CYF Day 1 with the PM

The first official day of the Commonwealth Youth Forum has been a one of deep reflection for me, one which again has reminded me of how little I know and how much I want to know!

After a lovely breakfast in the Atrium Restaurant at the Esplanade Hotel (our venue for most of CYF) we headed into the official opening ceremony.

We were greeted by very warm, affectionate & insightful Myf Warhurst as our Master of Ceremonies before the ceremony was officially opened by our Prime Minister, the Honorable Julia Gillard, who was something of a surprise to me. It wasn’t the content of her presentation but how she came across in person. The Prime Minister shared her hopes for the forum, that we retain our idealism as it leads us to change and visionary thinking and she then shared 3 examples of inspiring stories from amongst CFY delegates. But what stood out to me is how poorly television captures her. In person she seemed incredibly genuine, slightly awkward, generous and almost endearing which is certainly not the picture I had of her from television and paper based media.

During the opening ceremony the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamelesh Sharma also gave a call to action, proposing that ‘Youth’ should be mainstream – not just the responsibility of dedicated departments – but instead every decision made should consider how it affects both young people and women. And here’s a handy & interesting fact for everyone – across the Commonwealth Nations (which include over 50 independent countries) – over half the population of the commonwealth is under 29. There are more young people living now than at any other time in history. The Secretary- General in his parting words asked us to be ‘ a well spring of optimism for the Commonwealth and the future.’

I want to speak more in depth about some of the issues that his speech raised in me, however I need time to percolate some of those thoughts before sharing – so stay tuned.

The opening ceremony also included a vote of thanks delivered by Federal Minster for Youth, the Honorable Peter Garret (of Midnight Oil fame, which both the Prime Minister and our Master of Ceremonies Myf Warhusrt made reference to!). Minister Garret also reiterated that the participation of young people must be embedded in decisions and planning for the future.

We were also privy to the thoughts and vision of CYF planning group Chairperson Alan Hyunh who asked for achievable action & tangible. Our final speaker the Youth Caucus Chair? (I think, I missed part of her introduction unfortunately) also asked us to ‘Make it meaningful. Make it real. Make it count.’ And again echoed earlier speakers in saying ‘ Young people must be an integral part of decision making for the future. What can you do to help as one individual to create this change?’

We were also treated by a welcome to country and traditional Aboriginal dance and the Variety Youth Choir who sang their own take on the Song of Joy and We are Australian.

Essentially I’ve just given a description of the running order of the Opening Ceremony. That isn’t what it meant to me though. The internal response and reflection I had to each of the speakers, the welcome to country and the choir was something highly personal. As I sat in the audience surrounded by a sea of colour, both in clothes and in skin, hair & flags I felt deeply moved in a way I still cannot fully capture.

In a way that says deeply and wordlessly and inherently to me that this actually does mean something. This goes beyond the communiqué and what it does or doesn’t achieve. That is important but the CYF is both something less and something much more than that end point.
There are deep frustrations with this forum and this system, many of them began to quickly bubble to the surface during our working sessions in the afternoon and yet this opportunity in and of itself is a moment to be inspired, to be empowered, to find answers and backers and ideas simply by talking to other delegates. I have learnt so much (not nearly enough!) just by being in a room with people living in circumstances so far removed, and yet so relevant to my own. The sense of reaching out and having others reach back is so precious.

On arrival to Perth yesterday I met the other SA delegate Khadija Gbla in the Shuttle Bus (Khadija is a proud Sierra Leonian and she is an absolute treasure and we should be so proud to have her as a South Aussie), Khadija was incredibly entertaining on the almost hour trip to Fremantle but the thing which stood out most from our conversation was the image of dancing and food, two things which are so easy to share, to break down the barriers and allow people to see each other as human.

The Human Side of the Commonwealth is the one that reaches out to me most deeply.

And this quote from the day perhaps sums it up most neatly ‘Peace and Understanding can not come from a book or religion. You have to venture out and touch the Nations.’

I’m going to leave it there for the first day but will catch you up on some of today’s work from our working group with tomorrow’s post. I’m working with the group ‘Youth Enterprise, ICT, Sustainable livelihoods & the Economy’. For quotable moments throughout the day be sure to follow along with the twitter hashtag #cyf2011.

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