By 8 am on the second day of the Commonwealth Youth Forum, buses filled with young people from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific, wheeled into the welcoming arch of the Intare Conference Arena in Kigali, Rwanda.
The young delegates speak a range of native languages and some communicate through sign language, but all at the Youth Forum were ready to talk to each other and agree what role they would jointly play in tackling the unprecedented challenges facing the Commonwealth.
These young people are all acutely aware of the climate challenge, and every one of them had woken up one day to the devastating news that a novel virus called Covid-19 was wreaking havoc in their country, taking lives, disrupting their education services and threatening their prospects.
But what they also had in common was an unwavering commitment to come up with an action-oriented plan to address the Commonwealth’s social, economic and climate challenges, working in partnership with governments, and local and international organisations.
Building on the work of the previous day and guided by their theme “Taking Charge of our Future”, more than 350 young people sat around tables to work on a Youth Declaration that will be handed to Commonwealth Governments for consideration during their summit.
Speaking at a plenary on how youth can champion innovation for transformation and development, young, multi-award-winning water, sanitation, and hygiene activist from Bangladesh, Shomy Chowdhury, underscored the importance of their collaboration.
“We all know what is happening in the world, we see the numbers, we watch the news, we get the statistics but what is beautiful about this Forum is it brings us all together."
Throughout the day, focused on innovation, partnerships and skills development, governments and organisations demonstrated their support for youth.
“As young people, you are supremely gifted, fearless and innovative. Your countries, the entire Commonwealth, cannot grow without your sustained involvement and collaboration,” the Hon. Harries Madze Bulunga, Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture, Eswatini charged them.
Taking charge of our future
In a fireside chat with young people, Ghana’s Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, Evans Opuku, described them as ‘‘the demographic dividend for Africa and Pan Commonwealth”, and stressed the importance of including young people in development strategies.
Pointing to the theme of the Forum, Hon. Deputy Minister of Information and Technology of Namibia, Emma Inamutil said: ‘‘Advocating for better communities, voicing for the vulnerable sections of the community should be embraced by the youths. We need the young people to take charge of the future, discover their mission and fulfil it.’’
Today’s meeting also saw the launch of the A4HPV – a Taskforce under the Commonwealth Youth Health Network focused on advocating for action towards cervical cancer elimination.
"We’ve heard that cervical cancer takes the life of one woman in the Commonwealth every three minutes. For each of these deaths there is usually financial and social catastrophe for the woman’s family and often for the community, often children are left without their mother. I call on young people to demand access to the vaccines," said Prof Marion Saville, a pathologist and the Executive Director of VCS Foundation Ltd – an organisation focused on implementing, supporting, monitoring, and managing population health programmes, including cancer screening and vaccination.
Chair of the Commonwealth International Taskforce for Cervical Cancer Elimination, Dr Miriam Mutebi, added:
“It is important to increase understanding around cervical cancer, to normalise conversations around reproductive health and having agency over one’s health, to address and debunk myths around cancers. The use of innovations will help us to disseminate these messages and provide opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.”
Encouraging the young leaders to join the campaign, social innovator Cindy Chng, “Awareness is key, but access saves lives. Cervical cancer is not a woman’s problem, it is everybody’s problem.”
During the launch, the network distributed cloth bags – sewn and designed by women who lost their jobs due to Covid-19 – with self-sampling swab, to demonstrate that testing of HPV can be less invasive and less uncomfortable for women when simple innovations like self-sampling is adopted.
The Forum will culminate tomorrow with the release of the Youth Declaration to Heads of Government and the installation of the new Commonwealth Youth Council.
- Amy Coles Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat