UNDP is currently undertaking a “Youth Peer Mentorship Project to Promote Civic Engagement” in the area of Mon Repos, Morvant in East Port of Spain.

The objective of this pilot project is to identify young men and women in the area who demonstrate positive attitudes, behaviours and practices, and to guide them through a process of training and growth, eventually providing them with the necessary tools to serve as community volunteers and youth mentors, not only improving their own lives, but those of their peers and the wider community.

This pilot, funded by the UNDP Innovation Facility, is grounded in the theory of “positive deviance”. This concept assumes that in every community there are a few individuals or groups whose uncommon but successful behaviours and strategies have enabled them to find better solutions to problems than their peers who face the same challenges. Therefore, the use of the word “deviance” in this context is not intended to have a negative connotation, instead, it applies to those who deviate from the traps laid by negative influences and disadvantaged circumstances.

Instead of using generic interventions from the outside, this concept seeks to solve community problems by harnessing already existing resources from within the communities themselves that may be untapped or in need of development. This project seeks to build local capacities of youth to uplift and upskill themselves so as to chart a different course for their lives and encourage their peers to do likewise.   

It is the ultimate hope that through this pilot project UNDP will be able to test and develop a set of effective “positive deviance” techniques, that can be amended and scaled up for future implementation throughout T&T.

This project was conceptualized in 2018 and launched at the start of 2019. It is now mid-way through its three-month engagement phase. Initially 20 young persons were selected from the community of Mon Repos based on their ability to show resilience under tough conditions.

A detailed mapping of the community was first completed, which identified the most pressing social problems in the area, as well as the values and character of the community. For the selected young persons, personal development consultations were conducted, allowing the UNDP team to tailor the programme and design a series of workshops and training sessions which address the specific needs of participants.

To date, the young persons have participated in workshops treating with topics such as conflict resolution, team building and leadership, anger management, substance abuse, and trauma. They also produced their own Soca song during a session on music production. A field trip to the University of Trinidad and Tobago also exposed the participants to the range of programmes available for further education and training.

The project includes a mechanism of continuous feedback and evaluation from the young people themselves, and so far, their responses and experiences have been immensely positive and uplifting.

This project is well on its way to engendering a civic-minded purpose and drive amongst targeted at-risk youth. Once successful, it is expected that this project can be replicated across various high-risk communities across Trinidad and Tobago, leading to a whole host of young men and women contributing positively to their communities and the nation as a whole.

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