Thursday, 22 May 2014

Little progress for New Zealand’s Pacific children

The government's latest budget has been deemed by many as: budget. Grocery snobs will be familiar with the concept, although the difference is, you can usually get some high quality products through the budget brand.
Unless you are from the world of business or part of the "one per cent", the 2014 Budget offers very little quality, and even less hope for genuine progress in the area of child poverty for Pacific communities.
Longitudinal research by Professor Peter Crampton from the University of Otago highlighted that Maori and Pacific peoples still represent the poorest of people in New Zealand, and that the situation has not improved over the course of a 20-year research project. Released a week before the budget, it set a rather gloom and doom tone in anticipation of a forward future thinking and progressive budget.
Unfortunately, Maori and Pacific people will have to continue to wait a bit longer for such a budget to appear.
I learned early on in my studies to appreciate the fact that poverty is multidimensional. Poverty is manifested and affects different people in different ways. It is no surprise then that the authors of the Salvation Army's first State of the Nation report on Pasifika people in New Zealand have argued that Pacific communities have made "modest and tenacious" progress in some areas, whilst struggling in others, and in some cases their situation has worsened.
Genuine progress in the area of child poverty requires more of a concerted and holistic effort by the government. For far too long, the current and previous governments have ignored the interconnections between housing and health, education and finance.
Poorly thought-out policies within these individual policy areas often interact and are interdependent and have a destabilising impact on the ability of Pacific families to progress from their current situations.
A forward-thinking and progressive budget would look to tackle key issues for Pacific children and their families in the area of housing, health, education, finance and welfare support. It would not require the government to do a lot of creative thinking. Extensive research has identified what the issues and possible solutions are. What Pacific children in poverty require is action!
Although the very important advocacy work we do as Child Poverty Action Group Youth will focus a lot on the role the government can play, this indeed needs to be supplemented by a change of thinking within Pacific communities.
My friend Josephine Nickel-Leaupepe talks about expectations embedded within some of our Pacific cultures and the way in which this can often contribute to, and worsen cases of poverty for families.
Pacific communities also need to think carefully and critically about the effectiveness of our engagement in local and national decision-making processes. The last few elections saw a consistently poor voter turn-out, particularly amongst Pacific peoples (youth and adults).
One recent blog post, from Pacific Guardians, would have us all believe Pacific people are "waiting" in church to be saved by Pacific-friendly policies by the government.
Although the accuracy of much of the article is questionable, it does however hit one of the issues on the head; the need to mobilise Pacific communities in contributing to processes and discussions that will determine the quality and outcomes of life we all aspire to in this country.
Darien Fenton describes an epidemic of "downward envy", where people who see themselves as battlers feel they are missing out on something given to others who aren't as deserving or hard-working.
This view, which is rampant in mainstream media/New Zealand and also evident in parts of Pacific communities, needs to be abolished if we are ever genuinely going to work towards the eradication of poverty in this country.
A more positive approach would see that the progress of Pacific children and families in poverty will be beneficial for the country as a whole.
Genuine progress in policy is important. Genuine progress also needs to be well supported by a shift in ideology within mainstream New Zealand. It must be led by a government with a plan (and budget) that is far more ambitious and is critically aware of the situation on the ground, and a New Zealand public (inclusive of Pacific) committed to ensuring all its citizens do well.

* Published in the New Zealand Herald on 22nd May 2014

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The politics of negotiation: the uphill battle for Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

The second day of the conference was intense. I found the first day was very much spent on getting to know each other, to see how fabulously patriotic Sri Lanka is and that whole touchy feely 'we are the world, we are the children' sentiment, as the world's youth gather to discuss the prioritisation of youth as a group within and in the construction of the next set of Millennium Development Goals. 

Today I felt like the rug of solidarity (clearly evident on Monday) had been pulled from under our feet, as the world's youth came together to 'negotiate' (hah!) what the priorities will be in the Colombo Declaration - the end product/ outcome document combining the priorities of the world's youth.

'The Colombo declaration, which will be released at the end of the 16th World Conference on Youth to be held in Sri Lanka will be used as a global base to draw policies on youth affairs in the coming decade. All policies with regard to youths from 2015 to 2030 will be drawn according to the terms of this declaration.'

You can imagine the scenario. Over 500 young people from over 169 participating countries, all vying to ensure their interests, and the interests of their constituencies are represented within this comprehensive draft. Good if you're from a large region with plenty of fellow delegates here to support you. Not so good if you're from a smaller region, and have to fight twice as hard to get people to listen.

Today in the regional meeting sessions, we (the Pacific delegates) were part of the Small Islands Developing States region meeting, along with the Caribbean nations and AIMS (Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea).

What should have been an exercise in determining what was absent in the Colombo draft to help guide what particular issue SIDS countries should be addressing, and given that all countries in SIDS are the most vulnerable to climate change, and that climate change is largely absent within the current draft, you would think this would be the natural issue that would unite us; one that we would all be proud to represent and advocate for. 

It turns out that climate change isn't important to some people within the three regions. We are meeting again tomorrow to see if we have made any progress on this.

On a brighter note, I finally met all of the Pacific delegates including representatives from Fiji, Tuvalu, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Kiribati, Aotearoa. We met separately after the SIDS region meeting to ensure we as the Pacific are on the same page, to agree that climate change, will be our main priority in terms of global issues which impact severely on SIDS youth and their livelihood. We talked, we laughed, we did it ... you know the Island way. And it felt great to give ourselves that space. We are not attempting to recreate the wheel, we are simply asking member states to recommit to existing impacts and policies around climate change, environmental protection and disaster risk management and preparedness, and for other SIDS countries, and the bigger regions to help champion this cause, and ensure it is reflected in the Colombo Declaration. 

Two more days left, and I see we still have a lot of 'negotiation' ahead of us, to ensure that we as (probably) the smallest regional grouping in the world, having the loudest voices when it comes to representing and advocating for the Pacific.

I think this will do for tonight.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Sri Lanka and the World Youth Conference 2014: Day 1 Opening Ceremony

Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka.

I have to admit my knowledge about the country was fairly limited before I was accepted to attend this conference.

What I have seen is a very proud and patriotic country. Kind of reminded me of home, but is also very unique in it's own ways. 

There is a big enough Indian community in NZ to know Sri Lanka is quite different. Pictures of their much loved President splashed in just about every free corner you can find. Not once have I come across one sour faced Sri Lankan. They all appear to be genuinely happy and very friendly people and have gone out of their way to make us delegates feel extra special ..... and extra welcome. 

Everywhere we go we are accompanied by a police escort, partially because the traffic here in Colombo is crazy, but it's also an extension of their warm hospitality. They have stopped at nothing to make sure we are safe and happy. I kind of get the feeling that being happy is the national motto for Sri Lanka.

The Opening Ceremony was splendid, filled with so much life, colour and beautiful insights into Sri Lankan culture. The venue for the ceremony, the Magampura Ruhunupura International Convention Centre is approximately 3 hours away from our hotel, but well worth the wait.

The multimillion dollar complex put on the best of the best to welcome the worlds international youth delegates formally to Sri Lanka and with Sri Lanka's much beloved President Mahinda Rajapaksa, officially declared the conference open. I felt like royalty walking up the aisle past 100's of young Sri Lankan's dressed in their nation's best to welcome us (see photos)

Just as admirable as the opening ceremony is Sri Lanka's genuine commitment to advancing the lives of it's young people, ensuring that young people are part and parcel of decision making processes within the country.

With such a wonderful start I am looking forward to the rest of the conference. There are several key themes and foundations being addressed at this conference, more information here. I am participating under the foundation of empowering margenalised youth including most at risk young people, and in the theme of Environmental Protection, Emergency Preparedness and Youth Centered Urbanisation, two things I am particularly passionate about.

Will keep blogging over the next few days to let people know how the discussions go. The objective is by the end of the conference, that we are able to develop our contribution for 'youth in the post-development agenda', for the United Nations and international community to consider.

Now time for some much needed sleep :)