On April 28th, a small group of youth came together at the Toronto Baha’i Centre to participate in a consultative process launched by the federal government to design a national youth policy. The process, open to every part of the country, encourages youth to engage their peers to generate ideas that can inform the efforts of the federal government.
These efforts are organized through a website, youthaction.ca, where youth can directly share their thoughts, report back from their group discussions, and learn about the nature of a youth policy.
“The Baha’i community has been learning a great deal about the role of youth in social transformation, and this provides an opportunity to reflect on that experience to identify insights relevant to the national conversation about youth in Canada” said Ashraf Rushdy, Project Coordinator with the Office of Public Affairs of the Baha’i Community of Canada. The results of the gathering will be shared with the federal government as part of its consultative process.
The gathering at the Toronto Baha’i Centre brought together a diverse group of youth, who began by discussing a “thought piece” produced by the Office of Public Affairs on the theme of the participation of youth in decision-making processes. The paper discusses ways in which youth need to be supported by a process of capacity building in order to participate effectively in decision-making.
The youth who participated, many having just completed their final exams, were eager to discuss the nature of their formal education, of community service, and to think about the opportunities they saw in front of them to gain experience in a field or profession.
Jian Roushani, a participant in his final year of high school, observed that community service is often presented to youth in high school as a requirement for their diploma. “We don’t learn about this (service), and when we do learn about it, it’s just another way of getting a job. I’ve seen how some people, when things get hard, they leave because there’s no deep commitment to the service projects.”
“Actually, almost everything about our education is presented as part of getting a job,” replied Hessam Wafaie, a first-year law student at the University of Toronto, “If all that we’re told for 13 or 14 years is to compete to get a good job, then service to others really doesn’t make any sense. I think we’d have to change what we see as the purpose of education from a very early age if we want to see a change in youth.”
Maya Wong, an undergraduate student in philosophy at the University of Toronto, noted that youth have to use the resources at their disposal to help others. “If we have access to education, if we have time, money, and a place to live, we need to use these resources, these privileges, to help others. This is the best way I’ve heard to react to finding yourself in an advantaged position in society.”
The group had a lively three-hour discussion and seemed happy to get a chance to discuss some of these issues with their peers at different stages in their life and education. “I think this gathering was a great success,” said Rushdy. “Sometimes we just end up repeating the things our society tells us – I was really happy that our conversation was fresh and tried to get away from common, materialistic statements about what youth need.”
When asked about next steps, Rushdy mentioned that he would like to help youth organize similar gatherings across Canada, especially to explore other important issues like reconciliation, citizenship, and the role of religion in society.