There is a refrain in Swahili language that says, “Mtoto umleavyo ndivyo akuavyo” (a child grows the way you bring him or her up). In many cummunities today, there is that generation of people, roughly between the ages of fourteen to twenty five, that is difficult to deal with. These young people are considered ill mannered and hard to teach or correct. However, if you study the life these people live you will find out that they reflect the very image of the people they call their parents.
What I mean to say here is that when a child is born, the parents and indeed the society around him or her can mold her into whatever they want. Little children learn first through observing and later trying all they have been observing. I remember when we ware young, one of our best hobbies was acting like we saw our parents do. We would have mom and dad and the rest would be children. We would go to farm, market, cook, quarrel, etc, mimicking our own parents or the neighbours parents including the drunkards of the village.
When I hear people making such coments like, “the youth of today are like this or that”, I retort in my heart, “and they are exact replica of today’s parents”. I strongly feel that there is nothing wrong with our youth today, all they are is what their parents and the society around them has molded them to be.
Instead of lamenting endlessly about the young people getting lost, which is ofcourse true, we need to create platforms for them to find meaning in life by doing meaningful things at their own phase and volation. All the youth need is a sense of meaning and responsibility. There are some who feel that the only way to impart meaning in the young ones is by giving lengthy and scarely lectures on topics such as drugs, early pregnancy, crime and so on. Well, this may work in some places but I believe the best way to mold the young people into responsible adults is by creating platforms for them to do meaningful things for themselves and others without accelerating their transition to adulthood.
The process of gathering such groups and creating the platforms comfortable enough for them is lengthy and full of disappointements. It needs good communication skills and a lot of patience. Nevertheless, I am here to tell you that it works. Here in our mission in Simanjiro, Tanzania, we slowly see the fruits of this approach. The youth are now able to organize themselves and do something meaningful especially for the disadvantaged of the society. Instead of begging for food donations from their parents to take to the needy, they decided to cultivate a small piece of land for the blind old lady resinding near the parish so that tomorrow she can have food from her own garden.
The young people want to be the best they can be but they do not get the opportunities to do so. All they get is negative criticism from adults and leaders. I feel good when I hear them criticizing themselves rather than the criticism coming from adults. There is so much potential unraveled in our young people. Let us give them opportunities they need.
Fr. Lawrence Muthee, SVD