“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” Diogenes Laertius
A few weeks ago I was invited to participate in the Youth Development Forum (YDF) both as a student of Macquarie and as a staff member of the Global Leadership Program in my role as the GLPs Indigenous cadet. The aim of YDF is to encourage aspiring leaders from East Timor (formerly, Timor Leste) and Macquarie University’s Global Leadership Program to develop their skills in community development and advocacy as well as their knowledge of human rights.
The 2014 Youth Development Forum started off with a bang at the Opening Ceremony held lakeside on the grass at Macquarie. There was a ‘Welcome to Country’ and smoking ceremony performed by Chris Tobin, a Dharug elder, followed by a engaging music and dance performance by “Descendance”, a well-known Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dance troupe. Next, all participants, both from Timor-Leste and Australia gave, and received in return, cultural offerings representative of our respective countries. The evening was capped off with a delicious dinner and lively conversations between all those invited. This opening event set the stage for the next few days’ themes of cross-cultural understanding and sharing of each other’s personal experiences.
The first official day of the 2014 Youth Development Forum centred around the human rights challenges faced by Australia and Timor Leste as well as the legal framework (i.e. the United Nations, as well as various declarations, treaties, conventions, etc.) through which these challenges can be addressed. There is some comfort in the fact that there is a foundation on which human rights issues can be remedied or advocated for. However, it is important to note that declarations and treaties must be both ratified and entered into domestic law in order for them to have any real standing. Without getting into overly-technical jargon, international laws which are not entered into the domestic laws of a country are considered ‘soft law’ because they are not legally binding. The term ‘hard law’ denotes laws which are legally binding and to become this it is imperative that international laws are ratified into domestic law.Also on the agenda today were the presentations of GLP students as well as the Timorese participants. All participants were asked to present an in-depth overview of a particular human rights issue in their respective countries. Presentation topics included Indigenous rights (in Australia), education, women’s rights, environmental issues and the treatment of children. Everyone put a lot of effort into their presentation, and I for one was shocked at the problems that Timor-Leste faces, especially in regards to education and women’s rights. The realisation dawned on me that despite Timor Leste being so close to Australia but is worlds apart in terms of our most fundamental rights. We in Australia definitely have it better than many, which is not to say that our society is without serious and important problems, especially with regards to Indigenous rights. All in all Tuesday was a thought provoking and sobering day.
We also heard from three remarkable ladies who talked us through their individual social change projects. Kylie Marks, Amy Rogers and Suzie Nguyen all started a project/s with the aim of making a positive social impact on a particular human rights issue (more information on these projects at bottom of article).These presentations were a standout for me personally because they allowed me to see how someone could identify a problem, realise they’re passionate about changing it, and develop something practical to change the situation for the better.
All too soon came the last day of the Forum, Thursday. The only downside of Thursday was it being the last day and reluctantly said goodbye to our newfound Timorese friends. The day started off with learning about current projects happening in Timor-Leste. We learned of an organisation called “PRADET” (which stands for ‘Psychosocial Recovery and Development in East Timor’), that offers counselling and support to victims of domestic violence, children who have been abused and those who have mental health issues. We also learned of the work that Rotary are doing in Timor to improve conditions for Timorese youth. Their focus is on inspiring and developing community leaders in Timor Leste and they run annual events to support this objective including the ‘Rotary Youth Leadership Awards’.
Following on, the group focussed on ways of actioning what we’d learned throughout the week and how we could all help each other in our individual projects and campaigns. The last “official” part of the YDF was writing in our reflection journals what we’d learned throughout our time together and completing an evaluation of the Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) who facilitated our activities and speakers. After this the event was capped off with singing and dancing led by the Timorese group who gave everyone in attendance, including GLP students, staff members, and the DTP gifts such as hand-made jewellery and scarves. This cemented the friendships that we’d all formed throughout our time together and ensured that we would never forget our Timorese brothers and sisters. Although, I know that I don’t need a beautiful scarf to forget these incredibly inspiring people.
I’d like to give everyone who attended the 2014 Youth Development Forum a huge thank you. Thank you to the GLP, the DTP, to my fellow Macquarie students, to my new Timorese friends, and to all the presenters. I will never forget my time in the forum.