A Young Pacific Woman’s Perspective on the 3rd United Nations Small Islands Development States (SIDS) Conference

REFLECTION FROM THE PACIFIC YOUTH COUNCIL/PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP GENDER CLIMATE CHANGE & SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT/ WOMEN’S MAJOR GROUP YOUNG WOMAN, CHILDREN & YOUTH ADVOCATE:

A Young Pacific Woman’s Perspective on the 3rd United Nations Small Islands Development States (SIDS) Conference and the UN Process in Apia, Samoa – August 28 – September 4th , 2013.
Inangaro Vakaafi, Fatamanu, Mutalau, Niue
Member, Niue Youth Council
Vice Chair, Pacific Youth Council
Member, Major Group on Women,
Member, Major Group on Children and Youth

I was born and raised most of my life here in the islands by parents who instilled within me a sense of obligation to contribute back to my community. So when the request came for applications for the 3rd SIDS meeting I accepted this challenge, more than happy to jump on the bandwagon to speak up for young people and women.
Little did I know this whole experience would test all my beliefs, patience and ability to sustain the energy towards the cause without getting lost in the process.

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Apia, Samoa there was excitement and a bit of hesitation unsure what to expect. However I had been told this was a once in a lifetime experience but I had no idea how different it would be. The long drive to Tiapapata made it clear that Samoa had really pulled out all the stops to host this high level UN meeting with the colourful decorations and the banners welcoming us. As a Pacific islander this was a proud moment for me because although it was Samoa hosting this was an opportunity for our region to shine.

We were accommodated at the Baha’i compound a beautiful and peaceful location that proved to be the perfect respite of solitude for someone who is accustomed to life on the go. It was a chance for life to slow down a few paces while I took time to appreciate even the smallest of things. So I had a few days to acclimatize then we had a training session with ILO to highlight a successful story for the Youth Employment Advocacy Initiative (YEAI) that depicted sustainable development through genuine partnerships.

Then the pressure was on to make our presence felt at the pre conference SIDS T.A.L.A.V.O.U Youth Conference. Over one hundred young minds from the Caribbean, AIMS and Pacific region all in one room to talk about the issues and find solutions to our common problems. The one day youth forum proved to be a challenge simply because for issues of young people that are all so important you need more than a day to deliberate and come up with solutions.
If young people are in fact integral in sustainable development then we need to acknowledge that with a space that is conducive and not limited by time constraints.

The next challenge was coming out of the youth forum trying to gather ones thoughts to try and focus on the next step ahead. There was the Major Groups and Stakeholders one day meeting that we were part of the Womens Major Group and the Major Group for Youth and Children. On top of that the Renewable Energy Forum all very interesting but each requiring a level of attention and understanding.SIDS has a whole new meaning for me now for so many reasons.

I realise that this is a process that has taken some 20 years, first with Barbados then followed by Mauritius and now the Pacific had a chance to host. At times it was difficult to think straight but now I have experienced the harrowing processes of the United Nations makes me realise that if we as young people want to be heard and the space has been given for young people, we really need to step up to the mark.

It has been an overwhelming but also very rewarding experience in the sense that I have a new appreciation for the level of commitment it takes to work through these hard spaces to endure until the end with ones sight on the goal. The whole process did get quite stressful and straining but knowing that I had a whole group of young people going through the same experience we found comfort in each other and reassurance we would get through. Having this major meeting in our own backyard in the Pacific made life somewhat easier that I did not feel so isolated.

In all of this discussion about sustainable development I realise that as advocates how do we sustain our own energy and keep moving with the many challenges we are faced with? Something that also resonated with me was a quote that was mentioned many times over “If you want to go fast, walk alone. If you want to go far, walk together.” So the journey ahead may be long but taking one step at the time is progress and if we work together there is nothing that we cannot overcome.

So my advice would be for young people who want to lobby and advocate for youth voices to not only be heard but to also have influence on decision makers you are making a long term commitment and must be mentally and physically prepared for many challenges.

We need to be well versed on what the issues are and be able to articulate our thoughts in a way that is clear and concise but also to be willing to make some sacrifices along the way.
Life is what you make of it and life always throws you what you can handle, you just don’t realise what you are capable of until you are pushed outside of your comfort zone. Do not be discouraged but use each challenge as a lesson and a step towards progressive development.

So on that note here I am TRANSFORMING THE WORLD in my own unique way.
September 3, 2014. Apia, Samoa.

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