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Medellin, Colombia's second largest city, was once considered to be the most violent city in the world. That was in the days when Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel were headquartered there. Since then the murder rate in Medlin has gone down but violent crime is still a big issue and has been steadily rising over the past few months. One way Colombia fought back against crime was through the arts. At the heart of that effort, it is reported, are community centres that provide at-risk youth with non-violent alternatives to the gang lifestyle. An example is the work of Moravia Centre for Cultural Development.

I mused on the Columbian experience after hosting Delmance " Ras Mo" Moses, Dominica's premier performance poet, on the four months old programme Rhythm & Rhyme on Vibes radio last Tuesday after an armed robbery took place less than 20 paces from where I grew up in Goodwill.

Ras Mo and I spoke about the numerous youth groups and organizations in Dominica such as the Boys Brigade, Scouts, Cubs, Brownies, Cadet Corps, Aquarian Expression, People's Action Theatre, and Small Projects Assistance Team (SPAT), Movement for Cultural Awareness etc.

In the past there was also a Merry- go- Round in Roseau, donkey derby, flying of kites, boat races, ring games, the library, and study after school in the classroom itself, Carib & Arbeedee cinemas etc. All these helped to mould and fashion a generation. Engagement of our young people was paramount and kept them, or us, on the straight and narrow. What do we have today? Youths pull up on the block at mid-day in the burning sun, defiant, rolling spiff, hurling out expletives, taunting women; they are unemployed and looking for trouble- the devil finds work for idle hand to do.

I can almost hear you repeating the cliché "Times have changed", so how about changing with the times? There are no cinemas but we have videos and youths are interested in music videos, bikes, scooters, cell phones etc. In fact, the life of many youth can easily be summed up in three likes: technology, music/ sewo, sports, and fast money.

My point is, if young people do not see a way out then like the youths in Colombia, or anywhere else, they will resort to misdeeds and various crimes. Ras Mo reminded us about that and the programme he managed in Dominica, the region and in the USA. Through various cultural groups, association and organizations he brought attention to AIDS, for example, dispelling myths and modifying sexual behaviour; he also used popular theatre to influence the proper use of artificial fertilizers and pesticides.

Dominica had its share of these programmes in the past through radio drama series such as "Green Gold" and other types of calypso theatre. The nation was kept glued and engaged. Persons even took their radios to church and rushed home so that they did not miss those intriguing episodes. Lennox Honychurch read Dominica's history every morning before school; all these creative and artistic elements via radio gave us a sense of identity while educating the masses in a medium and language which they could identify with.

Gone are the days when positive uplifting lyrics dominated the airways from Jamaicans Bob Marley or Jimmy Cliff or our own Grammax, Exile One, Chubby or the patriotism of Ophelia. So what do we do?

Well, there are still a few resource centres around Dominica in various communities where our youths could be engaged by teaching them music, cooking, assembling of phones, bikes, fundamentals of being a videographer. But too many communities still do not have facilities to recreate while national facilities are sub- standard or non- existent.

By the way, would you imagine that after all the Lindo Park politics a few months ago, an affluent community such as Goodwill still does not have lighting facilities for young people to play in the evenings? It's no wonder American presidential contender Donald Trump is doing so well because people all over the world are fed up with politicians and the status quo.

Our youth are dying mentally, spiritually and also physically. Yet it is ironical that the very things they love are not available in their communities or community centers. They need hands-on activities in organized sports, playing fields to expend energy, business incubators, computers, cameras, small assembling plants and factories. But I can't end this article before stating that I believe the dismantling of the Junior Secondary Programme was not a good idea. In the case of Roseau, the de- commissioning of the Windsor Park really dealt our youth a serious blow from which the Kensbrough Football Club, for example, has not recovered.


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