Suva, Fiji, 14 August 2020 - The Fiji Informal Settlements (FRIS) project celebrated International Youth Day 2020 in Suva, Fiji. Organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)  and the University of South Pacific, the two-day event focused on pacific youth engagement for global action during COVID-19.

Some 30 youth from over 10 Pacific countries participated in discussions centered around socio- economic impacts of COVID-19 in the Pacific, with a special focus on human rights, food security and climate change. The participants exchanged experiences and ideas on how the youth can participate during panel discussions, group work, thematic presentations by OHCHR, FAO, UNDP, UNFPA, and many others, as well as interactive artwork sessions.

‘Informal settlements are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and climate change brings out and exacerbates existing vulnerabilities’ said Kamsin Raju, one of four FRIS Resilience officers based within an FRIS target municipality. ‘But there is also a lot of potential. For example, youth groups are organizing support for older community members, or there are tutor programmes by older students to help younger children with homework.’

Led by UN-Habitat, the participants joined hands in painting a mural to express how they experience the pandemic: on one side it tells a story of pain and suffering (the hands symbolize cries for help due to unemployment, rising crime and violence, and food insecurity). But it goes on to show how a coconut tree, as a symbol of life, that brings people together, encouraging us to go back to our roots, to focus on our tradition and the value of community. The title ‘Hand in Hand with Youth’ depicts the strong wish of the young leaders to be listened to and included in decision-making.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator Mr. Sanaka Samarasinha closed the event by encouraging the youth to claim their rights to participation. ‘This is your UN. This is your country. This is your life. But no one is going to hand it to you, you have to claim your rights to participation and leadership.’