Commonwealth Youth Forum 2009

Speech from Matthew Albert (Pan Commonwealth Youth Caucus Chair)

We have a packed programme for the next 7 days; plenaries, discussions, negotiations, learning journeys and endless opportunity for informal exchange. This you could easily work out from looking in the information provided to us. I wanted to take this opportunity though to speak about the bigger picture that these events fit into.

This year the Commonwealth marks 60 years of operation. It does so under the theme ‘serving a new generation’. That’s us. People aged under 30 make up about 60% of the Commonwealth’s population of over 2 billion people. By my calculations, with 230 of us here, this means that each of us is representing about 4.4 million young people. This is a self-evidently daunting task.

In thinking about how we could each approach this task I was reminded of a quote from Senator Robert Kennedy. It seems particularly apt to this occasion because it not only defines what it means to be youth but it also speaks to how little actions and small commitments can lead to grand results.

This quote comes from a speech in 1966 to a group of South African university students. Those students became a part of the movement which was perhaps the Commonwealth’s finest hour, the demise of Apartheid. Robert Kennedy said:

“the world's hope… demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease… Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls…”

The young people that heard this speech did just that; they built hope and swept down walls. Apartheid came to an end.

The challenges for us, now, are different, but they are no less complex. The means of solving them are different, but no less involved. And the young people to meet them are different, but no less able. It is our turn. It is our time.

Over the next week, let us work together to put forward an example, give a message and send forth a tiny ripple of hope on behalf and for the benefit of ‘a new generation’ of the Commonwealth. This is our challenge. I hope we are all ready to seize it and I look forward to seeing the result.

Commonwealth Flags
Opening ceremony
Dancing at the Ceremony
Youth in Decision Making Plenary

The Commonwealth Youth Forum 2009 took place in November in Trinidad and Tobago. Read about it here.