A word from Jenny Cafiso, CJI Executive Director (Fall 2021)

(Photo: CJI)

It is commonplace to say that the future belongs to the youth. Yet it is not so common to see policies and structures, or even a culture, that would make it possible for youth to shape the future. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Global South.

Youth form more than half of the population in the Global South, yet they have little or no access to quality education; have few if any job opportunities; are often forced into child labour, work as domestic servants, often abused, trafficked and exposed to gender based violence; and are often excluded from any decision making structure. They face a future marked by environmental degradation and societal conflict with no adequate tools to combat them. The situation is even more dramatic for girls and young women.

More than half of Haiti’s population is under the age of 24 years. This should translate into huge potential for the country, yet over 35% of girls over six never go to school. Less than 1% of youth go to university.

Thousands of young people risk their lives in boats across the Mediterranean or in caravans from Central America, telling stories of despair and the search for a better future.

The Society of Jesus chose as one of its four Universal Apostolic Preferences (UAP) “Journeying with youth – accompanying young people in the creation of a hope filled future.” The youth who have contributed to this issue of Bridging Borders are our partners in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We can journey with them only if we are also committed to the other three preferences: walking with the excluded, caring for the whole of creation and our common home and showing the way to God. Our youth partners embody the four UAPs.

They tell us not only of their struggles, but of their dreams of peace, of rebuilding after war, of political participation and a just economy. They hope for a more just world where everyone can learn to read and write regardless of gender and where people earn fair wages. They speak of the need for critical thinking and leadership skills and of empowerment.

Journeying with youth calls for a strong education system that guarantees access to quality education for all by increasing public expenditure. It means developing national youth policies to foster youth and adolescent rights, guarantee child protection, promote community life and youth leadership, improve national standards on employment and promote citizenship and participation.

We seek to listen to the voices of youth both in Canada and the Global South through the Youth Advocacy Symposium in October. We will accompany them, as they, in the words of the Colombian youth in our cover article, “transform history into a hopeful future.”