11-6_pj_tree_seedlingsWhen he was an old man in the years after the First World War, Louis Hubert Lyautey, Maréchal de France, was given a retirement job as Resident General of Morocco under the French Protectorate. Someone told him that the Moroccan Atlas mountain range, which stretches from Agadir to the Mediterranean, had once been covered by cedar forest.

He ordered it replanted at once. His civil servants objected that such old growth forests took millennia to establish. Lyautey replied briskly, ‘That, gentlemen, is why we will start immediately.’

One Tuesday afternoon I missed my bus. I began walking through town, knowing there was very little point in hitch-hiking until I reached the outer edge of Kaitaia. It was drizzling a little but I had a jacket. I received a ride from a man who went out of his way to take me home. One of those acts of kindness that buoys one’s impression of humanity.

That very evening, as we were driving through the grey, soggy rural landscape together, a meeting was taking place at Te Ahu to discuss possibilities to improve the lot of youth in our community. The driver explained that this was his first time back in Kaitaia in ten years. He was shocked at how much the vitality of the town appeared to have diminished in the decade since he had last visited. The project he was involved with brought him into contact with youth. They divulged to him that many of them used ‘P’. He asked why and they replied that they were bored. He had hardly slept the night before, concerned for these young people and angry that someone was benefiting monetarily by selling substances to them that could ruin their minds and their bodies.

He and I spoke about the causes of what he called ‘the lost generation’: the lowering of the drinking age, asset sales, generational unemployment . . . . We spoke of the outcomes for youth: crime, lack of work opportunities, a sense of hopelessness . . . .  We spoke of the some of the solutions which would need to be implemented to solve this problem: job creation, education that gave youth ‘work-ready’ skills, the need to truly listen to the concerns of young people, the need for many different members of the community and for central government to have the will to take on this long term project. It wouldn’t be fixed in a year or even ten. This could easily take a generation.

I reflected afterwards that our entire society needs to acknowledge that until every young person feels he or she has a future and is prepared to work for it we will all suffer. That the mountains of Morocco would not be transformed into old growth forests overnight did not in any way diminish the need to begin planting. That the ‘lost generation’ will not be retrieved without the efforts of each of us does not diminish the need to begin immediately.

Radio host, librarian, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.wordpress.com

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