August 12 is International Youth Day, a day that celebrates and highlights the contributions youth make to society.
With young people making up over half of the Commonwealth’s population, there is no doubt that youth have an important role to play in the future of the association.
But in the week leading up to International Youth Day this year, the world’s attention has been drawn to the violence and mayhem of riots in the UK, which have been associated with young people.
For Noelyn Wagapu, chair of the Pan-Commonwealth Youth Caucus - which represents youth from the Commonwealth’s 54 member countries - the week’s violence may have undermined the reputation of youth, but it does not dismiss the potential youth have to contribute positively to society.
Ms Wagapu told Commonwealth News that youth have much to offer to leaders and policy-makers, especially in the area of youth development.
“Young people are very active, full of energy, and we embrace challenges. We are open to new experiences and we have a desire to change.
“If leaders work with young people then we can see positive change and harness the potential young people have.”
This year’s International Youth Day is ‘Change Our World’ and Ms Wagapu is encouraging youths to take action to create change.
“You can start small, like plant a tree, come out and participate in youth activities, or connect to the world through Facebook and look at the issues that affect young people, and help change the world into a better place. We all need to work together to change our world.”
As a former broadcaster in her home country of Solomon Islands, Ms Wagapu has been involved in youth work from an early age, including being part of a drama group for radio.
In December 2010 she was voted in as chair of the Pan-Commonwealth Youth Caucus at the Commonwealth Youth Leaders’ Conference in India.
The youth caucus consists of a chair and representatives from the Commonwealth regions of Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Its role is to work in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat on youth development issues, which are raised at country level through the national youth councils and regional youth caucuses.
Leadership of the youth caucus is held on a rotational basis according to the Commonwealth’s regions, with the Pacific now holding the chair.
The youth caucus deputy chair is Rebecca Solomon from Vanuatu.
Since July 2011 both Ms Wagapu and Ms Solomon have been working as interns on behalf of the Commonwealth youth at the Youth Affairs Division of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, while still representing the youth caucus.
“We are volunteers, having a passion for youth work we left our jobs to take up this role. For me it’s hard, I’m a single mum and I’ve left my two-year-old behind, but my daughter and I have seen the benefits of my work here,” said Ms Solomon.
Ms Wagapu said their commitment to youth development work has kept them going through all the challenges of living far away from home and pushing the youth agenda on behalf of young people in the Commonwealth.
They said the sacrifices and hard work have been rewarded by the changes the youth caucus is making to the lives of young people around the Commonwealth.
“As a member of the youth caucus, you see how countries in the Commonwealth are dealing with youth issues. You can take this knowledge back home and help the young people in your country be better prepared to deal with the same issues when they arise,” said Ms Solomon.
Ms Wagapu added that the youth caucus provides a strong voice for youth who otherwise would not have the ability to raise their concerns at regional and international level.
“The main thing is leaders must listen to our concerns when it comes to youth development. Who better than youth to make decisions on issues that will affect our lives.
“It has been exciting taking up this role, but also challenging. Dealing with the different time zones and communicating with youth in different parts of the world can be difficult, but we do the best we can with the resources we have,” she said.
The pair said their jobs as youth leaders have been made easier with their placement as interns at the Secretariat in London.
“It’s great having all these resources available for us to use and the staff to advise us on what to do and ways to get around our problems. They have really helped us in building our youth network.
“I wish the other regional youth caucus members could come and get the same experience,” Ms Solomon said.