For far too long, young people have taken the backseat when it comes to tackling serious social, economic, and environmental challenges; not anymore. Hundreds of youth from the Commonwealth came together and in one voice, boldly affirmed that they were taking the reins of their future.
Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, is famed for many different things, top of which is the country’s diverse culture and its clean cities. Kigali is the face of green vegetation globally, with its citizens required to grow at least two trees annually, which explains her green beauty. Countries could really borrow a leaf, no pun intended, from this small East African country.
The country recently hosted the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF), running from the 19th to the 21st of June 2022, and which was held concurrently with the Commonwealth Women Forum (CWF). I was honored to be one of the attendees, alongside thousands of young leaders and climate activists.
The Youth Forum is one of four; alongside the Business Forum, People’s Forum and the Women’s Forum. It was co-convened by the Government of Rwanda, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the CYF International Taskforce, and the Commonwealth Youth Council. The theme was ‘Taking Charge of Our Future.’
The Forum provides an opportunity for young people from the member states to build cross-cultural connections and networks; deliberate on youth-led initiatives addressing emerging issues impacting young people, strategise on perspectives to influence decision makers and ensure young people have a voice and agency in its future.
Climate activists across Africa championing for climate finance called upon wealthy nations to honor their one hundred billion dollar pledge to vulnerable nations for loss and damages. They presented an advocacy letter calling for the promised climate adaptation money to be delivered.
There were different plenary sessions that touched on Trade and Entrepreneurship, Technology and Innovation, Governance and the Rule of Law, among others. I chose to participate in the Sustainability: Environment, Climate Change and Blue Economies. Our team chose to focus on finding the solution to tackle plastic pollution.
The final policy document from the CYF will be presented to the President of Rwanda and the Commonwealth Secretary-General, giving young people the chance to have their opinions heard by the Heads of Government.
My finest moment was when I got the opportunity to deliver our advocacy letter to the 5th panel session of the CWF. In attendance was the Rwandan Minister of Gender and Family Protection, Prof. Jeannette Bayisenge, and Laine Munir, the moderator and Assistant Professor at African Leadership University. Also present was Hon Regina Esparon from Seychelles, Maliha Khan the CEO of Women Deliver and Mr. Unnikrishnan Nair, Head of Climate Change at the Commonwealth Secretariat.
There were other workshops that touched on other issues too like:
– Cervical Cancer Youth Advocacy 101 by Alliance for Action against HPV & Commonwealth Youth Health Network.
– SDGs and Climate Change in Africa by Sustainable Development Goals Center for Africa.
– Effective use of Social Media for Health Advocacy by African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) & Medical Students Association of Rwanda.
The three-day historic forum focused on just some of the issues that disproportionately and directly affected the youth during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. With the world going through uncertain times and the cost of living sky rocketing by the day, it has never been more important to ensure that young people take the helm and have a seat at the policy making table.