This year’s International Youth Day has just passed here in Fiji and the momentum is building as more and more young people are engaging in activities that highlight their agency, concerns, and contribution to society.
Over the weekend I accompanied a group of five young women and one young man to an Advocacy workshop that focused on themes surrounding Equality and Equity, Arts and Culture, Peace and Security, and Sustainable Development. I knew that for all six, this would probably be their first time to deeply engage and reflect on these ideas.
The workshop was conducted by a young woman named Elisha Bano (pictured), an exceptional recipient of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award in 2016 who had founded her own cohort titled “Advocacy Creative Techniques: FIJI.” Also known as ACT FIJI, the group’s main objective was to promote the use of creative arts for the purpose of advocacy on social issue in communities.
Here in the Pacific region, art is not a new thing with our wide array of printings, carvings, crafts, dances, songs, chants, and poems. They are used as ways of recording and recovering our stories, skills, and creativity, so what Elisha then does through ACT is she utilises these artistic forms to advocate on social issues that are relevant to young people. This is important because even though there is appreciation for our creative arts in the Pacific, the reality is that economic and social demands of young people often marginalise the arts as something of lesser practical value than the areas of business, economics, and administration. Art can be considered as too risky because with art comes the great sphere of the Unknown.
Elisha stated that, “Art has a lot to do with perception, thinking outside the box, creativity and innovation; all of which are subtly embedded in our Pacific History. We must revive some and maintain them if we want our cultures to survive. Our ways of story-telling bring communities together, they help us develop our creativity and boost out imagination.”
I saw that day that my group of six were immersed into new ideas and ways of thinking. Speaking to a few of the girls, they expressed how they were challenged to see things anew especially in terms of gender issues and their role in society. I felt it best to let them be immersed in the workshop and mingle with other young people so as to figure themselves out – one of the best things I believe you can do for a young person is give them space to evolve.
This has been especially true for one of the young women in our group. Akanisi Draniliga is a 23-year-old woman who when I first met with her was painfully quiet and very shy. She works for the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma and in the last six months has dedicated a lot of her time to help me with the Vunilagi Book Club. At first her engagement with the club was obligatory because I had asked for assistance, but as the months have passed she has chosen to dedicate her time and energy wholeheartedly. I have seen such an increase of confidence and initiative in this young woman and most recently her leadership skills in her community have just blossomed.
When asked what she learned at the workshop, Akanisi replied, “I learned that if I want to achieve something I must move out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. I must also speak up about injustices and not be quiet, because if I am silent about an issue affecting me or my friend, then nothing will change. I met a lot of other young people at the workshop who were so smart and talented, it taught me that we as young people have so many great things to offer in our communities. I also learned that peace in the world must first come from having peace within ourselves.”
Elisha and Akanisi are not the Next Generation of young women, they are Generation Now. In their own ways they are contributing to inter-generational empowerment by building up their skills-set, experiences, self-knowledge, and community engagement at the grassroot level. There are many things which may differentiate Akanisi and Elisha – culture, ethnicity, religion etc., but it is these very things that can be catalysts towards creating a more whole and conducive future where differences are celebrated rather than a cause for fear and suspicion; and for an island nation such as Fiji, nothing could be more promising for the upcoming generation of children.