Youth Empowerment, Because We Need It

During a particular Thursday a couple months back, I attended my weekly class seminar for Environmental Politics. I'm not much of an environmental person, and I'm not ashamed of acknowledging that fact, in spite of the everyday murmurs of global warming and the like. It's not that I'm not disbeliever of global warming, I mean, I do contribute my part on numerous environmental friendly initiative such as recycling and reducing the use of plastic bags and so on. But put it simply, the scientific arguments surrounding the gradual increase in the mother earth's temperatures just don't appeal too much with me, more so during the whole climategate debacle resulted from the spread of emails from University of East Anglia sort of dispelling the climate change data, further gave me much conviction that I should worry too much. Anyway, I guess I was digressing from the gist of my blog post.

During that class, our lecturer was basically asking for feedbacks and opinions from us regarding any initiatives being done by our respective polities and councils wherever we came from. One by one, she enquired to us about what lawmakers have done in their efforts to mitigate or at least respond to the problems regarding the environment. Firstly she asked us whether we participated within the voting or whatever political mechanisms to bring forward the environmental issues into the agenda. Slowly but surely, each of my classmates shared their input, until of course, it was my turn. Frankly I just shared information that I know of, with regards to Brunei Darussalam's efforts in highlighting awareness on environmental issues. Yet, when she enquired to me how those things were brought into the political limelight, I froze for a while, not knowing exactly how to respond to that. A little bit ashamed, I explained to her the complexities surrounding the system in Brunei and admitted to her that normally things aren't bottom up as they are in the UK and much of the politically conscious nations in the West and the North. The fact that Brunei is an oil and gas exporter and those commodities are the main blood and bone of the country's economy further complicate things. I am certain that most of us Bruneians are less knowledgeable in the whole environmental department than my colleagues here in the UK (case in point, the lack of initiatives to reduce traffic jams and car usage. Even if there are initiatives on reducing the traffic problems, it is much less to do with being environmentally conscious, but more with being efficient on the road). I further explained that certain decisions in the country are determined by the political masters and the respective authorities who are assigned to their respective issues and the environment falls in that ambit. I acknowledged though that they've done a particularly good job in that respect, yet the deep thought about how the process or how these respective departments have decided on which issues are important or why they are important in the first place leaves me, and I'm sure much of my fellow Bruneians in the dark.

Having said that, brings me to my writing this blog post: Since much of the 'important' bits about our countries are handled mostly by the people 'up there', where does it put us, us as in youths? Every year we celebrate the National Youth Day, (and I remember the date of celebration as it falls every year on my birthday) and the message resonating yearly sounds basically the same, with some changes made on the wordings. It usually calls out the youths to contribute more for the country. As much as I crave for youth empowerment, I am however stuck. I am stuck because I don't know where I can actually make an impact for the good of the nation. Sure, there are those common avenues in which youths usually shine their way and make the country proud: sports, yet you have to bear in mind, often I hear that problems existing within a number of the major sports in the country. Take football for instance, common issues are that our national and youth football teams are often faced with issues with regards to the way the people 'up there' manage the national team. Case in point: the national team pulling out from the AFC challenge cup on the last minute which caused an uproar in the local social media as well as outside. And this was a year or so after the country was banned for two years from international football due to mismanagement (for lack of a better term) of the national football association. And bear in mind, football in the nation's number one sport, and this happened to the country's main sport, how can you explain other 'second-choice' sports in the country such as, say badminton and basketball. Best leave that to your imagination.

Perhaps there's another avenue, if not the only achievable avenue in which us youths can empower ourselves to strive for the best, and for the best I really mean to realise the nation's main goals of 2035; the education. I personally am proud of our education system, though some aspects of it I didn't actually enjoy based on past personal experience. You have to admit it, living in a country like ours, we should be glad the extent in which the government has been quite generous to their citizens and students in terms of providing the opportunities to further our studies be it abroad or at local institutions. I am currently one of the many students benefitting in the system. In fact a number of my foreign friends find it interesting that everywhere they go, whenever they meet Bruneian students from their previous universities or somewhere they'd be surprised that most of them are government granted scholarship students. However, when speaking with a number of friends whom are fellow government scholars about their next move after graduating university or college, a lot of them would say they'd work in the government and find a decent 9 to 5 jobs. While the attitude is prevalent everywhere and shamely I've to say, is quite common among us. None of them are actually out there to do something different to contribute to the nation more than simply getting a decent 9 to 5 job in the government. I'm fortunate however, to have met some potential visionaries in my time here in the UK. Some of them are very outward oriented in their thinking. They are looking at improvements towards our nations. Some (I won't name names) that I've spoken to are interested in looking to heed the call of the government to diversify Brunei, in terms of the energy field by introducing an alternative to our over-reliance on oil and gas. Others are interested in tapping in the still new but widely spread out social media industries. In fact some individuals that I know have successfully started their own social media companies (I've worked in one actually). The rest, are very hopeful that they are going to make it in their respective future businesses they are setting up once they have graduated and possess enough capital to start one. Of course, these individuals are still university students and still a long way from graduating, but still hearing something different from individuals younger than I am brings much optimism on our country's future (not that I'm saying there's a bleak future ahead).

I wish to always involve myself more into these kind of discussions. From time to time, it always energises me when it come to discussions regarding youth empowerment. We really need youths to act more, in spite of the apparent lack of means for us youths to contribute more formally. I came across the other day about a forum/conference inviting youths to discuss things with regards to the theme on youth and the 2035 vision some time early this month. Unfortunately, since I'm abroad and not returning to Brunei for the summer holidays this year, I was unable to attend. It would have been interesting to get involved in the kind of discussion. Unfortunately, the proposed venue of the event wasn't really suitable in my opinion (how can you organise a forum at a mamak restaurant?) We have many glamorous buildings in Brunei, I'm sure there are more well functional meeting rooms that the organisers could've gone for if they've asked (assuming that they haven't/didn't asked of course). However, I've much respect and appreciation from them for holding such brain-enriching initiatives. I've yet to follow up on the outcome of the conference, but upon reading the Facebook status updates from one of the organisers, it went well, and it should be. If anyone is wondering how and when they can contribute to our beloved Brunei, my opinion is, it should be now. We are afterall the faces of tomorrow's leaders (this does not simply mean our faces literally stamped on the ministerial and members of cabinet posters). It doesn't necessarily require certain top-down initiatives to push us to empower ourselves and contribute to our nation's future, although an acknowledgement and a helping hand from them would much be appreciated. First step to youth empowerment I feel is a change of mindset from being second best to second to none and education is central to this. We are afforded the opportunities to do this from time to time and its up to us to make a difference. Our hopes and dreams must not be on getting that decent 9 to 5 jobs after graduation, but doing good at what we do and make a career out of it and working at nothing more but making a difference for the betterment of others and our country.  

'Praise youth and it will prosper'.
                                           -Irish Proverb

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