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Youth Day today, ironic eh?

Youth Day today, ironic eh?

Today (12 August) is International Youth Day - a good opportunity to look at the lessons for Dunedin and New Zealand decision-makers from the UK riots.

"The question we are being asked is 'could it happen here.'" Methodist Mission chief executive Laura Black says.

"The warnings of a UK-style social breakdown and of 'Income and opportunity inequality out of control' ring somewhat true.

"The factors that young UK people are facing: high youth unemployment and tertiary education tightening are all present here in New Zealand. A third of Otago's 18 to 24 year-olds are unemployed," says Laura Black.

"In the Mission's work with young people we see a risk of the same attitudes as their English cohort emerging: the feeling that our society holds nothing for them, hopelessness about the future, and the search for something to believe in, something to do.

"The difference is that young New Zealanders focus their rage on themselves, withdrawing into drink and drugs. For some the result can be seen in New Zealand's youth suicide rate - the highest in the Western world, especially among young Maori men.

"The good news is that we can make a difference if we're given the time to work with young people in our programmes.

"The UK riots have shown in a bad way some of young people's greatest strengths: their incredible connected-ness and fast-moving organising ability, their physicality, and passion. Let's enable them to use these skills to New Zealand's benefit.

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There's a whole new group of capable and creative young people who are at risk of making bad choices. The Mission is doing something about it, Ms Black says.

"Too many young people fail to connect with formal education. They leave school without educational achievements and often with very low self-esteem and self-destructive behaviours. Often their home life has failed to provide structure, ambition, or the ability to persist through difficult situations toward a positive outcome.

"Youth Training at our Approach Community Learning service provides a way to meet and build relationships with young people. We can then provide occupancy and a way to engage about their experiences and life choices that are holding back their progress into adult life and employment.

"It's challenging work: building motivation, team spirit and commitment in a small but diverse group of learners. Once this groundwork is done, qualifications can follow. For many, these are the first educational achievements they have experienced.

"And it's never too late; we also have adult education programmes helping adults who have made some wrong decisions get re-connected too."

This year's Youth Day theme is 'Dialogue and Mutual Understanding' - Ms Black says this provides a perfect opportunity to listen to young people's concerns.

"Nearly one in five New Zealanders are between 12 and 24 years old so their thoughts, experiences, opinions and ideas are an important part of making a better country - or averting a UK-style melt-down."


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