Guest blog from Pacific Youth Leadership and Transformation (PYLAT)
Three weeks on and the positive vibes of #GPS2016 continue to ripple, reaching far wider than we had imagined. When we were asked to help organise the conference last year, we imagined a one-off event where we would attend, say some amazing things, do some amazing things, feel amazing, then go back to our normal lives and continue as per usual. The amazing things did happen, but life hasn’t gone back to its normal self.
Some things happened at the GPS conference that just aren't normal for us. Firstly the number of people from Canterbury attending a conference in Auckland! While it might not sound like much, being in Canterbury for the past five years has been tough. Living in frozen earthquake damaged homes, having a city with almost no social life for so long, having difficulty travelling anywhere because of damaged roads, sinking into fear every time we feel or even hear vibrations that could be an earthquake, and battling with insurers and the bureaucracy to get any progress at all. No wonder the mental wellbeing of Cantabrians has plummeted.
It feels like people thought the answer was to have conferences about us and to do lots of research on us, and it wasn’t until the GPS Conference that we saw an event that genuinely went out of its way to include us from organising to attending. There were just so many Cantabrians present! It was amazing that Le Va and its sponsors put so much effort (and funding) towards ensuring that people from the most vulnerable city in the country were over-represented. It’s just not something we’re used to seeing.
Secondly, we’ve never seen a format where researchers present their findings to a panel of young people who then comment and critique what they’ve just heard. Literally only the youth got to critique, after the researchers presented they had to just sit back and listen... talk about full participation and absolute inclusion.
Thirdly, we haven’t heard so much truth spoken at a conference. Truth is subjective. What is truth to one person might be completely different to another person’s truth, and having people who are able to share their completely contrasting truths with each other is not easy, but somehow GPS did it.
Us Pasifika young people find it hard to disagree with our mātua on the smallest of topics, let alone over issues with suicide and mental health. But we think it was clear that we were empowered to disagree and share truth from our perspective, not just in one session but in every workshop, in our keynotes, in the plenary panels, in the performances, everywhere. And what’s impressive is that mātua felt free to share their truths, which at times disagreed with us, but they were not made to feel antiquated or disrespected.
Young people were so comfortable to share their inner truths, it made us feel that sometimes our interactions with each other must be so superficial because we work and chill everyday oblivious to the demons we are all facing. The stuff we learned about our peers was deep and so inspiring. Quite the opposite to the surface 'sounds nice, let's all agree' discussions that are often had at conferences.
But all amazing things come to an end right? Nope, well not yet it seems.
Just one example, when we returned to Christchurch we got an email from someone we had never seen, heard of, or met before. It turns out this lovely Pasifika young person was an attendee at #GPS2016 and was so strongly inspired that she has decided she wants to grow for herself and for Pasifika young people. After one meeting she is now enrolled at university and ready to begin social work in July, hugely life changing for her and her young family.
In terms of benefit for PYLAT, we have had a lot of people approach us since the conference about how they can get involved. We’ve gained some extra volunteers that we met at the conference, who have been helping us at multiple events. This is great for us because we have more help, but also great for the young person because they are now more connected to the community.
In addition, the Cantabrians aren’t going to forget the privilege we received in being able to attend, we are all about reciprocity after all. We’re holding our own Christchurch debrief to share our learnings and discuss how we can start weaving what we have learnt into our community down here.
It’s our way of saying thank you to Le Va.
We wonder how many lives are going to be changed by this conference... the ripple is still travelling strong.