Viewpoint By Bill Reese
“Driving Impact Today for a Brighter Tomorrow” is a theme that could animate many a social cause these days -- locally or globally. It certainly is in accord with our work at the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and other youth-serving organizations around the world who adhere to the “positive youth development” school of thought. What does that mean? That we are deeply committed to ensuring the world’s young people have the skills, values and confidence in their own power to drive their futures and be productive and engaged citizens. This positive agenda, with its focus on investing in youth as invaluable assets in society, is increasingly shared by others – including the private sector.
Last week, on the same day that the nation’s attention was focused on the US Supreme Court in Washington DC as it grappled with historic legal issues surrounding gay rights, I was in Baltimore, Maryland, visiting with Harjant Gill, a young filmmaker from India. He cares deeply about these same concerns, but offers a different path to resolve them.
Harjant was born in India to traditional Sikh parents, and recognized early on how the patriarchal dominance imbedded in both the religious and social fabric of his community was marginalizing some people’s lives. On a very personal level, he knows what it feels like to be excluded and alone. At the age of 16, a year after he immigrated with his parents to the United States, he announced he was gay. It was a very painful experience. “My locker was broken into; people would make derogatory comments,” he recalls. Harjant’s parents were deeply disturbed by the news, and initially tried to “change” his mind. He says that in India, the subject of homosexuality was so repressed at the time that there were hardly any words to define it.
With over 78 percent of our population below the age of 30, Uganda has the world’s youngest population. Unfortunately this young population suffers from one of the highest unemployment rates in Sub-Saharan Africa, low school completion rates, and feelings of being marginalized and manipulated by our leaders. The challenges we face as a country of young people are many, but for every challenge we can find an opportunity.
I have always been passionate about the plight of my people, especially my fellow young people, and have worked all my life – whether as a student leader at Makerere University or as a Member of Parliament – to ensure that we all have the opportunities we deserve, live the kinds of lives we aspire to, and have our voices heard.