On a clear winter’s morning in Manukau, South Auckland, 500 youth from across New Zealand and the Cook Islands began to arrive. They converged at the conference venue, a striking building shaped like a waka, a Polynesian canoe, symbolic of a journey and the Pacific Ocean, an area of the world all of the participants call home.
The conference opened with a traditional Maori haka: an expressive and powerful dance that is used to demonstrate welcome, challenge, power, determination, courage, awe, respect, and honour. This was followed by the waiata, a traditional Maori song. The opening devotions also included an ancient Hawaiian chant, shared with the participants as a gift and a response to the honoured welcome of the haka.
“Listening to how much people want to make a change in the world has inspired me to do my part and start my journey towards serving younger youth in my neighbourhood.”
A participant at the conference
The spirit of the conference was one of joy and humour as the participants deliberated thoughtfully on the questions before them, exploring themes such as the role of each generation in contributing to change, what purpose shapes individual and collective action, and how to develop the capacity for true friendship.
The participants divided into large and small workshop groups, all named after an island bird. As the youth reflected on the different environments in which they interact with others, including the workplace, school, and family, they examined the various social forces, both positive and negative, present in each. They contemplated the ways in which they could face any negative forces and instead contribute to strengthening positive ones. One young person shared, “Service to others, to the community, is the best remedy for dealing with the negative social forces in your life.”
As they explored the role of service in contributing to individual growth and the advancement of a community, the youth considered how the dimensions of one’s life relate to one another. They realized that work, service, family, and study actually build on and reinforce one another. One young woman shared her experiences coming to understand this concept as a working mother with a desire to serve her community. She initially felt she had no time in her life for service, worrying it would be impossible to manage her other responsibilities. Still, she made the effort and found time to serve in her neighbourhood. She commented that in the end, “the service in my community enriched the other aspects of my life. My job, my baby, and I all benefitted from the learning, joy, and empowerment I gained from serving others in my community.”
Some of the youth shared reflections on how the conference impacted them. “Being here has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. Listening to how much people want to make a change in the world has inspired me to do my part and start my journey towards serving younger youth in my neighbourhood.”
The seamless and ever-present use of the arts, music, and drama, the warmth of the atmosphere, and the love and support the youth continually demonstrated for one another made the three days in Auckland unforgettable.
The conference closed with another haka, this time not only from regional groups but danced by Maori and other youth from across the country. The performers said that this particular haka was to convey courage for the challenges ahead that, together, the youth will face.
Participants enjoy a collective game together between sessions
Youth work together on a creative presentation of the themes being studied
Participants shared cultural songs and dances
One group shares an artistic presentation of a concept explored in their workshop
Groups of youth play volleyball together
The participants sit in quiet reflection during plenary devotions
Participants from across the region join together in a farewell haka, at the close of the conference
The conference venue; designed to look like a waka, a Polynesian canoe
Friends exchanging a moment of laughter while studying together
A workshop group consulting together
The group photo of participants from the Auckland conference
A workshop group share their insights and plans with each other in creative ways