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The Commonwealth and me

The Commonwealth and me

A celebration of youth

To celebrate Commonwealth Day, four of this year’s Queen’s Young Leaders share their insights with Leading Change.

Commonwealth Day celebrations are being held on 12 March under the theme "Towards a Common Future". Events such as faith and civic gatherings, flag raising ceremonies and street parties, are in full swing across Commonwealth countries. This year’s theme explores how the family of 53 independent nations can address global challenges and create a better future for all.

Central to this vision is youth. 60% of the Commonwealth’s combined population are 29 years old or under. This places our 2018 Queen’s Young Leaders in the perfect position to reflect on what today’s Commonwealth means to them.

Harry Phinda, United Kingdom

Harry co-founded Youth for Change (YFC), which is a global youth-led project working to tackle gender-based violence.

Harry Phinda with Youth for Change

Harry Phinda with Youth for Change. Photo Credit: Harry Phinda      

“I have a weird relationship with the Commonwealth. I was born in Zimbabwe so I have had a very different perspective. Despite the country being suspended from the Council, my family and I had a very strong attachment to the Commonwealth, in particular the UK, which is why we migrated.

"My mother had the best education money could offer because of the Commonwealth, and Britain’s close connection with Zimbabwe in particular.

"Of the Commonwealth Charter’s 16 core values, the importance of young people is the principle I find most important. Genuine investment in young people in the Commonwealth is the most under-used resource.

"Through programmes like the Queens Young Leaders, we will be up-skilled and invested in, but we still face restriction on what we are able to do due to resources.

"We have the most innovative ideas to some of the world’s most complex issues. Young people are affected the most by world problems such as gender-based violence and climate change, and so have every incentive to create answers for these.

"I feel youth development is a trend now and many people look for youth involvement but not youth autonomy. In most of the Commonwealth countries, youth are still regarded as receipts, rather than advocates for the change we want to see in society.” 

Deane de Menezes, India

Deane launched the campaign Red is the New Green, a project raising awareness about menstruation and its waste management solutions.

Deane promoting Red is the new Green

Deane promoting Red is the new Green. Photo Credit: Deane de Menezes.

“I am a Roman Catholic by religion and I come from a small state in India called Goa – formally ruled by the Portuguese – as a result of which, my family and community is quite anglicised. Plainly put, I love my steak and mash as I love my sāmbhar!

"What that means is because of the direct influence of the British and Portuguese, we have imbibed those traits and I have a very European upbringing and mindset even though we are native Indians. I often feel like a foreigner in my own country. Quite a cultural dilemma!

"The Commonwealth to me represents a group of nations bound together by a past  – not-so-pleasant in most cases – trying to figure out what happens next. Where I come from, the British influence was perceived positively. They were after all, behind setting up India’s expansive railway network. I still commute by one of the first railway lines set up by them! They aided industrialisation and education and gave us our administrative and judicial framework.

"But like the proverbial other side of the coin, the British also did their fair share of damage to the once prosperous country.

"The core principles that matter to me are gender equality, importance of young people, access to health, education, food and shelter and tolerance, respect and understanding.”

Mavis Mainu, Ghana

Mavis co-founded The Oak Foundation, which mentors young girls in their educational settings.

Mavis Mainu and members of The Oak Foundation

Mavis Mainu and supporters of the Oak Foundation. Photo Credit: Mavis Mainu.

“The Commonwealth to me is a group of countries with similar political histories coming together to move past their current circumstances and into the future they imagine or want. It is a way of compensating for the period of colonialism and imperialism through the provision of assistance, support and shared knowledge.

"Gender equality, sustainable development, access to health, education, food and shelter are the values that mean most to me. Ghana as a society has undoubtedly made good strides in bridging the gender gap in political leadership.

"However, there still exist significant gaps in all sectors. Some of the difficulties are culturally and religiously rooted, which makes it more difficult to change. Women have a key role in ensuring sustainable development.”

Shivad Singh, South Africa

Shivad set up Presto Academy which allows the top performing students in South Africa to create educational material for others.

 Shivad Singh, co-founder of Presto Academy, giving a talk.

Shivad Singh, co-founder of Presto Academy, giving a talk. Photo Credit:Shivad Singh

“Democracy is one of the core values that matters to me. Coming from South Africa and being born in 1994, I know first-hand the benefits of having a democracy in my country. If it wasn’t for Nelson Mandela, I wouldn’t have had access to the education and opportunities available to me in my country.

"After voting, I realised the importance of how everyone in our country should have equal access in creating the future of South Africa. Access to health, education, food and shelter, are also key.

"I am the founder of an education company and my purpose is to provide a world-class education to South Africans and then eventually the rest of Africa. I wish to provide learners with access to knowledge to help positively change their lives.”