Youth from all over the SIDS began to enter the huge plenary hall and take their seats which were marked with a piece of paper with their countries name on it. NEW ZEALAND was situated at the back of the room so we made our way towards those seats and waited for the day to begin, the reality of actually being at the T.A.L.A.V.O.U Youth Pre-Conference had not quite sunken in yet. At first it was truly heart-warming to see that these young people from all over the world had come to voice their opinion on issues that were impacting their communities, families and general everyday life but as the day progressed we noticed that the youth voice was slowly beginning to get shut down.
As you know, there is always that select few group of people at conferences that always have something to say and have questions to be asked, who can appear to be quite dominant and very intimidating. The handful of youth that made sure they were heard often drowned out the other youth who were lost, as the processes had not been explained in much depth. Many of the youth had travelled far distances and for some, just a bus ride into Apia but for many of them, English was not their first language. I approached three young men who sat quietly, looking at each other; I introduced myself and asked for their names. They replied by showing me their land yards and I saw that they were from Samoa, I then asked what thematic area they were most interested in but they sat there, nodded and smiled. One of the guys said “climate change” and the other two just agreed and smiled. It was at this point that made me wonder how many of the youth saw language being a barrier which made them unable to contribute to discussions. From this experience, I questioned the remainder of the day and how effective the Youth outcome statement would be at the main conference that was to be presented the next week.
One particular moment that happened towards the end of the Youth Forum was when asked if they were happy with the outcome statement, one young person raised their hand, “I believe that ‘Cultural Identity’ should be a separate thematic area as it is important to us that our culture is maintained.” The drafting committee (Which was comprised mainly of youth who had been to various UN Conferences) replied with “We have that as a sub clause under Social Development.”
Many pushed for it to become a separate area but like a broken record, all they said was “It’s under social development”
When you walk down the street in Apia, you can see the Samoan culture everywhere from in infrastructure to the smell coming from the market stalls. When you drive into a village you see the traditional fales and when welcomed into the village you meet with the Matais and experience a kava ceremony. The Samoan youth were extremely proud of their culture and tradition and to lose it would be detrimental as it would mean a loss of identity, which is why they strongly urged for it to become a separate thematic area.
In the end, the Youth Outcome statement wasn’t recognised at the main conference which was disheartening and it really infuriated me when “Youth are the leaders of tomorrow” was used to describe the passionate young people that surrounded me - because youth are the leaders of today and are tasked with making a better tomorrow, otherwise they wouldn’t have come to the Youth Forum.