Spending the day with members of the Department of Conservation’s Youth Development course is always a great physical and mental challenge, but always a very rewarding one. This week the group assembled at Allan’s Beach on the Otago Peninsula to undertake some weeding and planting at the pikao plot established as a partnership between Spiralis Ltd, Portobello School and community group Save the Otago Peninsula. It was one of those rare Dunedin days when the sun beat down hard as the group laboured weeding and preparing a smaller adjacent site for further planting. With just enough time for a quick drink and a chance to catch their breath they went to another Spiralis partnership project to release riparian plants at Portobello creek.
Conservation Corps is a Youth Development programme administered through the Ministry of Social Development and has been part of the Dunedin youth and conservation scene for 23 years. It’s a free 10 week training and development course for young people, aged 16 to 24. With a great mix of conservation, community involvement, outdoor recreation and personal development the programme is an opportunity for young people to find their niche as well as motivating them for future training and education endeavours. In June 2012 the Ministry of Social Development announced that they will be cutting the funding for the Dunedin programme to look at other initiatives such as “active youth citizenship.” It seems such a backward step to cut a programme that has delivered so much to young people and the community over the years. Their enthusiasm and energy is a great asset for the many community based conservation programmes that exist in our region. The removal of funding is especially hard when youth unemployment and training opportunities in the current New Zealand economy are particularly tough at present.
Many young people need that initial step up to find employment, training and the confidence to get a start in life. The Department of Conservation’s programme instills a great sense of direction and pride as well as creating a new generation of young people with an environmental conscience. More than that though it helps to create young people with community awareness and how they can contribute to that community in a meaningful way. Let’s hope that the Youth Development course gets a vital funding reprieve in the future, they certainly earned their money today!