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5 April 2012
Our Island, Our Future
St Helena's Youth Parliament speaks to SHBC's Damien O'Bey
Gemma Yon
Gemma Yon, one of the founder members of the Youth Parliament

Damien O'Bey

This feature story was published in the 5 April 2012 issue of The Sentinel

The Youth Parliament was formed after recommendations were made in the Children and Young Persons (CYP) report, conducted by Ayla Phillips and Gareth Drabble after leaving school in 2009.

Like most organisations, they have a board of directors. Giselle Richards, Aldhem Garner and Matthew Joshua.

The organisation allows members of an age range of 11-21 years. Up to 12 members may serve on the Parliament at any one time. Terms in office are unlimited, although members can no longer serve after reaching the age of 22. The group chose not to have a hierarchy, instead responsibilities are assigned to certain members.

Neil Francis, Gemma Yon (Graphic Design), Zedella Young (Public Relations), Rebecca Lawrence and Andrew Turner (Web Master) are founder members. The group of 5 has grown to 9. New members, Megan Peters, Thomas Hickling, Annalise Thomas and Sasha Benjamin have joined the Parliament. It is hoped the 3 new members will be in tune with Parliament matters by August this year, when the Parliament will lose Neil, Rebecca and Zedella. All 3 will journey to the UK on Government scholarships. Megan Francis said "I joined the Parliament to represent the youth and I hope that my opinion and others will be heard throughout Government." Annalise Thomas commented "I want to make a difference. I don't want to stand back and not let my opinions be heard. I joined the Parliament in the hope that I can provide a voice for youth."

The organisation aims to act as the collective voice of young people. The Parliament is very much in its infancy, having only started in May 2011. The current group have been tasked with getting the organisation of the ground. Such things like the Parliament's handbook are being finalised. Andrew Turner, with the groups input, designed their website,, launched on the 15th March 2012. The Parliament's elegant logo was designed by Gemma Yon who "tried to make the logo appear official, yet still have a youthful touch". The group doesn't operate from an official head quarters. The option of using the Council Chambers was explored, but lack of IT facilities and the sheer size of the Chambers made the premises unsuitable. Instead, weekly meetings are held in any available office in the Castle.
SHBC met with members to find out about the group's efforts, plans and achievements so far.

In a positive, vibrant tone Zedella Young said "to date, we've started a recycling programme, once it was up and running we handed the programme over to New Horizons. We've also negotiated with local businesses to provide discounts on stationary and books for students in years 10 -13 attending PAS. The Hive, The Inkwell and Serena's gift shop are interested in the scheme, which the Parliament hopes will be up and running by the end of April."
In a more frustrated tone she told SHBC "The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association held a debate with invited guests, the Youth Parliament and Honourable Councillors Francis and Green. The group were split into two and debated lowering the voting age on St. Helena. The team who debated for lowering the voting age, won the debate. But although having been present and knowing the results of the debate the Councillors have not followed up on the issue."

Andrew Turner said he wanted to see broadband prices reduced for youths. "The internet is a very valuable learning resource and at current prices it's hard for youths to use the internet to its full potential. I understand that this might not be possible, but it's an avenue we would like to explore."

Annalise, Megan, Andrew and Gemma felt the youth needed more recreational facilities. The Island's lack of a cinema is one thing they would like to change. The group organises Parliament movie nights, although there are differences in opinions when choosing movies, with Gemma liking horror and Megan preferring romance.

Gemma and Andrew are founder members and have served on the Parliament for nearly a year. When asked if they believed that the youth would ever be listened to by Government they said "Yes. We understand that we are a new organisation and we might not have an immediate impact. But we continue to express our views. The Government are making the right noises. We are invited to represent St. Helena's youth at official functions. We were invited to the announcement of the positive airport decision. Proof that we are considered by Government, although it might not be at the level we would like."

The Parliament will continue to raise their views and concerns in the hope that one day, the Government will consider what St. Helena youth have to say, when making a decision about an island that the youth will inhabit, long after the people who currently govern the Island.
After meeting with members of the Parliament the following conclusions are drawn. The Youth Parliament provides more than a place for our youngsters to congregate, develop skills, and build good social relationships. It endeavours to make the voice of our youth heard.

This feature story was published in the 5 April 2012 issue of The Sentinel




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