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UNFPA Jamaica Sub-Regional Office Assistant Representative Melissa McNeil-Barrett shares her experience participating in the US President's Young Leaders Town Hall event on 9 April in Kingston.


Everyone working in the area of youth development and empowerment in the Caribbean region wanted to be at the 'Town Hall with Young Leaders' hosted by United States President Barack Obama. It was easily the hottest ticket in town!

Held during the US President's recent working visit to Jamaica on 9 April, one of UNFPA's own received an invitation to join the town hall discussion at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies.
UNFPA Jamaica SRO Assistant Representative Melissa McNeil-Barret — a Fulbright Scholar — was the envy of her UN colleagues as she was one of the approximately 300 people invited to attend.
At the event, the US President fielded questions from the young leaders on various issues ranging from immigration reform, crime and violence and human rights.

President Obama announced a new USD 70 million investment to benefit young people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean under the President's 'Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative.'
The investment plans to target unemployed, poor youth, living in marginalized communities and create opportunities to gain necessary skills to compete and succeed in a competitive work environment. It places emphasis on education, training and entrepreneurship and involves educational exchanges between the USA and countries in the region.

Reflecting on the US President's announcement, Melissa considers much of what the President had to say as indirect endorsements of UNFPA's approach in the sub-region, and she sees an opportunity to intensify the organization's advocacy efforts for increased investments in young people.
"The President's messages and the announced initiative are in line with what UNFPA has been saying about the value of investing in youth and the potential of young people to drive economic growth and sustainable development in the region." She adds: "his decision to bring attention to youth issues provides a spring-board for the SRO to intensify its work with national governments and CARICOM to ensure that youth development is prioritized in the Sustainable Development Agenda."

Melissa was particularly excited to hear President Obama's encouragement to young people and the expression of the hope he has in their ability to "become the change" that the region needs through entrepreneurship, productive use of available technology and rejection of negative traits like cronyism and corruption.  
"This is significant given the size of the region's youth population and the hopelessness that many have expressed due to the harsh economic climate," she stated.

Her only regret was not getting the opportunity to pose a question directly to the President. Given the chance, Melissa said she would have asked him to suggest arguments to convince Caribbean governments to prioritize investments in preventing adolescent pregnancies (based on his administration's experience with National Pregnancy Prevention Campaign).

"It was such an honour to participate in the historic youth forum for me personally and given UNFPA's strategic focus on adolescents and youth," Melissa concluded.