Tonga youth leaders – bringing small projects to life in Tonga

Tonga Youth Leaders (TYL) is a youth-led organisation that empowers and develops Tongan youth to become catalysts for positive change in their own communities. In 2019, The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust were proud to partner with TYL in order to better reach and support other youth-led initiatives in Tonga.

Elizabeth Kite, the founder of TYL is fighting to give recognition and support to young leaders across Tonga.

The partnership enabled TYL to provide small grants to young people in Tonga who were working hard to solve the issues they see in their local communities but lacked the resources needed to scale their efforts and drive further impact. Beyond funding, this partnership also provided these young leaders with an opportunity to share their stories and experiences with the world via the QCT platforms, ensuring that those who may otherwise have gone unnoticed were both seen and heard around the world.

Read on to learn more about Tonga Youth Leaders and the important work they are doing with and for youth in Tonga.

The problem – youth voices were being ignored

In Tonga, too many young, aspiring leaders felt they did not have the resources, opportunities or connections to fully develop their potential or have their voices heard and recognised. At a government level in particular, the opinions of young people were not being heard, or recognised as something to be considered when making decisions around Tonga’s future. As such, political engagement amongst Tongan youth was low and the one initiative that had been put in place to listen to young people’s views, the Youth Parliament, hadn’t sat since 2008. Tongan youth were left without a voice but desperate to have a say about the decisions being made for their future.

The solution – opening the conversation to include local youth

Tonga Youth Leaders was established in December 2017 to change this narrative, inspiring young Tongans to live a life dedicated to leadership and service, and enabling the voice of local youth to be heard and justly recognised by the nation’s leaders.

TYL girls in Tongan parliament

Tonga Youth Leaders exists to connect young Tongan leaders and encourage them to create their own opportunities to develop their potential and further their efforts within their communities, while also working with local and national institutions to ensure Tongan youth would be given a voice when it comes to the future of their country.

On the ground, TYL further empowers young leaders already addressing some of Tonga’s most burning national issues, by visiting villages, schools and churches in the areas where they work and conducting Talanoa Sessions with the local community. Talanoa is a traditional Tongan word which reflects a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue, with a purpose to share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good. TYL uses these sessions as an opportunity to discuss with young people their rights, as well as leadership and politics in Tonga. As a result, they are able connect these young, influential and powerful young leaders who all share a common desire to shape the future of Tonga for the better.

The impact – young leaders are being educated

To date, Tonga Youth Leaders has reached over 1,000 young leaders in their Kingdom and has educated them further on leadership as well as their rights as young people. They have also enhanced the discourse between Government, Parliament and young people in Tonga, and their input was instrumental in pushing for, and ultimately implementing, the first youth parliament session in 10 years.

TYL also successfully ran the first ever ‘Girls Takeover Parliament’ day in partnership with the Commonwealth Youth Council and Jasiri Australia in late 2018. This gave 26 young aspiring female politicians the opportunity to discuss national issues in a Parliament setting. Both this and the Youth Parliament event were televised and aired on radio, allowing the nation to tune in as it happened. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with most of the audience citing TYL as a necessary initiative to help develop Tonga’s young leaders.

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