When I was a teenager, my favourite place to hang out was The Shed, our church’s youth centre, and a place I talked about back at school on Mondays.

It was the centre of crazy group games, messy sludge wars, Dunedin-style ‘fear factor’ and the place my leadership skills were founded among my peers. It was an environment where youth leaders juggled the delicate balance of challenging our own comfort zones while at the same time including and caring for those who experienced bullying and life on the ‘social rims’. Safe places for the youth of New Zealand are ones to treasure.

The 2018 theme for International Youth Day (12 August) is #SafeSpaces4Youth. Did you (or do you have) a safe space as a teenager? What memories do you have that makes it special?

 

At Tearfund, youth and community development matters to us. We see young people as key leaders with the potential to bring about significant change in their own communities. We believe all young people in Aotearoa New Zealand and abroad have the right to fun, engaging, inclusive and safe spaces to meet with their peers, to learn, to practice religion and to work. Whether that space is a school, community hall, soccer field, place of worship, workshop or an office, it’s a human right to feel safe there.

Across our five causes – Empower, Protect, Nourish, Restore and Sponsor – Tearfund’s partners work in different ways with young people.

For example, our partner in the Rohingya refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar is running youth clubs which provide a safe and fun environment as part of their psycho-social support programmes. Young people are engaging in soccer teams, vocational and language training and board game competitions (a favourite among young women). This is a small haven in a 10km sq camp with nearly 900,000 people cramped together – people who have experienced and witnessed unimaginable trauma.

Rohingya refugee children playing football in Cox's Bazar

 

Another of our partner organisations works across Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Tonga and Fiji, training grassroots practitioners to engage young people in communities, particularly young people who have been marginalised by the wider society.

As the frequency of natural disasters increases, a growing number of households will experience hardship from climate change-related disasters. Where our partners work across the Pacific region, communities are particularly vulnerable due to their proximity to natural hazards, fragile food security systems, unsecure housing, and lack of financial resources, mitigation strategies and response plans.

The capacity of young people to lead and bring about change is often underutilised. That’s why a particular focus of one of our Pacific partners has been targeting young people in rural areas and urban settlements, involving them in identifying the needs of their local community and developing practical, localised responses to them.

A group photo of Ola Fou participants, young leaders in tough places, in Vanuatu

 

When visiting this partner at a gathering in Fiji, I met Anicka, a young woman from Vanuatu who had championed a project for a youth centre. Her dream was to help unemployed young, single mothers be equipped with the skills and resources to transition into self-employment, and gain an income to support their children. This project began in 2014 and she saw it through to completion. Today, the youth centre continues to provide a positive, safe space for the community to learn new skills. We think Anicka is an amazing leader! In her words “One change I see is the voices of women are being heard in my community now”.

Anicka, a young leader making community change in Vanuatu, smiles at the camera

 

One young person, one community at a time, young people like Anicka are playing important roles in creating safe spaces, and ensuring those around them feel heard, included and valued in the processes that can bring about positive change in their communities.


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