The International Youth Day is celebrated annually on 12 August, and this year the theme is ‘Youth Civic Engagement’. This day seeks to promote young people’s effective inclusive civic engagement at all levels. Active inclusion and input of the youth – as well as youth with disabilities, is essential to ensure comprehensive and sustainable development.
On International Youth Day, we had the opportunity of interviewing 25 year old Wilguy Dorsainvil. Wilguy was one of the millions of Haitians whose life was changed forever by the earthquake on January 12, 2010. When the earthquake struck, Wilguy, then 20 years old, was crushed by a building while walking to school in Port-au-Prince. He spent 18 hours under rubble before first responders could free him. He is now paralysed from the waist down, but that hasn’t stopped him from following his dreams.
Below is an excerpt from a conversation with Wilguy about the importance of youth participation in civic engagement activities.
What have you been up to lately?
Right now I am very busy. But that is good. Since I was discharged from the St. Boniface Rehab Center after the earthquake, I have only been focusing on my studies. I have completed courses in communications, journalism, and public relations. Now, I am focusing on management and administration, I am learning more about what it takes to oversee programs, to run a business and to manage budgets and employees. When I am not busy studying, I am working on my C.V., I am learning to network, and I am seeking an internship so I can see how to best apply all of the new things I have learned in the past 5 years. I am still very committed to helping other people with spinal cord injuries (SCI) or who are living with disabilities in Haiti. I spend a lot of time talking with other people, trying to encourage them and sometimes even to coach or mentor them. Whenever possible, I go to the support groups and programs that are held in the community for other people with SCI. For me, this is really the best way to spend my free time. I can see my friends, I can see what they are doing with their lives, I can share the obstacles I am facing, but I can also share my accomplishments, many people say that my commitment to being a professional has inspired them. I know that there is more that I can do in terms of advocacy, but for now, I am trying to learn as much as I can, so that I can be taken more seriously and so that I can be more effective as an advocate for people with disabilities. The challenges here are many, but when you can overcome something, even something as small as being able to go out on your own, it feels like a very big and important victory. I want other people to come that same sense of accomplishment.
What are your plans for the future?
To get an internship, then get a good job, then show others what is possible! I want people who are hiring in private and government offices to know that people like me have so much to offer, that we can work hard and that we are not a burden on our families. I am more than just a victim of an earthquake, or a part of Haiti’s history, instead, I am the future of Haiti.
How important is the engagement and participation of youth to achieve sustainable human development? How do we ensure that the voice of the youth is heard?
We are full of ideas, we are innovative, we know the problems so well, because often we are living them every day. People should ask us what we think, then then should actually listen, they should take our ideas and do something with them. If they don’t include us now, it will be too late. Young people with disabilities have so many first-hand experiences, we are often seen as needy or dependent, but in reality, we are often times more mature than others our age, we have been forced to think about things our peers haven’t, we have been forced to prove our worth, we have been forced to demand our dignity, so, yeah, I guess what I want to say is we are good resources, ask us and we will tell you the truth, we will tell you how we imagine our communities changing to make places for us in the future.
We experience the world differently than others. First of all, we need to be invited into the process, that’s the first step. Maybe people need to start paying more attention to what we are doing on social media, we are sharing lots of ideas, videos, songs, photos, not always just for fun, but many of us are sharing things that have meaning. This is how youth participate in society. I am connected with other young people with disabilities and SCI around the world because of the internet, we have so many good conversations, so many good ideas, but we need to find a way to share them with a bigger audience. I guess I need to think about this more, but this is why I keep studying and learning things, because I don’t have all of the answers, but I have so much motivation.