Youth Perspective: Aotearoa Needs to Heal – by Johny O’Donnell
New Zealand has some serious issues.
New Zealand has a drinking culture that glorifies alcoholism and justifies behaviours that would otherwise be unacceptable.
New Zealand has inequality that eats at the very core of our communities; isolating the poor and hiding the rich from the reality.
New Zealand has such an entrenched culture of violence that we still find it acceptable to raise children with violence as a form of discipline and remain silent when vulnerable people are being harmed.
New Zealand is riddled with depression and mental health issues that we endorse and promote with our “she’ll be right” and “get over it” attitude.
New Zealand is driving down a road of economic disaster as we continue to rely on the very things that landed us in the mess we are in today.
New Zealand has such a disconnection from our democracy that only half our residents vote in local elections and mainstream political conversations typically revolve around “those bastards” in reference to our politicians.
New Zealand continues to exploit our environment for pathetic economic gain at the sacrifice of the very thing that once made us unique.
We acknowledge our roots by carving entrance ways, singing before an event and enjoying the odd hangi but never truly embrace or place value on our indigenous culture.
And the list continues
All of which bring us to what I believe is a scary identity crisis.
Aotearoa needs to heal.
We don’t experience our problems in isolation but I love this country and I want to focus on our issues here first.
Healing begins with forgiveness but forgiveness can only be obtained by addressing the core of an issue and for want of better words “righting the wrongs”.
Around all of our issues there is a deep and real sense of urgency to address them but we are still relying on the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.
That is where I believe youth engagement brings such great value and opportunity to the table.
In my eyes youth engagement is not a nice addition or a bonus initiative. It’s an urgent and pressing opportunity that needs to be embraced with open arms in a genuine and meaningful manner.
As my good friend Yvonne Godfrey often reminds me “there is no other succession plan” and there are no second chances.
In saying that, I’d like to add my contribution to the “young people are tomorrow’s leaders” notion with this statement- young people have every right, desire and ability to be the leaders of today as well.
That statement was met with a round of applause during my recent presentation to the Global Summit on Ending Corporal Punishment and I hope it is met with equal enthusiasm here in Aotearoa.
New Zealand must embark on a journey to heal our pains and deal with our grievances. New Zealand must embrace and empower young people to take leadership on this process.
Youth engagement is not about pushing from behind or pulling from in front. It’s about walking alongside young people on a journey that we all need to walk.
Our issues don’t paint a nice picture of Aotearoa but with our hurt and pain will only make us stronger in the long term.
To end on a relevant and positive note here is one of my favourite songs by Ruia, it’s a Maori version of Bob Marleys “One Love”