Changing lives through education, sport and culture

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Some of the programme’s youths at play this past week

The Buxton Youth Developers’ Summer Activities

By Gibron Rahim
Youths are the foundation of every society with a hope for a brighter future. They are the caretakers of the legacy of those who came before them. For this reason, investment of time and resources into their growth and development is essential. This becomes particularly crucial during vacation periods when youths are away from school for extended periods of time. The ongoing ‘summer’ vacation presents one of these occasions. The Buxton Youth Developers (BYD) provides educational, sport and cultural activities for the young people involved in their programmes, not only during this vacation but throughout the year.

The BYD’s young lawn tennis players (All photos courtesy of Robin Phillips/BYD)

The BYD has come a long way from their beginnings ten years ago. As was reported in last week’s Pepperpot, the group has grown from an initial membership of 30 children to one with over 200 aged between 5-16. At the centre of the programme’s activities are the literacy centre building and the Vigilance Community Centre ground. Lenox Shuffler, patron and strategic planner of the BYD, revealed that the ground was initially not suitable for use. “The ground was water,” he told the Pepperpot Magazine. “The slightest rain was water.” However, approximately four years ago, efforts were undertaken to fill the ground with sand with the ultimate goal being a beach games facility. Beach games are cost effective and are becoming popular among athletes. Playing on sand builds strength and speed and is thus a popular method for training. And rainy weather no longer hampers the use of the ground.

BYD and Sports
The ground is open to all, not just members of BYD. The community and schools have been encouraged to utilise the ground. “We are developing it for everybody,” Shuffler explained. “This is development for all.” Their role is to ensure that everything runs smoothly while the ground is being used.

The very young are catered for at the Vigilance Community Centre ground with swing sets, amongst other playground equipment. There is also space and equipment available for volleyball, football, rugby and lawn tennis. Table tennis tables are available indoors at the centre itself. Sports commence at 14:00hrs during this vacation period and continue throughout the afternoon. Founder and general administrator,  Robin Phillips, was sure to indicate that sports are an everyday part of the programme throughout the year. Shuffler indicated that Phillips himself spends afternoons at the ground where he distributes equipment and counsels and mentors the children.

A tutoring session in progress

The results of the sports training the youths receive are evident in the successes they have had both locally and internationally. Five members of their female football team were selected to train for the national team. Two female members were selected to represent Guyana at wind ball and athletics in 2008. Members of the BYD have represented Guyana at regional and international table tennis tournaments. At a youth event hosted last year by the Guyana Lawn Tennis Association (GLTA), Kemo Prince of the BYD was among the top four. BYD Member Aneka Phillips has represented Guyana at the North American Teams Table Tennis Tournament in the United States and at the Inter-Guiana Games. Phillips noted that being part of the BYD is a great experience. The programme has helped her to become more involved in sports and provided positive social interactions. She has learnt values and self-respect and has gained the understanding of winning and losing with grace.

BYD and Education
Education also features prominently within the BYD’s goals. This focus has not changed, even with school vacations ongoing. One of their primary focuses during this period is the students who will be writing the Grade Six Examination next year. Shuffler indicated that there are 13 youths who are preparing to sit the exams. They are being tutored in the four subject areas of Mathematics, English, Science and Social Studies with the goal that they are able to perform to the best of their abilities when the time comes. One of the past success stories of the BYD in this area is Alpino Peters. Shuffler related that Peters passed through the programme, wrote the examination and secured a place at Brickdam Secondary. He went on to write ten subjects at CSEC where he obtained three Grade Ones, six Grade Twos and one Grade Three.

The programme’s successes must definitely not be taken for granted. Shuffler cautioned though that it is important to remember that community development is not an overnight process. “There’s no shortcut,” he said. What he has noticed are positive changes in the behaviour of the youths. Over time, they learn to be disciplined. And perhaps more fascinating is the fact that those who have been in the programme longer try to teach new members positive behaviours.

The programme’s design, according to Shuttler, is one of creative thinking with collective effort and commitment. Among the strategies used is that of ‘read and play’ where learning and sports are connected. He repeatedly emphasized how much credit for the programme’s success goes to Phillips for his tireless efforts from the founding to the present. He also mentioned that the ‘train system’ is part of the programme’s strategic plan. Using this system, “we can all get onboard,” he said. Just like a train, he explained, the passengers may have different views but they are all heading in the same direction. “What I’m suggesting is that we do not take away the motivation of anybody.” Collaboration then is a part of the BYD’s approach.

The Buxton Youth Developers is having a positive impact on the lives of their young members. Their successes are a clear indication of this. Nevertheless, funding is crucial to the work of the BYD. Shuttler explained that development requires time, effort, resources, passion and patience. “Without finances, all these things will start to wane,” he observed. Later, he related his experience of encountering one of the programme’s former members at the Marriott. The young man, nicknamed ‘President’ due to his childhood aspirations, was an employee there. This is undoubtedly one of many positive outcomes. It is undeniable that the Buxton Youth Developers is changing lives for the better.