The Aotearoa Youth Declaration, written by 350 young people including students from Queen Margaret College, was presented at parliament in the July school holidays.
The Aotearoa Youth Declaration was written during a four-day conference facilitated by United Nations Youth New Zealand in April. It features 22 sub-groups, including equity, climate change and housing, with statements written by a group of young people interested in that topic.
Year 13 student Millie Wilcox; Year 12 students Isobel Scherf, Bethany Kaye-Blake and Rebecca Stevens; and Year 11 student Rachel Vass helped to write the document. To be selected, students went through an application process where they put forward their ideas on what should be in the document.
As well as being involved in writing the heritage statements, Bethany attended and spoke at the public presentation at parliament in July.
“During the formalities of the evening, I spoke twice,” Bethany says.
“The first was opening the evening with a Māori mihi and then explaining the evening and introducing Chlöe Swarbrick as the host MP and first speaker. There were six speeches, all focused on youth and the declaration. I spoke on what it’s like to be a young person in Aotearoa, what some benefits and challenges are and what this means in a practical sense.”
Bethany says it was “very special” to have the opportunity to speak at such an important event.
“It was very special to share my views in front of so many influential people in such an incredible venue.
“I still don’t think I’ve got my head around the fact that I did, and it is definitely a memory that will stick with me for a very long time. I was incredibly nervous though, especially as I did not have long to prepare.”
She believes it was important to get the views of youth in front of the public.
“Although I believe that all topics were important, as cliché as it sounds, areas like education, social development and healthcare were particularly important because they are key issues that often don’t get much engagement. The environment and climate change rōpu (groups) were also important due to the current doom of the state of the Earth.
“But for me, the most important issue was definitely heritage as that was my group, and although I may be biased, we had the best people and the best statements.”
UN Youth NZ is now in the process of planning for the Aotearoa Youth Declaration 2020.
“The 2019 Declaration was not the first declaration written. However, it was the first time it was turned into a booklet and the first launch at parliament. In the past, the document was shared around organisations and decision makers so these groups get an overview of young people’s perspectives,” Bethany says.
“Currently we are in the sharing stage and planning stage for next year’s conference. One of the focuses for the next declaration is reaching even more of New Zealand as, although the youth came from Kaitaia to Invercargill, the majority still came from Auckland and Wellington.”