Today is International Youth Day and what better occasion than now to look at one of the amazing youth organisations working in PNG to empower, inspire and build confidence in young people. The Voice is a vibrant youth development organisation run by young people for young people.
Aimed at 15-25 year olds, The Voice runs leadership programmes, training, mentoring and campaigns. Set up seven years ago by three key law students, The Voice has already had 300 students participate in its leadership programmes and has offered opportunities and support for countless more.
Barbara Thomas, Programme Manager speaks passionately about her involvement in the organisation: “I was working for a liquefied natural gas contractor earning good money and I was flown to a remote community where I saw first hand the lack of services and the level of poverty. I was really challenged by what I witnessed, poverty like this is unacceptable and it inspired my path to work in sustainable development. The Voice gave me the confidence to think, what can I do? The way the organisation works helps young people identify what they are passionate about and helps them to understand that YOU can be the change that you want to see in the world.”
“I didn’t think that what I was doing at the time was healthy for me, I didn’t want to pass life as a shadow, I wanted my life to mean something.”
Barbara is from a small town called Goroka outside the capital Port Moresby and has been involved with The Voice since she was 19: “I got involved with The Voice because I wanted to put myself in a positive environment. I didn’t think that what I was doing at the time was healthy for me, I didn’t want to pass life as a shadow, I wanted my life to mean something so I chose to become part of The Voice family. I lacked confidence and through working at the organisation I realised that it came from a different place, it comes from believing in yourself, how important you are and making the right decisions.”
The main leadership development programme run by The Voice brings groups of 30-40 university students together for training and mentoring. Barbara reflects on the leadership problem in PNG: “Leadership is the biggest development challenge in PNG. Only 20% of society is in a formal work environment and they are the people that directly influence the lives of the other 80%. There is a culture of corruption. We have so many mines but don’t see the tangible benefits. Even if we can influence just one person, affect their values and show that they can change the face of the nation then we are having a positive impact.
Their current campaign is called Clean Generation. The idea behind the campaign is to gather young people together to create a movement of responsible people who value themselves and the decisions that they make. They had 500 people sign up for the campaign in 2013 and this year they are hopeful that many more will follow suit. You can find out more about the campaign on Facebook and Twitter.
Even if we can influence just one person, affect their values and show that they can change the face of the nation then we are having a positive impact.
Rural challenge is another programme that they run that teaches young people to create development plans for their communities. Michael Topaur was a student from West New Britain that took part in the programme and as a result of his development plan to help combat rising sea level and a workshop that he ran, his ward member put his plan into action.
As well as the programmes The Voice runs a radio show and a high school magazine. The radio show is aired on FM100 and gives a voice to youth issues in PNG including drug and alcohol abuse, violence and prostitution but the content is based around positive stories. The magazine is targeted at high school students with similar content gathered from young writers at The Voice workshops and the aim is to get five copies of the publication to each school but this is a big challenge! Both are aimed at empowering young people to share their stories.
In a country where strong, innovative, forward-thinking leaders are essential it is aspirational organisations like The Voice that give hope for future generations.