This past April over 70 students gathered in Ottawa, Canada’s capital, as a part of the 43rd annual National Student Commonwealth Forum to engage youth aged 14-18 in discussion on this year’s theme: Immigration, Migration & Refugee Issues. All of Canada’s ten provinces were represented, and this year the Forum was fortunate enough to welcome delegates from Iqaluit, Nunavut, one of Canada’s three Territories. The young students that come to Ottawa are given a glimpse into the procedures of the Commonwealth, including a mock Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, as well as a hands on look at the Canadian Political system.
This student run Forum provides a unique experience for young Canadians, as the goal of the week is to engage in challenging topics that stimulate ideas while considering nationwide perspectives. Tamanna Haque, an 18-year-old native of Fort McMurray, Alberta was able to gain a unique perspective throughout the week, and when asked to describe her time in the nation’s capital she was brief and sure of herself, “I’ve met the kind of people I would be honored to surround myself with”. The Forum has a knack for bringing people like Haque together, young people who are willing to engage in difficult global issues, which in turn allows students to walk away with a strengthened degree of confidence in not only themselves but the world they live in. Although the topic of the week is always based on pressing global issues, there is time spent educating students on the Canadian political system as well as meeting and engaging in conversation with Members of Parliament and High Commissioners.
Through a variety of different platforms, youth were challenged to engage in their communities, demand that their voice be heard and take the initiative to make a difference. With the help of guest speakers and other creative bonding activities, delegates were reminded that youth are not the future, but they are the now, and they have the ability to affect thousands of people around them. Speakers in attendance included an official from the Duke of Edenborough Award program, as well as a variety of members from the Ottawa Branch of the Royal Commonwealth Society, most notably, Sir Charles Gunning – the creator and founder of the Forum. Although the above activities were engaging and memorable, the main event of the week has been and always will be the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
This year was no different, and once again CHOGOM brought together young, prepared, and intelligent Canadians, as they were asked to accomplish a demanding task… consensus. Students learned that an equal voice for all may appear to be the best way to pursue social and political issues, but it is an incredibly challenging task. After hours of debate and intensive discussion, delegates walked away with a different perspective on debate and the Commonwealth in general. William Zhang, an 18-year-old student from Ottawa, Ontario discussed his experience saying, “It’s not easy to be in a room, surrounded by intelligent, passionate youth who are bursting to express their own opinions. Although it may be difficult to reach consensus with so many people, there are many opportunities and many ways to challenge yourself to build this skill. NSCF, for me, brought everyone to a common perspective.” The goal of the forum is for students to walk away with this mindset, to truly believe that opportunities are out there and a common perspective is achievable.
Overall, the week, once again, was able to accomplish the difficult task of informing over 70 young Canadians on the benefits of consensus, the reality of political decisions and the power that young people have. I am sure that I can speak on behalf of all participants that it was an honor to attend such a special Forum with such a diverse group of young people. I personally encourage all Canadian youth explore this Forum, as it truly has been a life changing experience for so many.
Office for Inclusion and Engagement
Commonwealth Youth Council