Arise and open your eyes – it’s time to turn the tide! This was the message of young Pacific islanders attending the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain, this week.
Using a powerful mix of songs, images and dance to make their voices heard at the world’s largest gathering of conservation interests, these young leaders called on their elders to take them seriously and give them more responsibility in conservation and youth development issues.
Ron Simpson, Deyna Marsh and Luisa Tagicakibau travelled from Fiji and the Cook Islands to represent 40 participants of the Pacific Future Environmental Leaders’ Forum, which met in Suva, Fiji in March this year. The Forum serves as a mechanism for bringing together proactive young professionals working on environment and sustainable development issues.
“While we have the utmost respect for our culture and heritage, we also recognize that we need to address a continuing “culture of silence” that exists in many Pacific youth communities,” said Deyna Marsh, an environment officer with the Environment Service in the Cook Islands. “In choosing to respect our elders and adhering to accepted cultural norms, many young Pacific islanders often think they are not allowed to speak out at all.”
Luisa Tagicakibau, a project assistant with the IUCN Oceania Regional Office in Fiji, adds that the challenge for Pacific youth is to find ways to speak out and take action without appearing to be disregarding their cultural expectations.
Ron Simpson, a Masters student at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji and the composer of the songs, agrees. “We can use creative ways to have a voice,” he says. “People may not always listen to a speech but you can’t really walk away from a catchy tune - the message tends to stick.”
Taholo Kami, Regional Director for IUCN Oceania, adds that participation of young people at such events is an effective way to build their confidence and, by broadening their perceptions of the world, strengthen their ability to contribute more effectively to the cause of conservation and sustainable development.
IUCN collaborated with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) to enable the youth participation at Congress.