Here at the Youth Development Institute (YDI) we are the voice of 56% of the children and youth living below the poverty level in Puerto Rico. Therefore, developing advocacy and public policy strategies that ensure economic development opportunities for the island’s children is a priority. With this in mind, we invited the young people from the Boys & Girls Club in the Residencial Llorens Torres who participate in the YDI’s Youth Advocate Program to share their thoughts on the tax plan the government presented to the Financial Oversight and Management Board and the proposed Education Reform.
Approximately ten young people, ranging in ages from 11 to 18, joined the dialogue. As part of the process, they participated in a Data Walk that allowed them to go deeper into the subject and visualize the media coverage and the data from economic projections. As a result of this exercise, the young participants expressed concern over the proposed cuts, since they believe this would lead to a reduction of employment opportunities available to them in the future, as they do not feel well-prepared from an academic standpoint. “It bothers me that they take education and continue to cut funding for it, since education is the way to being able to make money”, said one of the participants, a student from the Escuela de Artes Plásticas (School for the Visual Arts) in San Juan.
They also spoke about their concerns about funding not being used to cover immediate needs like books, educational supplies and hygiene and cleanup of school grounds. A student from the Rafael Cordero School, which specializes in commercial education, said: “In order to have the best possible education, we need access to books and supplies because currently our teachers have to improvise with what they have. For example, my science teacher told us to fix the books by adding photocopies of the missing pages. He gave us a note asking us to do it so we would all have books.”
Additionally, many of the participants agreed that their schools faced infrastructure problems. “The air conditioners don’t work in the specialized schools, and there is no air conditioning or any fans, not even in the computer rooms. We also have to bring our own water because the water fountains don’t work,” said the student. She added that “we need better hygiene and cleaning in our school, especially in the bathrooms. There is no toilet paper, no soap and no paper to dry our hands; we could catch influenza.”
These statements validate the YDI’s position that, in order to transform these conditions that affect the lives and development of children and youth in Puerto Rico, it is essential to develop advocacy efforts based both on data and the voices of Puerto Rico’s children, who feel the impact of decisions taken by public policymakers on a daily basis.
We acknowledge that this tax plan is not final, so we will remain alert to any changes that could be made by the Financial Oversight and Management Board. We will also continue to be active in the conversation regarding the budget that will be allocated to youth and children.
As a reminder, if you would like to know more about the YDI’s public policy efforts to reduce poverty, you can access www.juventudpr.org, our page on http://www.facebook.com/idj.pr or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.