glenyss

Spotlight on Glenyss James

It may prove somewhat difficult time getting your name eked into Glenyss James’ schedule. The acting regional director and programme manager of youth work and training at the commonwealth youth programme, Caribbean centre – is a woman with a number of responsibilities on her hands. In addition to her critically important job which sees her liaising with a number of English speaking Caribbean countries as well as the commonwealth office in Canada she’s also active in a number of NGO’s. In the mid-nineties she was one of the founding members of Dayspring Guidance Centre Ltd – a literacy and life-skill NGO for young teens and in the last decade she has been active in Operation Restoration (formed 2006) a faith based responses to HIV/AIDS for youths and more recently Communities Arise (formed 2008)  a literacy and community development initiative. In addition to these posts James has also been serving as the chairperson of The Bishops’ High School Board of Governors with effect from 2010. For all intents and purpose, this is a busy woman.

Insight was eager to get in contact with a Guyanese doing imperative, but unsung, work in the society. So often when we speak of notable personalities in societies the names that come to mind are so obvious to the point of being dull. As a developing nation there are a number of skilled Guyanese professionals making vital contributions to the turning wheels of progress and in considering the goal of progress in Guyana the importance of the youth factor in that equation is impossible to ignore. Glenyss James, both in her official career capacity and in her volunteer work, spends a significant amount of her time with some of the most valuable assets to Guyana – youths. Busy schedule of hers, notwithstanding, Insight felt a sitdown with her would be an ideal way to commence our Q&A’s with significant persons in society. Many of you may not know, Glenyss James, but you should.

Insight: So, tell us  a bit about your job at the Commonwealth Youth Centre.

Glenyss James: Well, we are a regional centre so we’re working with governments across the Caribbean. For the purposes of the Commonwealth Caribbean, Canada is considered part of the Caribbean. So it’s seventeen Caribbean countries all former British territories, plus Canada. I have the responsibility for working in education training component of the centre and sports. The Commonwealth has recently got very involved in sports development and peace where you use sports as a vehicle to engage young people and others in the developmental process and as a peace building mechanism. So, I have to support that initiative in the Caribbean. But since the inception of the commonwealth we have been doing a lot of training of youth workers and so more recently we’ve been responding to these demands because you want to professionalise the work you do.

Insight: What do you mean when you speak of CYP’s goals to professionalise youth?

GJ: When you think about it, with every other profession you can’t wake up and decide that because you like playing with injections you’re going to be a nurse. You have to have the training. And so we need to be able to develop standards for the youth work that’s being done in the region.  So, we now have in the Caribbean what we call competency standards for youth development work which were endorsed by CARICOM in 2012 January at their Council Meeting. So now, anyone who studies youth work in the Caribbean based on the competencies that are set out within the standards they are going to be able to have free movement across the Caribbean because we’re all using one regional qualification for the work. Based on that the University of the West Indies have decided they are going to start a degree programme using the standards.

Insight: How did you come to this position?

GJ: After working at the revenue department for seventeen years and coming off when I was getting my son I stayed home for five years. During that time I looked around the community, observed the issues that were abounding and I formed an NGO to begin to address the whole concept of helping children with literacy and it made me realise that despite the fact that I’d worked in taxation for seventeen years, my heart really was in helping people find and maximise their potential. So after that break whilst working at Caricom as an Administrative Assistant I saw this opportunity and the job was advertised was a two year, plus, stint with the Inter-American Development Bank/University of Guyana and it was a Regional Non Traditional Skills Training Project for low income women who did not have any qualifications. And, that really appealed to my interest in giving back, so I resigned from Caricom to start up this project which was for 30 months and I just had a wonderful time working with these women seeing them coming to know their worth, helping them to recognise their potential. And when that project was finished I begun working with CYP and it’s that same ability to help persons reach their potential that I find so attractive in this current position.

Insight: It’s been a decade since your appointment. The world and the Caribbean, in particular, have witnessed significant changes. How have you seen the response to youth development change in this period?

GJ: I think it’s improved over the years. I feel that there a sense now, more than ever, that governments are beginning to realise that you really can’t have any real national developments and anything truly sustainable unless you develop the youths because it is they who will have to carry everything a couple years from now. So if you don’t provide them with the capacity for fulfilment and empower them giving them education and training and the understanding of patriotism and the things that they need, you might as well forget development because it cannot happen.

InsightHas that hope for a complete belief in youth development by governments across the region occurred?

GJ: I think we’re getting there, But, something which is not being accelerated with sufficient urgency for me is the reciprocal increase in the budgets put towards youth development. One of the things I would like to see is member governments doing more work together in the varying sectors in countries. Because education has money, health has money, different sectors have money and because youth is cross cutting I would like to see them taking a multi-sectorial approach to development – to pool resources in the country towards this youth goal. So I’ve been working more with trying on that environmental end to get more people educated to really understand what youth development entails, what are some of the frameworks that need to be in place.

Insight: In creating these frameworks, how pivotal do you see your office’s role in bridging the gaps and solving problems both nationally and regionally?

GJ: I think it’s critical actually, because we are poised in such a way that we have relationships with all the member governments. Governments are really looking to us to them and make sure that the correct policies are in place and that they put the right framework in place. So it’s a pivotal role. And over the years we have come to the stage where we realise that we have to make a paradigm shift and focus more on that enabling environment and try to affect what happens at a policy level.

Insight: What have been the major challenges?

GJ: I think the major problem for me, as I see it, is that we have not yet been able to get all our key players in youth development in countries at the national level to really come together and to decide as a country what it is they really want in youth development.  Ascertaining the kind of person we want our ideal youth to become and then working collectively to achieve that. I think that for me has been a little elusive. I don’t know that we as ourselves in the development agencies in the regions have worked very hard to make that happen but that for me is one thing –  if that were in place we’d be able to succeed with much of the actual youth agenda.

Insight: How did you come to this position at CYP? Was there always a passion for youth issues?

GJ: After working at the revenue department for seventeen years and coming off when I was getting my son I stayed home for five years. During that time I looked around the community, observed the issues that were abounding and I formed an NGO to begin to address the whole concept of helping children with literacy and it made me realise that despite the fact that I’d worked in taxation for seventeen years, my heart really was in helping people find and maximise their potential. So after that break whilst working at Caricom as an Administrative Assistant I saw this opportunity and the job was advertised was a two year, plus, stint with the Inter-American Development Bank/University of Guyana and it was a Regional Non Traditional Skills Training Project for low income women who did not have any qualifications. And, that really appealed to my interest in giving back, so I resigned from Caricom to start up this project which was for 30 months and I just had a wonderful time working with these women seeing them coming to know their worth, helping them to recognise their potential. And when that project was finished I begun working with CYP and it’s that same ability to help persons reach their potential that I find so attractive in this current position.

Insight: What about the youths? Amidst all these proposed developments, have they been enthusiastic?

It’s an interesting thing because when Caricom did a research on the youths, the 2010 report suggested that most of the young people in the Caribbean are looking outside of the Caribbean. There are some of them who I think have an interest, but I think that often they feel as if it’s a hopeless cause and think they would best be able to develop themselves if they get a chance to leave the region. I don’t think we have done enough to really engage that younger generation in the issue of community development. In every single study we have done the unemployment issue comes up. So we have to begin to look at whether, how serious is the mismanagement that’s being alleged  between education and actual jobs, look to see how significant underemployment is as well as unemployment, look to see to make sure that the right skills are there and look to make sure that we’re actually creating opportunities for the youths. How can we go about creating a culture of entrepreneurship among young people so that instead of them waiting to get a job they would look to create jobs and make jobs for others? All of that in aid of bridging relationships among sectors.

And just recently I was reading in the newspapers, a student from Bishops’ High wrote a letter in the papers. He said the older ones are not getting involved, they as youths have not seen the older ones getting involved either because all students are being asked to do is get good grades and get a “big wuk”, he said. We have to change to make sure it’s not all rush, rush, rush, rush to classes to get grades but at the end of the day they understand even as they are coming to school are given opportunities to apply some of the learning they’re getting in everyday life giving back to their country will become a natural part of the process.

Insight: I’m glad you brought up your work on the BHS Board. You always mention your days as a student there. How much has your time at BHS stayed wih you over the years?

You know I tell people that if I’d not come here I’m not so sure what I’d be doing at this point in my life because we never had a subject here called community development or national development but every single thing from the school hymns that we sang in the morning and everything else seemed to suggest that you were not coming in here just for an education. The very focus that we had, we had to work together to do stuff. I learned a lot of the team building stuff here. I learned the whole concept of a holistic education so even in my work now when I’m thinking about youth development I’m always coming back to my experiences at BHS. Mrs Jarvis would say tom us all the time that YOUR CONDUCT MUST BE EXEMPLARY. I think way down, way back then, she realised that we were lucky to be at a senior secondary school and we would always do well because of our education – we would always have openings in our lives because of that but she was more concerned about whether or not we’d be able to stay at the top of the game or to be able to maintain the positions that we had risen to and that was through character. Character building, that’s something I want for our young people.

Insight: Considering your BHS background and looking around at the system today and schools nationally, how confident are you about the youth developments initiatives excelling?

I can look around and refer to people who did not pass for the senior secondary schools. People went to what you’d call the regular secondary schools and they are out there holding positions and working along those students from those same so called top schools and you cannot tell the difference. Why? They had good teachers. Because when you think back to some of the people who taught at those schools in those days they had excellent teachers. And when I think back on that now it worries me because with the migration of teachers we do not have the quality of teachers that we had then to stretch from the senior schools down to the junior schools.  So once you don’t get into one of those top schools you are already at a severe risk. And that bothers me.  I said it before – there can be no national development without youth development  and if you don’t develop the youth sector you might as well forget the airport, the big hotels and everything else you think is important to Guyana’s development it makes no sense. Paying teachers a decent salary – and not paying the teachers that we currently have but to attract those who have long left the system, those who have migrated unwillingly and those who are right here but cannot afford to not provide for their households in a way that they see fit. Because their peers who are outside the education system earn more than they do, it’s a known fact and so a lot of them have had to choose not to teach. So, to me, as we go forward that’s one thing that’s a priority – for governments to understand that it’s imperative to find that money because it’s a vital investment, to ensure that the education system attracts the best. Youth development is imperative because if we don’t develop them or we will literally be financing ways for skilled and qualified persons to come in from other countries to take over us.

End of interview

True to her reputation as an industrious working woman, Ms James left the interview with Insight to head down to the Ministry of Education to do some business on behalf of The Bishops’ High School board. She quipped upon leaving, “If I can find the time to do something, I don’t need to wait for someone else to do it. I’m going to make sure I get it done.”

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