Youth delegates from around the Pacific discussed heritage at a regional workshop held last week during the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts in Honiara, Solomon Islands.Entitled Youth Speak!, 'the main purpose of the workshop was to get young people's views heard on the topics of culture, heritage and environment,' said Tarisi Vunidilo, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Museum Association (PIMA), which organised the event in collaboration with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
'In the Pacific, youth are often put on the sidelines,' said Vunidilo. 'PIMA decided that at this year's festival we would give them due consideration.'
Presentations from regional experts and interactive sessions focused on aspects of heritage including world, natural and cultural heritage, A key issue to emerge from the three-day workshop was the impact of climate change on environment and culture.
Of her experience Elsei Tellei, a 19-year-old college student from Palau, said, 'I hadn't realised how many different aspects there are to preserving our culture and heritage. It can seem really intimidating but we've discussed different action plans so it'll be a little easier.'
Tellei plans to file a report with her country's youth council, adding: 'It really inspires me to preserve our culture so that people in the future can have the same experience as we did at this festival - it wouldn't be the same without all the different people and unique cultures coming together.'
Rameka Alexander-Tu'inukuafe, a 24-year-old architecture student from New Zealand, says he learnt about the role of culture in sustainable infrastructure and development.
'We can develop economically but not step on culture and heritage,' he said. 'Instead, they should be the main drivers of everything we do in the Pacific.'
The workshop also acknowledged the World Heritage Convention, which in its 40th year is celebrating sustainable development and the role of local communities.
Administered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the World Heritage Convention is the most widely accepted international treaty for cultural and heritage preservation in the world.
In the Pacific, Palau's Rock Islands, renowned for their ecological diversity, coral reefs, marine lakes and limestone islands, were recently awarded World Heritage status.
Throughout the workshop, participants expressed interest in building their knowledge and skills in preserving heritage said Vunidilo, noting, 'They want to be included but often don't know how.'
She said the sessions presented by regional experts had shown pathways to working in the sector and resulted in greater appreciation of the role of museums in preserving heritage and also in repatriating Pacific cultural objects held by overseas museums.
At the end of workshop, participants expressed interest in volunteering with their national libraries and museums, with the two Nauru represenatives planning to work with their communities to establish the first local museum, with support from Palau's Minister for Community and Culture and former national museum director, Faustina Rehuher-Marugg, who was one of the presenters.
To keep the discussion on heritage going and maintain links formed at the workshop, the organisers will set up a Facebook page and include participants in grassroots training currently being held in a number of countries to document traditions and cultural heritage.
The participants (all under 30 years of age) from Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Fiji, Hawaii, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu were chosen based on their experience in working with elders, community, culture and heritage.
Youth Speak! was organised in collaboration with a number of regional and international organisations including the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), UNESCO and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
SPC currently hosts the secretariat for the Pacific Youth Council (PYC), which provides much needed support for youth development in the region.