By WENDY MAGEA
I REMEMBER back in Divine Word University when spoons and forks would go missing and I sometimes used the chopsticks that belonged to my Sepik sister who used them for cooking the famous nangu dish.
It took me months to master the chopsticks behind closed doors before I was able to proudly emerge to showcase my ability to pick up rice and cabbage like a pro in the student dining hall.
Three months ago, I felt challenged not to drop a grain of rice in a hall among more than 150 young people who convened to design and present youth-led sustainable development projects at the 50th Asian Development Bank meeting in Yokohama, Japan.
It was not a culture shock for me when I was given a hot box of food with chopsticks and green tea in a juice box. I was amazed by how people connected very well and quickly engaged in very interesting discussions despite the cultural differences.
I was part of a three-woman delegation from Fiji, Palau and Papua New Guinea who represented the Pacific Youth Research Network (PYRN) and joined youths from Asia at the 50th ABD meeting.
The Pacific Youth Research Network was formed last year following a youth unemployment consultative meeting and research training in Suva where 18 youth research coordinators from nine countries met.
The ADB was May 4-7 but I travelled in on May 1 to attend the fifth Asian Youth Forum (AYF5) which took place three days before the meeting. The aim of the AYF5 was for young people to connect and learn how to create projects across the Asia and Pacific region.
My first day in Japan was highlighted by a very vibrant panel that discussed youth as the nexus of development. Talks on the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals filled the Annex Hall in the Pacifico building.
Two large LCD monitors showed the live discussions that were going on twitter. The AYF5 theme was Youth for Prosperity and we were challenged by the panelists to redefine our purpose as young advocates for youth empowerment. I was asked if I truly represented the marginalised young people in the rural areas of Papua New Guinea and I replied that the courage and knowledge I had acquired would be passed on to generations to come.
On the second day we were put into groups to design sustainable development projects using the ADB Project Design and Monitoring Framework (DMF). The projects were later presented to the ADB board and would be implemented in parts of Asia and they are:
- Tajikastan water supply and sanitation project, Cambodia second rural water supply and sanitation sector project
- Pakistan Punjab intermediate cities improvement investment programme
- India Odisha skills development programme
- Leveraging ICT for irrigated agriculture information, South Asia
There were no projects designed for the Pacific as this year was the first time Asian Youth Forum had three representatives from the Pacific.
However, I was fortunate to present the research network’s progress alongside Vilimaina Tamata (Fiji) and Souang Tellei (Palau) during the ‘world cafe’ session. The three of us were all dressed in Pacific colours with our mentor Jecel Censoro.
Social issues varied from one country to another and attending the forum opened opportunities for the Pacific youth research network.
It was a learning process for my colleagues and I to speak with people who had experience in youth unemployment projects.
I was fortunate to meet prominent people from Papua New Guinea who gave very encouraging feedbacks after learning of my work and the purpose of the visit.
Dame Meg Taylor mistook me for a Pari woman who I later met after her panel on Women Leadership in Marine Resource Management. I also met the ADB Director for Pacific Department, Xianbin Yao, who acknowledged Pacific youth’s presence at the ADB meeting, when he spoke at the same panel.
Japan for me was both symbolic and emotional as I felt reconnected to my father, a fisheries officer, who walked the Narita airport more than 20 years ago.
My parents separated and I hardly talked to my father but eating with chopsticks and greeting locals in broken Japanese brought him closer to me.
I left Japan on the May 8, feeling confident and empowered to continue my fight for youth rights in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.