By: Robyn Chan, MYC Regional Director BC
It was 2003, and I was with a friend, walking down a hallway in my high school, when I passed my Political Science teacher. “Do you guys want to go to Ottawa for a week?” she asked. Before I knew it, we were filling out the registration forms to be a student delegate at the 31st National Student Commonwealth Forum (NSCF). Without knowing what the Forum was, or, really, anything about the Commonwealth, I had signed up for an experience that ended up shaping who I became as a person.
NSCF is an experience like no other. Between delegates and planning team there are roughly 100 participants, usually none over the age of 25. For most, it’s the first time they've been away from home, on their own. They’re meeting other young Canadians, discovering things about their country they might never have known, and hopefully learning something along the way. Ten years with NSCF changed my life in many ways. It gave me confidence to express myself and my opinions, gave me leadership experience I wouldn't have found anywhere else, and introduced me to lifelong friends. It also introduced me to the Commonwealth.
Many people ask why the Commonwealth is important – an old, colonial-based organization can’t have much traction on the international stage these days. But the Commonwealth that I have experienced is much different than its stereotype. After my years of involvement with NSCF (that ended only this past August), I was lucky enough to attend the international Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF), in 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago, and in 2011 in Perth, Australia. The Commonwealth that I experienced at CYF was young, dynamic, and full of youth leaders who were ready to make a difference. We had travelled from every corner of the world to learn, listen, debate, and hopefully come up with a strong statement on what young people of the Commonwealth want from their leaders. I learned that, though the Commonwealth may seem irrelevant to many Canadians, to other countries it was a necessary and vital organization. It provides scholarships, development and employment opportunities and much more. It allows small, isolated countries to develop networks for trade and commerce. There have been points in my involvement with the Commonwealth that I have become jaded about the organization, but when I think back to my experience with CYF, I can see why it is important.
In my opinion, people want the Commonwealth to act like the UN, and are disappointed when it doesn't. But I don’t think that the world needs another gigantic, overly bureaucratic organization, ruled by a few economically powerful countries. I think that what the world needs is an organization that can operate quickly, that can be on the ground in a grassroots capacity, and that values the rights of all citizens. I think that the Commonwealth’s use of consensus is important, that countries people might never have heard of (Kiribati or Seychelles, anyone?) have an equal voice at the table. I think that the world needs to stop making decisions based on economic value, and focus on human value. That is where the Commonwealth can make its mark.