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Commonwealth honours youth workers
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Commonwealth honours youth workers

Four youth workers from around the Commonwealth have received awards recognising their exceptional work to empower young people, as part of Youth Work Week.

The Commonwealth Youth Worker Award winners received their awards at a ceremony at theCommonwealth Secretariat’s headquarters in London on 30 October 2013. They are:

Africa Region: Nelly Shella Tchaptcheut Yonga from Cameroon
Asia Region: Priyadharshanie Ariyaratne from Sri Lanka
Caribbean Region: Alex Montgomery Foster from Guyana
Pacific Region: Jo Dorres from Vanuatu


For the second year, The Commonwealth is partnering with the UK National Youth Agency to ensure youth work is celebrated and appreciated across The Commonwealth’s 53 countries.

This year’s Youth Work Week, taking place from 4 to 10 November, marks the 20th anniversary of the event in the UK.  The aim is to raise awareness of the valuable role that youth work plays in empowering and supporting young people.

At the awards ceremony, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba said: “It is so important to recognise the professionalism and passion that youth workers bring to their efforts with young people.  Next week and these awards are a way of showing respect and appreciation for the many ways that they change young people’s lives.”

The award winners have worked with young people to develop their knowledge and skills in areas including health, education and business.

Under Ms Yonga’s leadership the Rural Women Development Centre in Cameroon has increased women’s access to micro-credit through collateral free loans, and enhanced the literacy of rural women in small business management. It has also reinforced HIV/AIDS awareness among young people in the region.

On receiving her award Ms Yonga said: “A lot of young people do not believe in themselves and that is why I talk to young people in my country to let them know that they can make things happen.”

Ms Ariyaratne holds a Commonwealth Diploma in Youth Development Work and has been involved in a number of different youth work projects. She is currently a co-convenor for the Citizens for a Secure Sri Lanka (CSSL) network, which is a collective of citizens who help rape victims to have a voice. One CSSL project – the Buddhist dialogue for a Secure Sri Lanka – works to harness the support of the Buddhist clergy to come up with a solution to the inter-faith conflict in Sri Lanka through the teachings of the Buddha.

She said: “Youth work is more than about finding employment for young people. We have to do something to provide skills that will add to the development of the country.”

Mr Foster overcame rural poverty and is now in his 28th year of youth work. He is the President and CEO of the St Francis Community Developers and Friends of St Francis. He has pioneered projects in Guyana which have enabled over 10,000 young people to secure loans, equipment, tools, new skills and full time employment. Projects have included facilitating medical support for specialised care and referrals related to HIV/AIDS health issues; promoting participation in the Commonwealth Youth Credit Initiative; and enabling young parents to continue their education and work by developing and managing twelve pre-schools.

On accepting his award he called for more men to join the youth work profession and act as role models. He said: “I hope that this award will renew my energy to continue this work in the years to come.”

Ms Dorres established the Wan Smol Bag (WSB) theatre organisation that is now renowned throughout the Pacific region.  WSB uses drama to inform and encourage public discussion on a range of contemporary health, lifestyle, environment and governance issues related to young people. Ms Dorres also manages the youth centre at WSB that provides skills and vocational training to young people.

She said: “Although a small country, Vanuatu has a massive youth population and so many of them don’t have a chance to have a job, there is no running water or electricity in some homes, and their lives are tough on many levels. But I think doing drama has meant so much as it’s such an exciting way to be together.”

The National Youth Agency’s Youth Worker of the Year Award winner was Ann-Marie Lawson, who develops bespoke progression routes for the young people of Northamptonshire in the UK.

Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth Affairs at The Commonwealth, said: “Congratulations to all the Youth Worker Award winners – it is both inspiring and humbling to learn how they have committed their lives to young people. I hope these awards help showcase the amazing impact that the winners, and youth workers everywhere, are achieving for individual young people and by extension for the societies in which we live.”

Chair of the National Youth Agency, David Finlay, said at the awards: “Even though countries are different and have their own challenges there are common features about the way youth work can help young people.”

The Commonwealth Youth Programme has a 40-year history of training youth workers and championing the recognition of youth work as a profession.  The National Youth Agency started Youth Work Week 20 years ago, with similar aims of acknowledging the great contribution of youth workers.

This year, Youth Work Week focuses on ‘Building Skills for Employability’. The campaign aims to highlight the role of youth work in supporting young people to unlock their productive potential, acquire decent work, start their own businesses and develop relevant skills and attitudes for ‘the world of work’. Youth workers also advocate for employment policies that create genuine career pathways for young people.

The Commonwealth is initiating discussions on the importance of a professional code of ethics for youth work during Youth Work Week.  Such a code was highlighted as vital at the firstCommonwealth Conference on Youth Work Education and Training, convened in South Africa in March 2013.

Other initiatives will include launching new national Youth Worker Associations in countries where none exist, such as Vanuatu, highlighting the valuable contribution of youth work at all levels, and exchanging case studies of effective youth work.



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