‘Hear us’

Disinterest in the country’s major political parties, frustration over being taken for granted and discouragement due to societal norms that contribute to the country’s brain drain are but some of the impassioned and considered sentiments expressed by Bahamian university students and graduates during several days of interviews with Perspective.

We visited the post-Dorian interim campus of the University of The Bahamas (UB) in Freeport, Grand Bahama, and spoke with UB students and university graduates on New Providence and abroad on their views about the state of the country, its current political prospects, roadblocks to their career goals and youth-based issues they feel need greater attention.

Their views on the present political landscape were unanimous: what they see right now is not what they feel the country needs.

General primary education major Shawnaya Simmons, 23, said she is disturbed by what appears to be attempts by the major parties to “buy the votes” of the young people, a tactic she says “is not going to work” because of the failings of both parties and individuals therein.

“It’s not reassuring,” she insisted, “because they are taking the wrong avenues in order to pull us in [and] they are not appealing to things that we necessarily are looking for them to do for our future.

“It’s not making us want to take over from them,” she argued, “because it feels like we would have a lot of cleaning up to do to make things better; the prospects aren’t looking too good [and] they’ve got a lot of stepping up to do.”

Simmons plans to pursue a Master’s degree in special education to serve her country in that critical field, and stressed that politics too often overshadows what is important to young Bahamians.

“To us, everything is not political,” she maintained.

“We just want someone to make a change. We don’t care which party you are for as long as you are going to make a change, and you have people who are diehard PLP, FNM, DNA [but] that’s not our generation – if you are actually willing to make a change, we are gonna back you.”

For Ginae Rolle, 24, a Biochemistry major who plans to become a pharmacist to help fill the void of Bahamians in the country’s field, the outlook is just as concerning.

“I feel like if they continue the route they’re going, nothing much would change and it would only get worse,” she opined, “because in politics now there’s a lot of older persons in high positions and I feel most older people are set in their ways, so if it’s not their way it’s the highway.

“I feel like the older people would feel like young people don’t know what they are doing because they don’t have the experience,” she continued, “but the older people need to give us the chance to have the experience.”

Shortly after speaking with Simmons and Rolle we met Trenton Colebrooke, a 17-year-old psychology major who is anxious to see mental health awareness strengthened in The Bahamas, and anxious to see young Bahamians rise to prominence on the political scene.

“Honestly, I just can’t wait for the new generation to come in,” he shared, shaking his head in apparent disillusionment over the current options.

“I know it sounds offensive,” he offered, “but I’m kinda sick and tired of the old people running the business and running the table, and I feel like once the young people come into power things may start to progress [but] as of right now I’m not interested.”

Another common thread put forward by students we spoke to is that the country’s political parties are all the same, and are big on promises of hope but short on delivery.

RasDe’Niro Thompson, a 28-year-old history major on New Providence, replied, “As it stands right now, I am hearing the same rhetoric and narrative as in campaigns before.

“I have yet to hear anything new,” he pointed out. “We are dealing with two sides of the same coin.”

It’s a position echoed by Kyle Kelly, 21; Annamarie Amerthil, 20; and Janeisma Rolle, 23, as they spent some downtime together following their classes in Freeport.

“I’m discouraged,” Kelly, a mechanical engineering major, shared, “because I feel that no one is making enough sense or doing anything properly with the country.”

He added, “I don’t know who to vote for as yet. I’m looking for the best options, and I haven’t seen that as yet either.”

Chiming in, Janeisma, a general education major, asserted, “When you vote, not much changes, so if you vote for the PLP, you’re hoping something will change, then they go [and] the FNM comes and nothing changes.

“It’s like they’re stuck,” she reasoned, “and when it’s more bad people than good, the bad overtakes the good.”

Amerthil, a primary education major, agreed.

“I feel the decisions they are making are causing this country to deteriorate slowly but surely,” she told us.

“I’m confused because I feel like everyone is the same, because they give you this false hope [and] the few good [ones] are mainly the minority so they don’t get to do what they said they were going in there to do.”

To Ethan Knowles, a 19-year-old accounting major, the quality of focus directed at young Bahamians by political parties comes down to the fact that young voters are less likely to be loyal to any given side of the political divide.

Knowles reasoned, “By listening to everything that’s going on right now, I see they are leaning more toward the older generation because they already have a party established that they really want to vote for, and they have secure votes from the older people because they don’t really change their party around like that.

“I might sit this election out because I’m not sure yet of what is going on and this would be my first time voting,” he responded when questioned on his opinion of the current prospects.

“I don’t know if my one vote will matter.”

“Who you know, not what you know”

DJ, 23, whose full name is being withheld due to his concern about potential consequences of his expressed views, studied abroad, holds two undergraduate degrees and shared that he has always wanted to return home to make a difference in his country he so dearly loves.

That an educated young Bahamian should worry about his job prospects simply by virtue of sharing his thoughts is evidence in part of the kind of stifling social environment which drives aspiring Bahamians to leave home or remain abroad in search of broader opportunities.

Disclosing his experience in seeking to return to contribute to his country, DJ said, “My application[s] to four Bahamian ministries were submitted a year and a half before I returned home [but] all ministries lost my application somehow, and I resubmitted them again along with dozens of applications to various organizations.

“I received a response from two ministries that they were not hiring at the moment,” he added, “so my experience since returning home was non-stop job searching and working jobs to pay bills.”

DJ, who commended young Bahamians for stepping into the political arena, stressed the importance of choosing representatives who are in touch with the struggles of the average Bahamian.

“I think it is critical that we elect political leaders that genuinely care for Bahamians,” he told us. “It’s disheartening to see political leaders, in my opinion, blatantly disregard or exhibit a lack of empathy to the many Bahamians trying to make it from day-to-day.

“Some of the largest hurdles faced since returning [home], in my opinion, would be the annoying acceptance of the ‘it’s who you know or [are] connected to, not what you know’ mentality,” DJ added.

“It’s also discouraging to see not only government leaders but Bahamians as a whole show unconditional support to foreigners, but tear down and make the road difficult for their fellow Bahamians.”

For 25-year-old Avery Moxey, a UB graduate who now lives in Canada, a lack of empathy on the part of many Bahamians and a lack of appreciation for one’s personal advancement pursuits have made returning home an unattractive prospect.

Moxey, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in social and applied human science, posited that, “I believe the brain drain in the country is caused by the lack of support by government to try [to] retain those who work hard for their education abroad after living home, because life is honestly easier to live most places compared to the cost of living in The Bahamas.

“[Until] minimum wage gets above $10 [an hour],” he asserted, “and young adults can live their life freely in The Bahamas without their accomplishments being capped to whom they may know or be tight with to get a job, you will continue to see UB graduates leaving and not looking back.”

Leaving home so as to further his education in computer science is the plan for Shane Thompson, 22, who is currently pursing his Associate’s degree in computer information systems (CIS) at UB in Freeport.

“We don’t have many career streams here,” Thompson told us as he expressed his opinion on why young Bahamians may be discouraged about their opportunities.

“Whether you want to be an actor or an actress, people don’t look at that like an actual option,” he conveyed, “and we don’t actually have facilities to help people who want those things.

“If you want to be an artist and you want to really do art, you can’t divulge yourself into that.”

To Thompson, the desire of young Bahamians to leave home comes down to better opportunities and the desire for greater exposure.

“I think most young people want to go away because they want new experiences,” he maintained, “they want to be more free and they want more opportunities.”

Thompson continued, “Most young people these days are just fed up with saying you’re a proud Bahamian, but you can’t say what The Bahamas has done for you.

“When you feel like your country is not doing anything for you then it’s no inclination to stay,” he contended, “and you don’t want to have to fix all the problems that the people before you created, and no one is listening to you anyway.”

“Hear us”

What each young Bahamian made clear to us during our discussions is that they want to truly be heard not only by the country’s political leaders, but by older adults in the workplace who they feel are unwilling to make space for young Bahamians to take the leadership roles they are destined to assume.

Kelly insisted that, “Younger people have the fresh minds and fresh ideas to bring the country and the economy back.”

His schoolmate, Amerthil, supported his position, sharing that, “The roadblock I have experienced is older persons not being subject to change and the older persons not wanting to move out of the way to make room for the young persons to come in.

“They are there to teach you but they also need to take some ideas from you which can help balance everything,” she said.

As young Colebrooke focuses on his passion of becoming a therapist and being “the hand that helps”, he is at the same time concerned that young people are being “taken for granted” in the country.

“I believe everybody’s opinion matters no matter what age, size, gender, whatever you are,” he declared as he spoke to his goal of helping young people to appreciate the need to open up about their feelings and hurts.

Shane also pointed to the need for greater mental health awareness, giving his view that the feelings and opinions of young people are minimized by many adults because of their age.

Those opinions, he noted, include opinions of young people about the state of their country.

“We don’t appreciate the state the country is in right now,” he stated, “and I know many young people, but adults don’t want to listen to what they have to say when they should be the ones you want to listen to the most, because they are the ones who the country is for.

“So it is up to us to change it and the only way that you get change is with new people and young people and new ideas,” he added.

The views expressed by this group of focused and articulate young Bahamians should serve as a wake-up call to the country’s political parties which declare that the youth are the future, but do not appear to be reaching in a meaningful way – through words supported by actions – the hearts and minds of many of our future leaders.

As Ginae looks forward to becoming one of the country’s leading pharmacists one day, she sees young Bahamians coming together and taking a stand as the only way their voice will break barriers.

“I don’t feel that our issues are being given respect at all,” she told us, “because we would voice our opinions through social media and other platforms and they would be just brushed over and they wouldn’t hear our cries.

“I feel like if we don’t come together and demand that they hear what we have to say, it will never be heard.”

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