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Commonwealth Youth Worker Awards 2014 announced
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Commonwealth Youth Worker Awards 2014 announced

Three outstanding youth workers were today honoured at the Commonwealth Youth Worker Awards 2014 for their dedication to improving young lives and their positive contributions to society.

The awards were presented to winners from Africa, Asia and the Caribbean at a ceremony hosted at the UK Houses of Parliament, in London. The awards are held annually during Youth Work Week, which is celebrated across the 53 nations of the Commonwealth.

The recipient of the overall Commonwealth Youth Worker of the Year 2014 award is Dr Bernice Hlagala, a senior policy analyst responsible for youth development in the Presidency of South Africa. She is also Regional Winner for Africa.

“Winning the Commonwealth Youth Worker Award means a lot. I hope it will inspire other people to become youth workers,” said Dr Hlagala, a former social worker who has overseen the development of national youth policy and been an advocate for the professionalisation of youth work across Southern Africa.

“It is through youth workers that young people can become properly empowered and developed, so they can become assets to their communities and society at large,” Dr Hlagala said.

Presenting the awards, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said: “The Commonwealth has long championed the important work of youth workers and their contribution to the prospects and development of young people and their nations, as well as to advancing youth work as a professional and respected field.

“The Commonwealth Youth Worker Awards give recognition to outstanding individuals within this profession and we are delighted, for the third year running, to have very worthy winners.”

The awards ceremony, held in association with the National Youth Agency (UK), was hosted by Karen Buck, MP for Westminster North in the United Kingdom and UK Minister for Civil Society Rob Wilson. During the awards ceremony, the winners of the UK Youth Worker Awards, hosted by the National Youth Agency, were also announced.

Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: “Youth workers are champions of young people – working with them and for them, often unheralded and with very few resources. These awards are about celebrating their vital contribution to the strength and progress of our societies.”

The Caribbean Regional Winner is Derrick Sharbodie, the founder and manager of the St. James Police Club and Empowerment Centre in Trinidad and Tobago, which offers education, sports and community support to young people. Mr Sharbodie, who also leads a drug prevention programme geared towards encouraging young people to adopt a healthy lifestyle, said he was “honoured and humbled” to have received his award.

“I was just flabbergasted,” he said. “It was a wonderful feeling and it gives you the impetus to carry on. Sometimes you feel you are not getting the support you need, and then – boom – the Commonwealth comes along to say you are doing excellent work. It really encourages you.”

Mr Sharbodie added: “There is a lamp that needs to be turned on within every young person. We, as youth workers, need to tap that lamp, so they can see the light and so they can move on from strength to strength.”

The Regional Winner for Asia is Aprajita Pandey, manager for Haiyya, a grassroots NGO based in Delhi, India, formed to encourage young people in urban neighbourhoods to participate in democratic processes. During her time at Haaiya, Ms Pandey led a ‘Rise Up’ campaign seeking to increase female participation in the Delhi State Assembly elections.

Ms Pandey said: “When you get such recognition, it gives real legitimacy to the work you are doing. Taking up a profession like this is not an easy choice. It is a huge burden on your shoulders, but you take responsibility because you keep believing that change will happen.”

Find out more about the work of the finalists and winners of the Commonwealth Youth Worker Awards 2014, as well as Youth Work Week 2014, on the Commonwealth website.

 

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