are getting involved with what we do. 

Essentially the purpose of the different aspects of our work as Sandinista Youth is to contribute to the well-being of young people, and of society in general. And this is achieved by facilitating sporting and cultural activities, by developing different skills, and above all by raising awareness among young people about the importance of being organized as a means of contributing to our personal wellbeing, the wellbeing of our neighbourhoods or communities and the wellbeing of society as a whole. 

This sums up the Sandinista Youth's strategy for growth going ahead into the future: to continue  creating spaces and movements that represent the interests and ideology of young Nicaraguans who, for so many years, were neglected by governmental structures.  

And we have a major advantage which is that we don't see ourselves as forming part of a market in which we are out to buy the loyalty of our members – this is what has facilitated our attempts to create Sandinista Youth presence in neighbourhoods and communities across the nation.

In terms of the participation of young women as part of this process one can confirm that today, more than ever, more opportunities for participation and leadership have been opened up to young women – spaces that we had earned but that had been denied to us in the past. Today young women's right to take an active leadership role in this process has been vindicated. And I think that, in general, the participation of young women is seen as an integral part of the development of the country and of society as a whole.

Although I would say that we still have a way to go in terms of achieving the full empowerment of young women – many young women still lack confidence that they are fully capable of taking on leadership roles.

But if we compare the situation today with that of our parents, it is more than obvious that things have changed a lot in this regard. Today we can say that society in general has reformed its previous perception that it is the men who should be running the family, the country, everything.

And it is thanks to the hard work carried out by young women that the spaces we have earned are respected. I do believe that today women are seen as fundamental agents of development within Nicaraguan society.

A perspective on young people on the Caribbean Coast

Danilo Chang Cash, Regional Coordinator of the Sandinista Youth in the RAAS (Southern Atlantic Autonomous Region) and founder of the organizations “Young People Establishing New Horizons” (JENH-CEDEHCA) and Caribbean Youth Coalition (COJUCA).

Young people on the Caribbean Coast suffer many difficulties in different aspects of our lives due to diverse factors, for example, the structural insufficiencies that exist at a local and regional level and the prominence of drug trafficking in our region.   

The problems that most affect youth on the Caribbean Coast are a lack of job opportunities for both skilled and unskilled young workers as well as a lack of recreational activities like sporting or cultural activities.

These are factors which end up provoking excessive levels of drug and alcohol consumption among adolescents and young adults in the region. Many young people have even got caught up with drug trafficking themselves, some internally, others internationally. And of course they abandon their education in the process. This situation is of great concern for the communities of the Caribbean Coast.

Another ramification of the lack of job opportunities has been that many young people have felt obliged to leave the region and travel to the Pacific side of the country in search of work. Very often, though, we are victims of racist discrimination in the Pacific part of the country – the discrimination we are subjected to comes first and foremost from the Police but also we are often victims of discrimination in the work place, at college and sometimes in our interactions with different State institutions.

Another problem that affects the lives of many young people here is the very high infection rate of sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents and young adults as well as a very high teenage pregnancy rate (something which primarily affects young people in rural areas).

All these different factors come together within a context of social decomposition and the loss of the true values and traditions of the peoples of our region – a process which is particularly advanced within afrodescendent communities where many children and adolescents are not brought up by their parents who have had to emigrated in search of work, which they often find on tourist ships in Miami or the Grand Cayman Islands.

Since President Daniel Ortega's government came to power we have seen several changes which have brought positive implications for young people here on the Caribbean Coast. For example, many more young people are involved in different government programs – mainly scholarship programs – today than under previous governments. Also many more young people have been involved in national activities and events in one way or another.

Something very important that the Sandinista government has done is to foment and promote access to sporting activities with the creation of baseball and basketball academies in both Autonomous Regions. Also we have seen numerous infrastructural improvements to sporting facilities in the different municipalities of the Caribbean Coast.

The work carried out in terms of the recovery of the Caribbean Coast's First League Baseball Team and the inclusion of the team in the national leagues has been an important source of inspiration for numerous young players on the Coast. 

I should also mention the important work the government has supported in terms of recovering and promoting different art forms and other forms of cultural expression in both regions of the Caribbean Coast.

Additionally, this government's Human Development Plan along with the Strategy for Development on the Caribbean Coast have helped to strengthen the process of autonomy on the Coast.  

The main change in this sense is the new found respect for decisions made by autonomous institutions at a communal, territorial and regional level. Today Central Government consults with and respects the decisions of these authorities regarding projects that are to be carried out in the Carribean Coast and commercial concessions that affect the region's resources.

This new found respect together with the advances made in terms of the issuing of land titles for Indigenous and Afrodescendent peoples as well as the installation of electricity in all communities in both regions have helped to create a sense of optimism and hope among young people on the Coast. As a result I would say that young people are starting to believe in the autonomous process again. 

One thing I think the government should do which would bring great benefit to young people in our region is to create the necessary conditions for private investors to invest in Call Centers on the Coast.

Young people from the Coast find it easy to get work in Call Centers thanks to that fact that so many of us are Spanish / English bilingual. But what this means is that hundreds of young people from the Coast are migrating to Managua where the Call Centers are located.

If the government was able to facilitate the instalation of Call Centers here on the Coast, it would be a good way of creating job opportunities for young people in our own region, and of avoiding, as a result, a situation in which young people feel obliged to abandon their families, their communities and, most importantly, their education in order to secure a job.