March launches Safe Youth Cowichan into public eye

Community Safety and Safe Youth Cowichan, a pair of networking groups whose aim is increasing the feeling of community safety, especially for the Valley’s youth, held a special walk Saturday, Dec. 14.

Following a group of elders, they walked, drumming and singing, from Boys Road to the Trans Canada Highway and along Statlou to Theik and Mulaqw Road in an initiative called a "Safety March," spearheaded by Cowichan Tribes.

Franya Jedwab of Cowichan Women Against Violence’s Safer Futures committee said she was delighted by the turnout for the march.

"The event Saturday was a Cowichan Tribes event that we worked on together.

"We are still talking together with them.

We worked very cooperatively together on this event and on a dialogue, which took place at the House of Friendship, which was quite well attended by everyone who went on the walk. I thought it was a great turnout; people were very respectful and it was well supported," she said.

Safe Youth Cowichan is now approaching municipal governments with an eye to increasing the group’s profile with the public.

"That’s a direction the youth themselves have wanted to go in. It wasn’t a necessity, but it was something they were interested in," Jedwab said.

The young people are a mixed group. "That’s the beauty of it. There’s such diversity in personalities and a wealth of background experiences," she said.

Safe Youth Cowichan arose after a series of youth dialogues in 2012 following a safety review undertaken by the regional district’s Cowichan Safety Advisory Commission.

There were 11 dialogues in 2012 and more than 340 young people took part. Information was gathered at that time on areas that felt safe and why, or unsafe and why.

Currently, there is a partnership between Cowichan Women Against Violence Society

under Jedwab’s agency Safer Futures and Community Options Society.

The two groups are coordinating Safe Youth Cowichan. "We have gathered a team of 10 youths of various and diverse backgrounds, youths from all walks of life and at a variety of ages. We are currently working with the communities of Lake Cowichan and Ladysmith to reach more youths to conduct dialogues," she said.

Safe Youth Cowichan is continuing to work on neighbourhood action projects.

"Currently, one of the projects focuses on the University Village local area plan and the Trans Canada Highway. Safe Youth Cowichan has been conducting safety audit walks in these areas and working closely with North Cowichan and City of Duncan planners," she said.

The group’s research shows that while many young people are employed and involved in recreation, arts and volunteerism, there are still many who are not.

In response to the murder of 16-year-old Tyeshia Jones and the subsequent Take Back the Night Walk, the CVRD Community Safety Advisory Committee identified regional concerns about youth victimization and crime and prioritized a youth safety review in the region.

Federal officials have also identified a series of indicators that a young person could be at risk.

These include: negative attitudes, values or beliefs; low self-esteem; substance abuse; poverty; low literacy; homelessness; presence of neighbourhood crime; lack of positive role models; children who witness violence; lack of services; unemployment/underemployment; family distress, violence; racism; mental or physical illness and leaving institutional/government care.

The next steps for Safer Futures, CWAV Society and Community Options Society involve continuing to work in partnership with various agencies towards more community engagement and the unearthing of a successful strategy to help young people feel safe and successful where they live.