Friday, April 24, 2009

The Time for Service – Heads of State Support NYS Worldwide

The recent signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (click here for video) on the 21st April, 2009 at the Seed School in Washington, DC marks a historical moment in the history of the United States. President Barack Obama underlined his strong support to “encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations.” The signing of the Act is “the boldest expansion of opportunities to serve our communities and our country since the creation of AmeriCorps,” Obama said.

The Act will expand AmeriCorps and create new innovative service corps, establish a Summer of Service Program, create a Social Innovation Fund, strengthen the capacity of the Corporation for National Community Service, and expand service learning opportunities. Challenges like the economic crisis and climate change, as well as a growing demand for human services and jobs are posing “unprecedented challenges” for the United States. But the current situation also poses an opportunity to mobilize people throughout the country to serve.

Not only in the United States but also in many other countries like Great Britain, the Maldives, the Philippines or Liberia, political leaders are establishing National Youth Service programs to tackle the challenges of our time and to actively engage young people in their communities.

The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown introduced a new program (click here for video) that aims to engage 16-19 year olds in community service projects alongside training. He expects young people to contribute one year of full-time service, emphasizing their “citizen’s responsibilities.” The government will support schools to provide service opportunities to pupils and pilot ways to successfully engage them in communities. This initiative, if put into action by a re-elected Labour Party, would require young people to carry out service for the first time since the end of National Service in 1963.

The Maldives Volunteer Corps (MVC) will “soon work to provide teachers and health professionals” through national service, Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed said. The Maldives government is planning to establish a volunteer’s trust fund and an International Volunteer Program is planned that will bring teachers and health professionals to the country to cope with the shortage of skilled staff. These foreign professionals are supposed to train local staff to improve their skills. The government is considering expanding that program to others sectors depending on its success.

Under the Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, two new National Youth Service programs were recently established. She believes that "now is the time (...). We must initiate a new era of volunteerism and community spirit.” Young people between ages 18-24 will serve for two years to improve their communities and gain skills. The National Youth Corps intends to engage unemployed college graduates in education and community programs. The Youth Conservation Corps will provide opportunities for unskilled Filipinos in the environment field.

In a video presentation for the International Association of National Youth Service Global Conference in November 2008, the President of Liberia Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf underlined that “youth empowerment and national development are inextricably linked.” (Click here for video.) Youth empowerment is one crucial pillar of development and part of the recently drafted poverty reduction strategy called “Lift Liberia.” Furthermore she pointed out that investing in youth development is very important and “service-learning and altruism can be effective peace building tools” and can cause “enormous impact.” The Government of Liberia is currently developing a policy framework on National Youth Service to establish a National Youth Service Corps.

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