Empowering tomorrow’s leaders

Twenty young people from around the region are now better equipped to influence decisions that affect their lives after a three-day hui at Tuahiwi Marae, that was run by Environment Canterbury’s Youth Engagement team.

They learnt how government works in New Zealand, about regional development in Canterbury, climate change, and even got to go on a field trip to find out about air quality monitoring, public transport, water, biodiversity and mahinga kai.

The Tuahiwi Marae, where Youth Engagement Team Leader, Hannah Dunlop, is leading an ice breaker.

Youth Engagement Team Leader Hannah Dunlop notes, “If we’re expecting these young people to inherit the decisions that we make today, we should get them involved in helping make those decisions but also to understand them so they can feel a sense of empowerment, engagement and agency in their world and that they have a role to play in that.”

Like other participants, Zoe Watson, a Year 12 student from Hurunui College has already shown her interest in youth affairs, through her membership of Hurunui Youth Council, but hadn’t realised how much there was to learn.

“I hadn’t known that much about how Government really works but having the guy come in and talk about it, it’s just incredible knowing how the whole system works. I think it really should be taught more in schools,” Zoe said.

Environmental issues including water and climate change were covered in detail too.

“I think it’s really important for our generation to be taught because we are the future and if we don’t do anything about it, then we’re not going to have a place to live. We need to solve this now.”

That urgency was reflected in comments by Associate Professor Bronwyn Hayward from the University of Canterbury, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. She told the young people that climate change is here already, pointing to vulnerable low-lying areas around the region where sinkholes are appearing, caused by sea level rise and increasingly severe storms.

“Councils, are completely unprepared for this. They’re going, ‘Yes it’s probably going to be in about 25 years’. No guys, these sink holes are happening now, people are going to not be able to get insurance now, we actually have to have city councils and communities organised now because it’s going to affect everyone‘s house prices now, we already see climate change happening now.”

Participants also got to meet Councillors Tom Lambie and Claire McKay, who helped them ‘demystify politics’. Jack Wilson, a student at Aotawhiti Unlimited Discovery, noted, “There were a heap of ‘wow’ moments, like, ‘There is so much more to this’. Definitely learning about the Government, the processes in place, it was like, ‘Wow, it’s not just those men in suits on the TV screen’, there’s actually meaning behind what they’re saying, the importance of what their job is, so it was really cool to learn about that.”

At the end of the weekend, participants discussed ways to put their experience and learning into action. Councillors and young people collaborated to decide how they could build a genuine relationship into the future. The message was clear, young people want to form a regional youth council comprised of a diverse group of young people from across Canterbury.

Councillors and young people collaborated to decide how they could build a genuine relationship into the future.

Kursal Ekanayake from the Youth Voice Canterbury management team adds, “It’s really good to see Environment Cantebury taking the next step forward and working with these inspiring and motivated young people across the region who are keen to make a difference.”

Environment Canterbury staff will now work with hui attendees and Youth Voice Canterbury to establish a working group to develop next steps for setting up a youth council for the region.

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