By: TARYN ASHDOWN
Last week, students from across the country gathered in Ottawa at the 41st annual National Student Commonwealth Forum to discuss child welfare issues and to learn how the Commonwealth functions.
Through sponsorship from Ottawa’s branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and the Exchanges Canada programme, over 90 Canadian high school students traveled to the nation’s capital to learn about national and international Commonwealth issues from May 5-10.
Each year, a different theme is chosen for the forum. This year’s focus was child welfare, with sub topics in education, health, and child protection. Past forums have examined issues such as HIV-AIDS, climate change, citizenship and immigration, and environmental security.
In pairs, students represented Commonwealth countries at a model Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. They learned about child welfare issues on an international scale by meeting with representatives from their country, such as high commissioners.
They later used the information they learned in the mock meeting.
Many students who participate in the forum have a background in debating and have experience in Model UN, a mock United Nations meeting where students act as diplomats or NGOs for different countries.
Negotiating and compromising with other countries at the mock Heads of Government meeting provided a glimpse at how the Commonwealth functions in reality, said Jordan Sinder, a student delegate from Winnipeg, Man. who represented Australia in the meeting.
“Reaching consensus was often difficult, but nevertheless necessary to pass a resolution in the Commonwealth,” Sinder said.
Students also heard from a number of guest speakers, including representatives from Amnesty International, Jer’s Vision, CANHAVE Children’s Centre, War Child, and more.
After spending the week discussing the value of youth around the world, students created resolutions for aiding child welfare. Some ideas included implementing sports programs and subsidizing students who choose to go into the medical field so they can sustain their communities.
While there is an awareness of child welfare as an issue, there needs to be a better understanding of what kinds of resources it takes to create programs that effectively address the problems, said Brock Warner, a representative for War Child.
The goal of the Commonwealth forum was to teach students to think critically about issues such as child welfare on a global scale, said Robyn Lahiji, co-chair of this year’s forum.
“In our fast-paced society, we often take very little time to address the needs of children worldwide who are faced with difficulties ranging from health, to protection, and even education,”Lahiji said.
By having students dig into the issues at hand, Lahiji said, the Commonwealth forum encourages them to create initiatives of their own when they travel back to their communities.