Samoans on Youth Forum Taskforce Call for Urgent Action on Pressing Youth Issues

"Issues facing youth include climate resilience and leadership, youth economic empowerment to offset unemployment, social welfare, cultural heritage, digital technology and economy with the rise of Artificial Intelligence, peace-making and the list goes on. They all have equal standing in my view.”

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Ofusina Toamua and Okalani Mariner Photo: https://www.facebook.com/ComSecYouth

By: Jasmine Netzler-Iose, Government Press Secretariat.

18 young people have been selected to form an international task force that will lead the planning and delivery of the 2024 Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) in Apia.

The selected group of youth leaders represent the 56 Commonwealth countries and will be working together with the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Youth Council, and the Government of Samoa.

Their work will involve the designing and execution of a forum aimed at bringing about tangible outcomes to address critical concerns and issues facing Youth today.

9 members of that taskforce are young Samoans with experience in youth leadership and engagement within their communities.

Samoa is the first small island state to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in October this year. The Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) will take place in the days before the Leaders Forum on the 21st and 22nd of October.

One of the taskforce members is Okalani Mariner, an active youth advocate. Okalani hails from Tulaele, Lalomanu, Sinamoga, Afega, Lano, Tufutafoe and Salelologa with ancestors from the islands of Niue and the Kingdom of Tonga.

She is the co-founder of Onelook Studio, and the youngest elected National Human Rights Advisor for Children and Young People in Samoa. She is a Pacific Climate Warrior and Human Rights Activist and has represented Samoa and the Pacific Islands at the Youth4Climate2022 Powering Action Summit in New York.

Okalani utilises the spoken word and poetry as a tool to tell the stories of Pacific people’s frontline truths and advocate for Climate Justice.

Ms Mariner says discussions at the CHOGM Youth Forum, will centre on addressing critical issues that affect Samoa and other Commonwealth nations.

“One key concern is the rising trend of youth migrating for jobs, coupled with the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters caused by the climate crisis.”

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Okalani believes the task at hand is a twofold focus. The first is to foster dialogue among young leaders worldwide on strategies to encourage socioeconomic development in commonwealth countries.

“We want to create environments where our youth feel motivated to contribute to their home nations’ progress while securing viable livelihoods and a means to make a living.”

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Commonwealth, Ms Mariner says, must recognise the urgent need to confront the climate crisis head-on which is the second focus.

“At CHOGM, we’ll advocate for unified global action, particularly targeting the fossil fuel industry, to safeguard our planet for current and future generations.”

TRANSLATING OUTCOMES INTO REALITY

Another inspirational member of the taskforce from Samoa is Ofusina Toamua who has proven experience in advocating for youth development in Samoa and the Pacific. Ms Toamua wants the outcomes of these meetings to become reality.

Well known for her contributions and work in civil society circles, Ofusina’s role in the Youth Climate Action Network (YCAN) and the United Nations Development Programme, brings to the table 17 years of experience working with the youth.

“Taking up the opportunity is personally out of patriotism and passion to contribute to the empowerment of youth from the Blue Pacific Continent, especially with Samoa hosting and is the first island state to do so,” she said.

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Ms Toamua’s passion for youth development is fueled by her personal experiences living and growing up in Samoa.

“So my lived experiences as a youth in a struggling Samoan household motivated me to always support and mentor young people”.

Ms Toamua strongly feels that the struggle is real for the youth of Samoa as well as the Pacific and Commonwealth. Youth represent the majority of the unemployed and offenders data in these countries.

“These are strong evidence [and] suggests that they must be at the core of any development initiative and design.”

As result, she says her vision is for ‘all youth especially the most disadvantaged to realise their potential and God given talents as their aspiration for strength and resilience, to fulfil their calling as leaders for tomorrow’.

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Most importantly, that the youth are provided with ‘pathways in policy framing by those in power to provide them with access to opportunities so that they can exercise their rights to life’.

WHY BE PART OF THIS TASKFORCE

“It’s the first for an island state to host, which is something any Samoan should put their hand up to help in any way they can,” said Ms Toamua.

“I’ve put my hand up because, I would like Samoan youth to use this platform to showcase our Samoan way or Faa Samoa [so] to bring about good change to the challenging youth landscape of this digital generation.”

And how is that done exactly?, “Samoa leading by example and holding hands with our Pasefika Brothers and sisters to show the world what we are made of, using our Pacific way and our intelligence to inform and influence policies that affect young people.”

Being a youth mentor and advocator, Ms Toamua says she stands in solidarity for young people who are less fortunate, so they are reminded that their voices do not go unnoticed, and that there are people like herself who are able to make it to these platforms, to speak for them and on their behalf.

ACHIEVED FROM THIS FORUM & TRANSFORMING OUTCOMES INTO REALITY

“There is not a topic that is of less importance than the other. For instance, climate resilience and leadership, youth economic empowerment to offset unemployment, social welfare, cultural heritage, digital technology and economy with the rise of Artificial Intelligence, peace-making and the list goes on. They all have equal standing in my view.”

According Ms Toamua her issue is the translation of all these high level talks into prioritising those young people who are the least advantaged and to ensure policies and programmes will be influenced by the viewpoints of youth.

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CONTRIBUTION TO TASKFORCE

Ms. Toamua says her strengths are in policy and programme aspects and this is where she will inject her contribution towards the Taskforce sub grouping.

And she is no new comer to the coordination work in meetings of this importance.

“I was involved with SIDS Conference coordination when Samoa hosted it in 2014. In that capacity, I led coordination of parallel and side events for Community Based Adaptation which amplified SIDS voice for community best practiced projects hosted in the Lefaga district, Samoa.”

And so she would love to see some of these high level talks translate into community work, where our reality is.

“I’ve supported numerous community level projects for youth empowerment whether it be for Conservation efforts, economic empowerment or leadership with community and faith based youth groups.”

She was also involved in the SIDS Youth Pacific Outcome Statement and Declaration for COP21, was a mentor for the Youth Climate Action Network (YCAN) of Samoa Inc. that won an International Award from RAMSAR Wetland Conservation Award in 2018.

“My action based approach with youth leading with the right support and guidance is the ultimate goal of being a youth mentor and supporter in this capacity as a taskforce member.”

Toamua’s role as a mother and youth mentor for organisations in Samoa and long standing supporter of the Samoa National Youth Council is what continues to draw inspiration in empowering the youth.

“I have lived as a youth and I am a mother to four children, two of whom are youth aged 17 and 13,” she says.

“As a mother, I want my children to live in a world where equity is central to people’s way of living as a norm. A space where young people feel safe and sound, with freedom to exercise their rights to live happily with accessible means and robust resources they need to thrive. It is our role to empower the next generation to be courageous and live without no fear of the future.”

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