Haggeye's Steven talks about inspirational
trip with Jo Cox Memorial Exchange Programme
Earlier this summer, Steven Sutherland (MSYP for Haggeye) was one of 20 young people from the UK selected to participate in the first-ever Jo Cox Memorial Exchange Programme.
Steven at the White House in Washington D. C.
The programme was inspired by the work of the late Jo Cox MP - a champion of tolerance, equality and human rights - and gave its participants the chance to visit projects in the United States of America which have these values at their core.
Steven was one of two MSYPs who were chosen to take part (Sanna Aziz MSYP Midlothian South, Tweeddale, and Lauderdale also took part; you can read about her experience here). Having learned of the opportunity in an email from the Scottish Youth Parliament, Steven began to read up on the exchange and he was immediately drawn to some of the projects listed on the programme.
MSYPs Steven (back row, third from right) and Sanna (middle row, first on left) with their fellow programme participants.
“The Door in New York City was one I was really interested in. It’s a youth-based programme that caters specifically for young people. When I was younger, the closest thing we had were youth centres, and it’s something similar to that but on a much larger scale. It was a safe place for young people to go for things like medical advice, educational courses, help with homelessness, etc.”
The Door’s mission is to empower young people to reach their potential by providing comprehensive youth development services in a diverse and caring environment.
Since 1972, the project has helped a diverse and rapidly-growing population of disconnected young people in New York City gain the tools they need to become successful, in school, work ,and in life.
“The people there were all from different backgrounds," Steven said. "Some had been offenders, some were homeless, some had dropped out of school, and it was a safe environment for them to learn, develop new skills, or get support and advice.
Meeting with people from all walks of life proved to be a memorable and quite moving experience for Steven, too. “We were in a church in Philadelphia which offered support for the homeless," he said. "Service users would come and go, and I got talking to an elderly guy who said when he was four he was put on a plane by his parents [in Cuba], and was sent to live with relatives he’d never met before. He never saw [his parents] ever again.
The church in Philadelphia which provides services and support for homeless people.
“Now he spends all his days around local libraries, and he’s homeless. It sounded like he’d had a really difficult life. His story really stuck with me."
Steven continued: “Another person at the same table used to be a university lecturer but lost his job, his family deserted him, and he was left all alone. These were really tragic stories, but the people were surprisingly upbeat, laughing and joking at times. It was a pretty emotional experience.”
Now Steven’s back in Scotland, he’s keen to see if some of the projects he visited in the states could be replicated on his home turf. “[Visiting The Door] outlined to me how lucky we are as young people to have a good education system here," he said, "and to have the help of different organisations that can bolster young people’s lives.
"I do think, though, that something on a similar scale to The Door is needed in Scotland, particularly for high school-aged young people.
“A lot of youth clubs and sports activities for young people aren’t always accessible. Local sports complexes in Renfrewshire cost quite a bit to use, but if there was access to more free services I think it would make a big difference to young people. Especially in terms of their mental health and wellbeing.
“In some ways we’re more advanced than America, but in others we’ve still got a long way to go.”