Monday, June 2, 2014

Aphrodite's P.R.I.D.E Jamaica's World Conference on Youth 2014 Participant Report

The following is a detailed report from the APJ representative at the recently concluded World Youth Conference in Sri Lanka Mario Andre Dre Bennett was also a participant in the also concluded phase 1 of the APJ's Enterprise Training Workshops of which came the springboard for his attendance to the WYC 2014.

Report On the Word Conference On Youth 2014 – Sri Lanka

The country of Sri Lanka is known for many things, its sports, pristine, wild and blissful culture, Sri Lanka is now known as the host country for the World Conference on Youth 2014 (WCY). The conference was organized and spear headed by a steering committee co-chaired by Minister Dullas Alahapperuma Minister of Youth Affairs and Skill Development Mohan Lal Grero and MP Namal 
Rajapaksa from Tharunyata Hetak organization and the International Youth task force inclusive of 10 Sri 
Lankan nationals and 10 members representing different regions of the world. 

The conference consisted of 900 youths, 105 high ranking officials, 24 youth Ministers and 35 U.N officers from different U.N agencies. With an amazing amount of 160 countries which represents 80% of the of the world youth where present for the conference making a total of 1500 Youths representing their respective countries. 

With the Theme Mainstreaming Youth in the Post 2015 Development Agenda the conference had a colorful kick start as we were greeted with a beautiful arrangement of world flags with their heads held high and dancing in the wind on both sides of the path leading to the conference hall, the air was filled with the Sri Lankan culture as young Sri Lankans played the flutes and drums, walking on stilts, dressed in their cultural wear greeted us, It was a sight to see as the busses with delegates arrived from their respective hotels at the Magam Ruhunupura International Convention Center (MRICC) in Hambantota. 

With the participation of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, President of the U.N General Assembly Dr. John W. Ashe and U.N secretary General and Envoy on Youth Mr. Ahmad Alhendowl television crew where all over the conference. 
As the Convention hall was filled as far as the eye could see with delegates, as we were seated the presenters took the fore front to make speeches requesting for youths to be more involved when it comes to making decision making that affected us. Dr. John W. Ashe pointed out that ‘there are sections of society that was clearly not included in the previous global development drive, making reference to the Millennium Development Goals, adding that this time around we had to made sure that they are involved’ 

The Sri Lankan President for his part called on world leaders to make youth the forefront of involving youth participation in world development and spearhead new attempts in youth integration. 

"You would agree that the increasingly large youth population, who live in the global South, makes it impossible to discuss any follow-up to Rio+20 and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, without considering their needs and challenges," said the president Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

The ceremony was quite entertaining and interactive, the official theme song for the WCY 2014 was performed by Bathiya and Santhush, where scores of delegates rushed to the stage to join in the performance taking the opportunity to show case their county flags and cultural wears, we were also entertained by the Sri Lankan mask dance where we showed cultural respect by wear beautifully crafted masks that were presented to upon entering MRICC as well as other cultural performances. At the end of the conference we were treated to the sweet aroma, mouth water, and pallet pleasing of both local and international dishes, as the trays where emptied and the deserts where all gone in the blink of an eye they were refilled as chefs where ever present. 

On our way back to our respective hotels half asleep the bus suddenly pulls over, there was a beach party in full swing in our honor, volunteers where handing out bottled water, drinks and snacks, delegates where running to the ocean while others stayed on the beach having a blast dancing to the live entertainment taking photos with an over friendly elephant, even our ever present security team seem to have had a wonderful time. 

The day came to a close as we tried to get what as much rest as possible as the reason for the conference would start the following morning. 

Heading to BMICH from our respective hotels with police escorts, the streets where once again lined with Sri Lankan greeting us with warm smiles and waves, the celebration did not stop when we arrived at BMICH, the grounds where decorated with the colors of the conference and our flags where yet again present as we disembarked our busses we were met by local governments and Sri Lankan youths. 

With the themes and objectives provided: 

To create an inclusive youth participation platform that enables young people to review the progress on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals 

To share ideas, experiences and innovative approaches for effectively contributing to the post-2015 development agenda and its implementation 

To facilitate a process that increases awareness on and implementation of the World Programme for Action on Youth (WPAY) 

To facilitate effective partnerships with youth, youth-led organizations and youth movements to further strengthen inclusive youth participation in the decision-making processes and implementation of the post-2015 development agenda 

To contribute to the establishment of a permanent youth engagement mechanism that ensures consistent follow- up with young people and further boosts their participation and partnership in the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda at national, regional and global levels. 

Day One the days even where as followed: 

The morning started with the Main Plenary, as it was covered we went into: 

Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Agenda with the theme - looking Back 

After which the roundtable discussions took place - Plenaries & breakout sessions. Foundations also on the theme looking back with delegates locating there selected foundations, In this case for me it was - 

Empowering Marginalized Youth including Most at Risk young people, this was a heated topic for most as marginalized youths where present to represent their respective organizations and themselves, the major issues was that there was not complete list of marginalized youth in the previous declaration, day one we looked back on the issues that where affecting Marginalized Youth including Most at Risk young people. After lunch the roundtable Plenaries & Breakout Sessions, Themes were discussed mine been full Employment & Entrepreneurship. 

With the recently completed the Entrepreneurship session with Aphrodite's P.R.I.D.E Jamaica this was well suited to lean the issues that are been faced across the globe and help to develop solutions. 

After each session there were numerous side events/ parallel events, these where sitting rooms that could be arranged as workshop round table panel. Such as: 

- Leadership in communitarian Education. 

-The African woman’s development and communication network (FEMNET) 

- Advocacy the Education we want. 

- Youth Advocacy group of the global Education First initiative UNICEF and PLAN 

- Responsible Investment in youth for sustainable development 

- Access to stigma and discrimination free health services for vulnerable young people. 

Just to name a few. 

Meals where provided though out the course of the day with unlimited access to WCY 2014 bottled water, in the order of morning tea, lunch, evening tea; and dinner on slips that where provided at the start of each day. Roundtables where held in the primary thematic policy sessions of the conference and where feed directly into the conference's outcome document. Each session took 2hour 30 min. After the morning plenary deal with the foundations; after lunch deal with the themes this is where the round table discussions started different roundtable sessions happening during the scheduled roundtable times. Roundtables where led by an international facilitator and a Sri Lankan facilitator, each Round table where addressed by 3 speakers which includes a minister, a youth with experience of the topic, and an expert. 

The speakers where changed every day as to allow a diverse set of voices to be heard throughout the daily thematic sessions. Side Events examine in more detail the policy discussions surrounding the foundations and themes each round table each session will be scheduled in 45 minute blocks Parallel events mainly focus on capacity building or showcasing of projects organizations and agency are carrying out in terms of youth development they will allow organizations to network with others as well as share best practices in terms of grassroots work. 

Day 2 

After looking back on the issues of the pass and what is currently happening in the world that was and is still affecting youths we began day two with: 

Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Agenda –What we want for both Themes and Foundations where discussed. We continue the day with side events. After a long day of debating we were treated to a tour of Sri Lanka, and then we were taken back to our hotels. 

Day three 

May 9th

With the struggles and issue we all face in our respective countries shared amongst each other we were able to meet the main event for day thee which was: 

Roundtable Plenaries & Breakout Sessions. Themes and foundations: Taking Action 

There was a lot on tension as things did not go as planned for the issue facing Marginalized Youth, though we were able to have the issue resolved after going beyond the timeline for our session. I was not able to stay for the entire session as I was scheduled to have an interview in the media center along with four other delegates as we met with Deputy Education Minister and Supervisory MP, Youth and Skill Development Minister, Mohan Lal Grero, we discussed the level of Education in our countries and what or respective organizations where doing to reduced some of the issue we are facing, though a bit nervous to be discussing APJ as a LGBTQ organization on television and declaring that I was gay with that out of the way and having completed the SEISMIC program I was ready to tackle the questions that where asked. 

Once again I was not able to stay for the entire process of the Interview as I was invited to have dinner with one of the financing banker of the conference and his family, it was wonderful, I learnt the steps that are taken to give thanks to Buddha, and that white rice is their national dish, and when they offer curry chicken and white rice with vegetable it’s not what you think, however though it’s their culture I found it quite interesting that they eat with their hands! Imagine my surprise, However the experience is on I will not soon forget. 

At twelve in the morning been dropped off at my hotel wanting to sleep, no such luck with the conference coming to a close there was a party been held at a close by hotels club, I never knew that it was so much fun to be on a dance floor for the entire morning and with the bar open to International delegates I did indulge. With the closing ceremony a few hours away I got as much rest as possible and socked my bone in a nice bubble bath, met with the other delegates and had breakfast. 

The official closing ceremony of the WCY 2014 was held at the Sri Lanka Youth Service council Auditorium in Marharagma where the Colombo declaration was adopted by the closing plenary of the WCY. With most International delegates having to miss the closing ceremony due to their flight arrangement to ensure they were able to get back home, emotions where high as we had to say good bye to those who we have gotten close to over the few days, numbers emails, business cards and invitations were exchanged in hopes of keeping in touch. Words are not enough to express what it was like to be a part of such a conference meeting like minded young people from across the world, experiencing a culture where straight men showing affection towards each other is not taboo, where warm smiles and inquires from curious natives are everywhere, staying in the penthouse of the country’s oldest and famous hotel that was est. in 1864 Galle Face Hotel, I had the pleasure of interacting with the staff and learning more about their culture, they too were eager to hear about the county the Great Usain Bolt was from and I was more than happy to share, been treated like a king was not a problem from me in the least, police escorts personal drivers, yea that the life, been the first time travelling off the Island over 30 Hrs of travelling after all I did have to make up for lost time, though I was a bid nervous about flying Maria was there with me every step of the way and after the first two flights I was a pro, I love to explore with food and the after all that I have heard about the meals provided on planes I did not wish to try, however this was not the case, can you say delicious! meals from France, Dubai, Panama and all over Europe was offered, the flights where very pleasant though leaving Amsterdam heading to Panama I was freezing thank god for blankets I was babied by the flight crew and the couple I was sitting with who were from Paris and are quite eager to visit Jamaica, the overall experience was amazingly breathe taking, no matter how far I travel nothing can compare to the 
experience I had on my way and in Sri Lanka. 


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