Tonga Youth Leaders: Helping Tongan youth take action to drive positive change
Tonga Youth Leaders (TYL) is a youth-led organisation that empowers and develops Tongan youth to become catalysts for positive change in their own communities. In 2019, The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust were proud to partner with TYL in order to better reach and support other youth-led initiatives in Tonga.
The partnership enabled TYL to provide small grants to young people in Tonga who were working hard to solve the issues they see in their local communities but lacked the resources needed to scale their efforts and drive further impact. Beyond funding, this partnership also provided these young leaders with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences with the world via the QCT platforms, ensuring that those who may otherwise have gone unnoticed were both seen and heard around the world.
Read on to learn more about Tonga Youth Leaders and the important work they are doing with and for youth in Tonga.
Youth voices were being ignored
In Tonga, too many young, aspiring leaders felt they did not have the resources, opportunities or connections to fully develop their potential or have their voices heard and recognised. At a government level in particular, the opinions of young people were not being heard, or recognised as something to be considered when making decisions around Tonga’s future. As such, political engagement amongst Tongan youth was low and the one initiative that had been put in place to listen to young people’s views, the Youth Parliament, hadn’t sat since 2008. Tongan youth were left without a voice but desperate to have a say about the decisions being made for their future.
Opening the conversation to include local youth
Tonga Youth Leaders was established in December 2017 to change this narrative, inspiring young Tongans to live a life dedicated to leadership and service, and enabling the voice of local youth to be heard and justly recognised by the nation’s leaders.
Tonga Youth Leaders exists to connect young Tongan leaders and encourage them to create their own opportunities to develop their potential and further their efforts within their communities, while also working with local and national institutions to ensure Tongan youth would be given a voice when it comes to the future of their country.
On the ground, TYL further empowers young leaders already addressing some of Tonga’s most burning national issues, by visiting villages, schools and churches in the areas where they work and conducting Talanoa Sessions with the local community. Talanoa is a traditional Tongan word which reflects a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue, with a purpose to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good. TYL uses these sessions as an opportunity to discuss with young people their rights, as well as leadership and politics in Tonga. As a result, they are able connect these young, influential and powerful young leaders who all share a common desire to shape the future of Tonga for the better.
Young leaders are being educated
To date, Tonga Youth Leaders has reached over 1,000 young leaders in their Kingdom and has educated them further on leadership as well as their rights as young people. They have also enhanced the discourse between Government, Parliament and young people in Tonga, and their input was instrumental in pushing for, and ultimately implementing, the first youth parliament session in 10 years.
TYL also successfully ran the first ever ‘Girls Takeover Parliament’ day in partnership with the Commonwealth Youth Council and Jasiri Australia in late 2018. This gave 26 young aspiring female politicians the opportunity to discuss national issues in a Parliament setting. Both this and the Youth Parliament event were televised and aired on radio, allowing the nation to tune in as it happened. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with most of the audience citing TYL as a necessary initiative to help develop Tonga’s young leaders.
Founder and Chair, Tonga Youth Leaders
How did it all start?
Over the last 5 years I had volunteered for various groups, including those that focused on important topics such as women’s rights and people living with disabilities. However, in this time, I discovered that there was one group being left behind - the young leaders of our country who were out there helping everyone else but not receiving anything in return to help develop their own potential, skills and knowledge.
In December 2017 I completed the Leading Change course as part of the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme. Soon after, I felt ready to dedicate myself to launching a platform that could help this particular group of young people make the most of their potential, and so Tonga Youth Leaders was created.
What was your greatest challenge?
Lack of resources available to young people wanting to start or build these types of ventures. We began completely from scratch and had to figure our own way around everything. We are now passing everything that we have learned onto our young leaders, developing their skills to allow them to create their own platforms, projects and initiatives.
What’s been your greatest achievement?
Giving 26 young aspiring female politicians the chance to discuss national issues in a Parliament setting and be mentored by Tonga’s first 3 female Parliamentarians. This not only helped to address the issue of a lack of youth participation in Tongan politics, but also the lack of female representation that is sadly still prevalent throughout too many of our institutions.
What’s next for your project?
Tonga Youth Leaders is just starting its second chapter and we have big plans for 2019! We want to ensure that we invest further in our young people by ensuring our leaders are taking into account what we have to say as our Kingdom’s youth. Our focus this year will be to work closely with the Ministry of Youth in the drafting of Tonga’s first National Youth Policy, as well as providing a recognised platform for young Tongans by executing a Sub Standing Committee to Parliament. This will soon be championed in Parliament by its youngest member, which is very exciting indeed!
This will be the first of its kind worldwide, and we hope that when it has been approved by all MPs, Tonga will be leading the way in recognising youth voices in national decision making.
What top three things helped your venture succeed?
1. Team work: Our team was new and new to working with each other, but we came together perfectly with our passion to serve and an excitement that a platform like this finally existed for us all.
2. Partnerships: Our partnerships helped make our goals become a reality for the young leaders we helped inspire and empower by providing us with the resources and materials we needed to carry out our programmes.
3. Mentors: Our mentors gave us the guidance we needed and connected us to the right people and organisations, which allowed us to execute our goals to help Tonga’s young leaders.
Working together to make a difference
The work of Tonga Youth Leaders has inspired us all at The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust for some time. Their passion for championing the voices of youth and providing them with new opportunities to develop as leaders, is in perfect synergy with our own mission. This partnership represents an exciting chapter in our grant-giving work, empowering young leaders on the ground to identify and directly support the local changemakers who need it most.
Since partnering with Elizabeth Kite and the Tonga Youth Leaders team, we have been tremendously impressed with the organisation and diligence with which they conduct their work. Their achievements to date are admirable and show how change can be achieved at all levels of society, including government, when youth are given the opportunities to collaborate in a meaningful way. We are excited to see what the future has in store for Tonga Youth Leaders and are proud to be by their side as they continue to create positive outcomes for more of Tonga’s youth.
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