International students at the University of the South Pacific engaged with local youth networks to get involved in Youth Fest 2017, a weeklong celebration of activities in the lead up to International Youth Day (IYD). IYD is celebrated globally on 12 August and this year the theme was Youth Building Peace. The Youth Fest event was organized by local youth group Advocacy (through) Creative Techniques: Fiji (ACT: Fiji) in collaboration with Japan Pacific Alumni Association (JPAA), World Peace Initiative (WPI), Fiji National University (FNU) and Fiji School of Medicine (FSM) student association.
The Youth Fest began with the commemoration of the 72nd Hiroshima Peace Memorial event held at USP’s Japan Pacific ICT Theatre. International student and JPAA alumni, Viliame Yari shared his experience during his visit to Hiroshima Museum in Japan last December. He shared a brief history of the Hiroshima Nuclear bombing and his interaction with the local people. International office staff and Project Coordinator for JENESYS 2016, Elisha Bano, further elaborated on the JENESYS programme being a building block towards peace between the Pacific Island communities and Japan. She also shared her experience while visiting Hiroshima Museum and interacting with one of the survivors from the 1945 Hiroshima Nuclear bombing incident.
Later in the week the Youth Fest organizers hosted the Thoughts Aloud event which gave young people a platform to share their experiences and highlight issues of concern to them and their communities.
The event saw these issues come to light in the form of songs, poetry, storytelling and spoken words. During the event International student, Genevieve Townsend (from Melbourne Australia) shared her poetry on productivity. “My first month in Suva was exciting and I was forced to slow down as I didn’t have the same responsibilities or tasks that I have back home. It is the most relaxed I have been. When I spoke to a friend from home they told me that I wasn’t being productive. Performing at the event was more nerve-racking than I thought. I can’t wait to practice more and try new stories and poetry,” says Genevieve.
Additionally, JPAA alumni and International office volunteer, Najeeba Raheem, performed a spoken words piece sharing her experience as an audience to when fellow students show cased their creative art pieces addressing the issue of domestic violence and rape. She talked shared how she felt when the audience roared out in laughter at such a sensitive and pressing issue in our community. “There is nothing funny about domestic violence and rape. It is a serious issue and one that needs to be addressed with great care. There might victims and perpetrators in the audience. How are we making the victim feel when her/his experience is enacted on stage and the audience in roaring with laughter? I felt I could use this Thoughts Aloud platform to share this issue,” says Najeeba.
The event also saw International office staff, Elisha Bano, share a spoken words piece she wrote called #Hashtag. “We live in a world driven and consumed by social media. Everything we do can be documented online. This piece takes a smiley, happy start to a young woman’s life and all the butterflies and flowers turn to anger and frustration when she finds her workmate a silent victim of domestic violence. It shows how you can use social media for personal use and sharing your everyday routine life whilst also advocating on social issues and using these same social media platforms to educate others around you,” says Elisha.
The next event was initiated by International student and member of the organizing group, Salman Raza. The Lunch Box event took place on Friday and International students, JPAA alumni members and volunteers from the organizing team distributed lunch packs to the less fortunate along the streets of Suva City. The event was made possible by the generous donations from USP’s Research, Innovation and International (RI&I) office staff, members from the Faculty of Science, Technology and Environment (FSTE), staff from the department of Development, Marketing, Communication and Alumni (DMCA) and members and friends of the organizing team.
The final day of Youth Fest was 12 August, IYD and two events took place on this day. The morning session was the Youth Advocacy Workshop which was attended by students from USP, FNU and FSM. The workshop addressed sessions on Human Rights, Multiculturalism, Identifying social issues and advocating on these issues using creative techniques. JPAA alumni and former president, Elvis Kumar, participated in the workshop. “It is great to see a workshop conducted by youth for youth. We don’t see that very often. Also, it is great we have a chance to participate in an advocacy workshop. This is something different for us young people and the opportunity is a grand one,” says Elvis.
Later in the evening the Youth Fest was concluded with the Mai Talanoa (panel discussion) event. There were two sets of panelists and they spoke about; Youth and education, mental health, Youth and peace, International Youth agencies, climate change and Youth volunteerism and Artivism. International student Genevieve Townsend shared about her experience as a youth advocate in Australia and the work she is doing around Climate Change while JPAA alumni and International office volunteer, Elvis Kumar, shared his experience in the area of Peace. He spoke on the relevance and important of self and inner peace being foremost important. Finally, international office staff, Elisha Bano, shared on her volunteer experience with youth and her work in the area of Artivism. “Through the initial volunteer work I did I networked with fellow young people who were change makers and making a positive impact in their community. I wanted to be a change maker too. This drove and empowered me to get more involved in youth and community development. I wanted to be part of the solution and my passion for creative arts drove me to work in the area of Artivism,” says Elisha.
The organisers recognised Elvis Kumar as their Youth of Honour for his work in the area of Peace. The collaboration between the groups made it possible to successfully coordinate the various activities and events for Youth Fest 2017.