Members of the CYSF planning committee
Other members of NIHERST staff
Students, parents and chaperones.
Good afternoon, everyone. I am so happy to welcome all of you to the 2009 Caribbean Youth Science Forum; and an especially warm welcome to the students, hosts and chaperones from the neighbouring countries of Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Since the CYSF began in 1999, I have welcomed hundreds of sixth form students to this event, and we have been really inspired by the response from the participants over the years to keep it going. The reputation of this Forum has grown, largely by word of mouth, to the point that every year we are oversubscribed and have to turn away students whom we literally cannot accommodate.
I have to confess that, in the past, I sometimes wondered whether the students were just coming to CYSF for a nice holiday lime during the August vacation. But I have witnessed, over and over again, the high level of interest and enthusiasm of most students at the lectures and debates; I have reviewed the excellent feedback from the participants after each Forum; I have thought of the number of Trinidad and Tobago students wanting to attend every year, for whom this is certainly not a trip to somewhere exotic! I look at the number of participants volunteering to be hosts just so that they can 'sneak back' in and have the Forum experience for a second time; and I have heard of past participants who have gone on to study at the University of the West Indies, who continued to meet on campus wearing their T-shirts, as a kind of "CYSF alumni's club".
All of that tells me, unequivocally, that something much more than just the 'entertainment factor' has driven the demand for this Forum, and that CYSF is recognized by our young science students across the region as an event not to be missed. Even if you come primarily for the fun, you end up enjoying and valuing the tremendous opportunities for learning and sharing that this Forum offers you. In other words, all the reasons that we want you to be here are, in fact, the reasons that you do come. And what are some of these benefits and opportunities that past participants have extolled?
Meeting and dialoguing with peers from other countries; meeting leading scientists who not only shared great knowledge but helped them to focus their career goals; the field trips that showed science and technology in action; the opportunities to sharpen their research and debating skills.
My hope for every one of you here today is the same hope that I have had for all those students who have come through this Forum before you - that this experience will open your eyes to the possibilities and power that lie within you to transform our societies and to contribute to the global community. The rate of change and degree of connectivity in the world today is unprecedented and phenomenal. Ten years ago, when this Forum began, climate change was not a household word, primary school children did not have environmental studies in their curriculum, and Facebook and YouTube did not exist. This is your world, your reality, and it demands a new kind of thinking, and the capacity to react and to evolve quickly and creatively. Keeping up with the advances in science and technology is critical for regional development. But just as critical is regional cooperation and the sharing of ideas, for which the CYSF is, in a way, a miniature model. This Forum is not just about education in the narrow sense of knowledge. It is about life and relationships, vision and engagement, and the combining of individual efforts to serve the whole.
And on that note, I would like to leave you with the words of US President, Barack Obama in the speech that he delivered in Ghana last month. Ghana is a developing country, like ours, that is striving to ensure a sustainable future for its people in a rapidly changing and knowledge-driven world. President Obama's speech ended with a direct message to the young people of that country, but it was undoubtedly a message for the young people of every country. He said, and I quote, "I am particularly speaking to the young people. In places like Ghana, you make up over half the population. Here is what you must know. The world will be what you make of it. You have the power to hold your leaders accountable, and to build institutions that serve the people. You can serve in your communities, and harness your energy and education to create new wealth and build new connections to the world. You can conquer disease, end conflicts, and make change from the bottom up. You can do that. Yes, you can. Because in this moment, history is on the move. But these things can only be done if you take responsibility for your future. It won't be easy. It will take time and effort. But opportunity won't come from any other place - it must come from the decisions that you make, the things that you do, and the hope that you hold in your hearts." End of quote
And so, young ladies and gentlemen, I hope that this week at the Forum will be a memorable one, and will set a course for each of you in some way, when you leave here to embark on your journeys as the adults and the leaders of tomorrow - to create the future that you want for yourselves and to help others to do the same; to work together, to think together, and to enjoy and prosper together.