When thinking of St Lucia, images of an idyllic island often spring to mind, a place to relax on white sands by turquoise seas, but such a portrayal is far from reality for much of its population. Tourism provides the island with its only major industry yet unemployment is above 23% and for young people under the age of 25, it rises to 40%.
With little prospect of employment, aspirations are low and the lure of a life of crime by bored young people is ever present.
It is against this backdrop that the Youth Sport Trust’s Beckwith International Leadership Development (BILD) programme started its work on the island two years ago in partnership with the Ministry of Youth Development and Sport.
The aim is to increase the life chances of young people through sport leadership and through it develop capacity in the country and reduce dependence on outside trainers. It promotes innovative thinking and practice, inspiring leaders in sport and education.
Recently I attended the BILD awards ceremony at the National Cultural Centre to honour members of the programme.
It was inspiring to see more than 100 young sport leaders representing their BILD teams from every community on the island. These are committed, hard-working volunteers who have all supported community, national and international events through volunteering for a minimum of 100 hours each year.
The young volunteers were joined by the latest group of trained local tutors who spoke passionately about the programme. One teacher told me that in addition to their volunteering work, the training BILD young leaders have received has enabled them to be more successful in their final national exams, in which planning and organising activities has helped raise their academic achievement. This was a particularly heart-warming bonus of the programme.
One young leader from Vieaux Fort, Desiree, told me how being a BILD leader has changed her life, giving her extra skills and confidence. She loves seeing how much both adults and children in her community respect the programme and that she feels proud to wear her BILD t-shirt.
The whole event was a celebration of what can be achieved when young people are given the chance to develop and show their skills. This ceremony showed the substantial impact the programme is making while the young people I spoke to demonstrated so clearly the difference it is making to them.
Minister of Sport for St Lucia Rt Honourable Shaun Edwards summed it up when he said: “The BILD movement is so important, it is helping to revitalise the sporting culture across our country, it has become such a powerful movement for change and it has now surpassed the National Volunteering programme as the programme of choice for our government.”
As the programme continues to go from strength to strength, I hope that through it young people will be given the confidence and skills to not only combat boredom but to make a true difference to their country beyond the veneer of tourism.
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