Tonica Hunter: Rethinking Youth Development

Tonica Hunter (Extreme left), Boris Johnson, London Mayor (Middle) In a group picture with Uk top ten Black students

Tonica Hunter (Extreme left), Boris Johnson, London Mayor (Middle) In a group picture with Uk top ten Black students

She may be quite young (Just 24 years old), but the Tonica Hunter nurses big dreams.

She is at the moment, preoccupied with initiatives for youth development in developing countries and is feverishly working on how to get Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) in Africa and the Caribbeans to inject some flexibility into their educational system to give their youth greater leverage that would empower them to effectively confront the increasing versatility and competitiveness that global environment presents.

‘In developing countries, the focus is very much ok, give them an agricultural project; give them a project where they use traditional skills,’ says Miss Hunter who is majoring in Migration and Development for her post-graduate degree in the Oxford University.

For her,  the status-quo may not be exactly effective in empowering the youth for the global challenge, ‘I think slightly differently, I think if you give people a broad education; to broaden their horizon, then they are not limited to just do those projects that you’ve given them. With education, everyone should have opportunity to do whatever it is that they want to do. Your training for instance could be in trade, why can you not go into IT, why can you not go into languages if you want?’

Her argument essentially is for policy makers in developing countries to start re-engineer their educational systems to equip their youthful population with hands-on skills that can fit them into any professional situation that they find themselves.

In developing countries such as Ghana, government policies towards academic and professional empowerment are often strait-jacketed; there are undoubtedly little opportunities for professional ‘cross-carpeting’.

The resultant effect of these archaic policies is a pile of professionals possessing skills sets for only a limited scope of things. In effect, they are unable to flow with the tides of the demanding global environment that is increasingly converging in technology and everything else. ‘For me, development is about capability and freedom. The concept is that development is more than just economic,’ for her real self empowerment is to be able to device an educational system that would equip the youth the ‘freedom to do whatever they want to do.

Hitting the field
Tonica Hunter who is currently doing a stint with Western Publication Group’s entertainment arm BBnZ, was struck by the versatility of the young managers and staff of BBnZ, ‘ In the UK, with this kind of talent, they could get hired by blue-chip corporations just like that [making a quick snap of the finger to emphasize her point].’

For her, this is the kind of skills set she expect from young people in Africa and the Caribbean.

Incidentally, she is currently in Ghana with a group of young UK-based volunteers to pilot a concept of that seeks to teach the youth about the endless possibilities of developing outside their comfort zone. She calls it ‘development in freedom’.

The programme is aimed at getting young Ghanaians to keep in touch with the realities of a rapidly evolving world where survival and the self- empowerment is situated in an extremely competitive global context.

Based purely on her initiative and successfully got  UK-based charity organization ;Youth with a Global Vision to agreed to sponsor her group in a one-week trip to Ghana to pilot the idea.

Their focus of the pilot project would be in Esiama, a small Nzema community in the Western Region. Their task would be to advise the youth on how to align their academic programmes towards their chosen future professional careers with a focus on a global playing field.

In their one-week sojourn in Ghana, the group consisting of young graduates and undergraduates from the UK whose age range is between 16 and 25 years old would be actively teaching their Ghanaian counterparts how to effectively write CVs, how to present themselves and also how to be confident. ‘It is also about how they contribute to community volunteerism through social enterprise and how to get youth in Africa, the Caribbean get themselves involved in initiatives that actually help us,’ notes Miss Hunter.

She is confident she can draw from her wealth of academic experience and help satisfy the quest of the YOUTH, specifically, for the young people in Esiama.

Her confidence in her ability to trigger a mindset change in developing countries is rooted in her enviable academic exploits and credentials at the Warwick University during her undergraduate studies. She studied French and German and eventually went to an Ivy-league citadel (Oxford University), for her post graduate studies.

Indeed, she is one of the few students with Afro-Caribbean heritage to have excelled so much in her academics that she was nominated to receive the prestigious London Schools and the Black Child awards (LSBC) in the House of the Lords of the UK parliament.

The LSBC is one of the few awards tailored specifically for ethnic minority groups in the UK, ‘It is very prestigious, very competitive. I didn’t know about it; a friend of mine nominated me because of my grades,’ she said with nostalgia.

‘It felt great, sometimes if you are so close to the work you are doing, it [an award like the LSBC] could be quite humbling. For me, it was time to reflect on some of the work that I have done and some of the projects I had in mind. It was an encouragement.’

For her, the awards was a result of the efforts of her mum who struggled to give her the best education she can afford, ‘My mum made a lot of sacrifices so that I can get a good level of education.’

According to her, the award was a very good platform for her to advance her ideas in youth development, ‘ That was a very good platform for me in terms of a bit of publicity, maybe a bit of impetus for me to keep going’

The award was mainly based also on extra curriculum activities and social enterprise programmes that she had undertaken during the course of her studies. This includes charity and community development focused programmes.

In 2011, she was voted among the top ten black students in the UK by the Future Leaders magazine and the mayor of London was excited to have a photo opportunity with the group of young intellectuals.

Indeed her track record shows a young lady with an extreme strong passion for youth development initiatives.  Incidentally, for her post-graduate dissertation, she explored the concept of urban youth. She researched on how poverty, deprivation, racism and unemployment among young people permeate the UK and worldwide and how the youth are rebelling against those negative phenomena.

‘I don’t intend to solve the world’s problems,’ she quickly adds, but noted policy makers in Africa and other developing countries may eventually see some sense in the issues she is raising through her initiatives and possibly start a paradigm shift on how issues of a broad-based youth development should be handled to effectively equip them for the challenges of an ever-advancing global environment.

Miss Hunter admits that her views may be based on a purely academic viewpoint, a hands-on experience in Esiama would be an ideal personal learning tool for her to fine-tune her concept of youth empowerment and development, ‘ For me, it is a personal learning toolIt would probably open my eyes on what the realities on the ground is.’

To start with, she has set up a blog to give life to her experiences in Ghana and possibly present her group’s findings to other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) working in developing countries to influence youth development initiatives.

‘I think a lot of organizations are trying to tap into the huge resources we have of massively bright young people-black people-, and bringing that social capital and skills back to Africa or back to the Caribbean,’ she noted.

She concedes that it is more challenging for African or Caribbean youth to develop themselves because of inherent racism and institutional discrimination against them, but that notwithstanding, they could surmount those peripheral difficulties because there examples of several positives, ‘On one hand, there is ongoing discrimination; struggles and poverty, but on the other hand, there are some positives. Actually, a lot is being done to promote this [youthful] generation’

A youth Ambassador
Clearly, Tonica Hunter is going to make herself a veritable youth ambassador, as much as she tries to avoid that possibility distracting her, she is fast advancing towards that level and she says he would be honoured to be.

Personally, she wants to be modest about that possibility, ‘I think there are many who have done more, I can do more still, but I am happy with what I’m doing and I think if other people are inspired by that, then that is even better,’ she concluded.

Tonica Hunter is full of positive expectation for this pilot project, ‘I’m anticipating meeting great and capable young people who might not necessarily have the resources or the opportunities to actually do whatever it is that they want to do.’

 By Raphael Ofori-Adeniran

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