Getting it Right

  • Deborah Morris
Youth Affairs

Lions Club of Johnsonville
Wellington

Stephen Lange, Lions, ladies and gentlemen. Good evening and thank you for the invitation to share with you your success and good work in raising money for several very worthy organisations.

As that video says this generation can walk with their heads held high.

Because, contrary to popular belief, young New Zealanders, on-the-whole, are doing well. About 95% of young people are getting on with their lives, contributing to and thriving in their communities.

Young New Zealand is a diverse and exciting place.

The transition to adulthood is exciting too. And it's also challenging. Bit by bit young adults begin asserting themselves, making decisions about what's important to them and who they are. Boundaries are pushed, relationships tested and risks taken.

The challenges that face all youth mean that none of us can be complacent. We have to keep making an effort to work with young people. If we don't we will go nowhere. Because, even if we are on the right track, we'll get run over if we just sit still.

And, the contribution that you, and many Lions clubs all over New Zealand make to helping young people is tremendous. Fundraising and contributing to your community keeps a range of organisations moving.

I've been blown away by the number of people prepared to get out there and do things for young New Zealanders. And I have to say that often it is people like you who can make the biggest difference - because not only are you closer to the action - but often you are the instigators of it.

Last week I attended a meeting of Safer Community Councils from all over New Zealand. Those meetings happen annually and the main objective is information sharing: what works for different communities. They are an opportunity for Government Ministers and Chief Executives to hear first hand about safer community initiatives.

As always, the stories emphasised that what works in one community may not work elsewhere.

There seemed to be one thing that everyone agreed with: the need for youth to be part of local decisions. The consensus was that youth had to provide some of the answers themselves.

Just to illustrate the importance of including youth I'd like to share a story told to me by Malaysia's Minister of Finance.

He used to be the Minister of Youth Affairs and when he held that portfolio he asked his Cabinet to ban rap music. All of his colleagues agreed - they had heard that it was bad so they decided it should definitely be banned.

When the Minister's daughter heard about this through the media, she had her father up about it and promptly played her latest tunes to him.

While it wasn't exactly his style, it wasn't totally evil either. He had spent his youth listening to artists whose names didn't mean much to me when he rolled them off. But, realising that only some rap music was all about drugs and murder, the Minister had to go back to Cabinet and reverse the decision.

The point of this of course is that it pays to know what you're talking about if you want to touch youth issues. And the best way to make sure is to take the time to listen to youth. The chances are, they know more about it than the adults.

That's my message to Government, local government, community organisations, schools and families. But there's more....

"Putting it right" might be ok for household appliances. But getting it right in the first place is what we need for youth.

As I said earlier, getting it right is all about youth involvement and empowerment.

Empowerment means more than participation in decision making; it also includes equity and access to resources. So, we need to do more than listen.

Improved youth development and participation doesn't just help young people, it helps all of us. If we can help our young to do better, then it will also lead to national prosperity, economic competitiveness, reduced unemployment, an educated workforce, and the building of a just and equitable society.

By investing time and listening to young people we are investing in New Zealand.

And as we do so, it is important to know that young people are the best resource for promoting their own development. They must be both architects and agents in meeting the challenges and solving the problems.

Youth development work has in the past been centred on a social welfare approach. This views young people as presenting problems which need to be solved through the intervention of older people. That approach is seriously limited. It perceives young people as passive objects upon which interventions must act, rather than as active subjects participating in the shaping of their own lives and communities.

I know that Lions do a lot of good work for youth, and I know that you do a lot more than just dishing out money. Congratulations for having the commitment to get out there and do it.

Tonight is about money though - gifts to organisations that deliver an excellent range of services for young people. I have to say, it's not that often in the portfolio of youth affairs that I get to hand out any money at all. So, it's quite exciting that I get to do so tonight.

The support services of Youthline and the Wellington City Mission are a valuable life line for so many young people. Both organisations have contact with a diverse range of youth. I was interested to learn that youthline has recently started a pregnancy helpline. So their services are diverse too. And we all know the famous face of Wellington City Mission. I've been really impressed by the youth centre in Newtown and the correspondence school support provided.

Life Education Trust provides excellent education in the fight against drugs. Just this morning I heard a psychologist say that all of the youth she has contact with - sufferers of psychotic illnesses - were drug users. This is a very important issue.

Under my other hat of Associate Minister for ACC I am aware of the work that the Head Injury Society does to support people suffering from head injuries.

And finally the Wellington Early Intervention Society is a vital resource offering education to groups about early warning signs of mental illness, care and support and day-to-day case management. Again, an organisation very worthy of this donation.

I can't say strongly enough how good it is to see Lions supporting you all in this way.

Congratulations to everyone involved.