Sister Cities New Zealand had its annual conference last week, from the 28th to the 30th April, in Nelson. Active Wellington was lucky enough to be one of the conference delegates and we attended the conference on the youth focused day on Saturday 30th.
If you are not familiar with Nelson, it is a city situated in the North of the South Island, in the Tasman Bay with about 46,437 inhabitants (source 2013 Census). Only 30 mins away from Wellington by plane, it is one of the sunniest city of New Zealand and this nice climate has earned it the nickname of "Sunny Wellington".
As this year marked the 40th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Nelson and Miyazu in Japan, delegates were treated to a visit of and lunch at the Miyazu Garden, as well as a visit of the Huangshi Garden on the Friday and got the opportunity to see a performance from the Nelson Raijin Taiko Drummers.
The theme for the conference on Saturday was Youth Development Focus and saw the launch of the Sister Cities New Zealand Youth Sub Committee with an inspiring speech from Bing Lou, the SCNZ Youth Director followed by a video introducing the members of the Sub Committee. As we expected, the quality of the presentations and speakers was of course of a very high degree and Commonwealth Youth NZ's Executive Director, Aaron Hape, was especially engaging. What was, for us, the highlight of the whole conference was the opportunity to hear from various people who had gone on exchange through the sister city model and to hear how this had changed their lives and minds in way they had never imagined it would. The presentation from the Waimea College students who recently went on exchange to Japan and the presentation from Jessica Czarnecki, who after coming to New Zealand on an exchange from Tempe, Arizona decided to come and study at Victoria University, really stood out for us as good examples of the life changing experience that travelling overseas at a young age can be.
The afternoon was concluded by a workshop and discussion around youth empowerment and ways to encourage more young people to get involved with SCNZ, where delegates talked of success stories of the Sister City model at the International, National and local level, as well as areas of improvement and ways to go about it. Before the closing of the conference, delegates were invited to think about and share one action that they could take, at their level, to have a positive impact on youth and raise awareness of the Sister City model in New Zealand.
After this busy weekend of dialogue around youth and intercultural exchanges, we came back to Wellington our head filled with ideas on how to continue to engage with communities locally, nationally and internationally to develop stronger and long lasting ties and how to better help young people feel more empowered so that they can develop their potential and become the person they want to be. We are very much looking forward to the year ahead and to next year's conference, which will be taking place in Invercargill.