A community at risk

The Cayman Islands National Youth Development Symposium tasked itself with an extremely ambitious project titled ‘Sustainability – our challenge, our future’ at a one-day event held at the end of October at the Grand Cayman Marriott. Attendees heard an explosive welcoming address from Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale and a no holds-barred address by Education Minister Rolston Anglin on the subject of Cayman’s youth and how we go about turning the corner when it comes to the multitude of negativity currently impacting young people today. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull was in attendance and reports in this first in a series of articles.

Cayman’s youth is its future. An over-used cliché doled out without apparent forethought yet a comment so important that to overlook it could prove to be catastrophic for these islands. The CI National Youth Development Symposium was dedicated to exploring the challenges hindering the growth of Cayman’s youth to create sustainability, while at the same time identifying and promoting opportunities. Coming at a time when violence among youths is on the increase, job opportunities are becoming scarcer and fewer young people seem properly equipped with the basic skills to hold down a job while global competition ramps up, this was a vital seminar for anyone interested in the future of Cayman.  

A poor turn out to undoubtedly one of the most important seminar sessions of the year could have been attributable to the fact that the event was held during the public school sector’s mid-term break, none-the-less the few teachers, students, government professionals and other interested persons who did attend the received a wealth of insight into issues facing Cayman’s youth, crucially from young people themselves, as well as constructive solutions to these issues.

Chief magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale is an individual whose first-hand knowledge of the dark side of Cayman’s youth has, in her own words, caused her to have a “jaundice view”, yet her words rang out with clarity and wisdom at the trials facing young people in Cayman today.

“I have noted a vast amount of studies done in the Cayman Islands. A vast amount of young people have been interviewed; an extraordinary amount of adults have provided a natural resource for in depth studies. And yet I still note the absolute failure of anyone to act on any studies,” she said. “I really hope that the findings from this ambitious symposium will not simply be tabled and shelved but that they will be a blue-print for action.”

Ramsay-Hale specified two bodies note-worthy in their lack of results: “The government and the Chamber of Commerce, while sincere and with good intentions, have not achieved the results that they set out to do. There is nothing worse than working on a project and not seeing action as a result,” she said.

We are all responsible
According to the Chief Magistrate, the community is often heard bemoaning the youth of today and yet the problem she said lay directly with the adults in the community.

“Children reflect the lessons that they have been taught. Crimes involving violence, gang violence and the use of firearms (most prevalent in Cayman in the 17- to 25-year-old age range) are all being committed in Cayman and are all concerns for the community and yet everyone says they did not learn such acts at home. At the same time adults are letting their children watch all that the US media has to offer – the good, the bad and the ugly – without proper guidance and without discussion with young people as to what they are seeing so they can properly interpret and rationalise what they see,” she stated.
Ramsay-Hale suggested that before individuals point the finger to judge young people they should remember who raised them in the first place.

The importance of listening
Part of the problem facing those at the symposium was that the young people truly at risk were not actually at the table taking part in the event, Ramsay-Hale suggested. She urged the many fresh young faces who were at the event (representing St Ignatius, Cayman Prep and High School, John Gray High School, Grace Christian Academy, Cayman Academy, Wesleyan Christian Academy and George Hicks High School) to speak with their compatriots to find out the impetus they have that leads them to drugs and violence so that those interested adults could at least understand their motivation.

Skewed values
“The Cayman community is long on money and short on values,” Ramsay-Hale suggested. “The dollar has become the single most desirable value and some individuals only obey the law when it does not get in the way of their ability to make money,” she blasted.

“Teachers preach tolerance but practice discrimination; the community proclaims the values of a good work ethic yet disrespect those in the community who do an honest day’s work for low pay. Where are our values? Where is our strong work ethic? How can we achieve this in our children where wealth is celebrated and poverty derided?” she added.

Not everyone who will succeed past school will have a tertiary education, Ramsay-Hale said, but they should not be derided simply because they forge a career within the service industry.

“Since when is it an embarrassment to be in a job which allows the individual to expose visitors here to all the wonders that the Cayman Islands have to offer?” she queried.

Learning to deride the service and servitude industries came from parents and such attitudes being taught by adults and being learnt by children mean that adults will not be able to instil the work ethic in young people, she said.

Lack of vocational training
Citing an old statistic from 2000, which 25 per cent of children leaving John Gray High School did not graduate and doubting that figure had changed much, Ramsay-Hale used the figure to highlight that significant numbers were still leaving the school system without any qualifications. Nowadays, however, everyone needed to be properly equipped, no matter the chosen career.

“The days of apprenticeships with trade professionals have long gone,” she said. “Plumbers, electricians, construction workers all need qualifications now before studying their chosen profession,” she said.  

Government had failed to provide vocational and skills training, according to Ramsay-Hale and jobs such as law, accounting and banking have at the same time been promoted as the only ones worth having.

“Young people need access to education to promote technical and vocational careers,” she said.

The issue of respect
Young people learn to understand respect from the adults around them but Ramsay-Hale said that many individuals in the community do not show respect to the young people themselves, or to their spouses.

“We do not give young people the opportunity to speak,” she said. “They try to have a voice but half the time we shut them down before they have had time to express themselves. Adults need to embrace their children’s opinions. I’m not saying we should necessarily act upon their thoughts, but we should embrace their right to express themselves and then listen to them to understand where they are coming from.”  

Using loud and abusive language and violence does not help a young person develop respect, as Ramsay-Hale pointed out: “If we treat our spouses with contempt, why should we be surprised when our young people show us no respect?”

Taking responsibility
In her mind, Ramsay-Hale saw the community at large treat those young people who have committed crimes or simply strayed from the wayside as somebody else’s problem.

“’Not my child’ is a phrase I often hear,” she said. “But we live in a community. Children do not just live with their parents, they live amongst us all. They see all of us and are shaped by all our attitudes. If we are not careful and do not listen to our young people, they will be shaped by their peers and thus the gang genesis develops, a society, which does not understand how to resolve conflict without violence.”

She said most individuals who end up committing crimes are those who feel marginalised and feel excluded by society. The challenge, she said, was to ensure that the sound values we preach are made relevant to them.

“Young people have values,” she commented, “but they may well be different from ours. When we take the time to have a conversation with them we can elicit what is important to them. Young people are not us, they are growing up in a completely different generation; their access to media is unlike anything we ever knew. It is extremely important therefore to give them social inclusion and a sense of belonging within the community.”

Ramsay-Hale commented that the mentoring programmes in place in Cayman (notably the Chamber of Commerce’s programme and the Junior Achievers programme) were excellent at helping to shape and guide young people, yet she noted that those young people who attended such programmes were not necessarily the ones who most needed the guidance and were restricted to the successful children who already had ample backing by family.
The church also had a much better and more effective role to play, Ramsay-Hale said.

“During a recent National Youth Policy workshop young people were asked in various studies as to what was most important to them. The church was never on the map. Churches will therefore have to start a new conversation with young people, which will require inclusion rather than the exclusionary impulse currently being practiced.”



Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale with Grace Christian Academy students Ashley Christian and Mia Burke