Monday, August 4, 2008

International Youth Forum in Korea 15-22 July 2008

Not only do (naked) hermit crabs roam around the shores of Singapore, they also get to travel to Korea! From 15-22nd July 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the 19th International Youth Forum (IYF) as a Singapore delegate. As one of the sub-topics discussed was "Environmental Protection and Climate Change", the National Youth Council approached the Naked Hermit Crabs for a volunteer to attend this event. And yours truly got to go (thanks, Ria!).

Over 8 days, 118 delegates from Asia and Europe interacted with one another, sharing ideas on current global issues as well as our own unique cultures. From Austria to Vietnam, delegates bonded over kimchee and sometimes, soju.

The 19th International Youth Forum (IYF) took place in Seoul and Goesan in Korea. Seoul was where we had our opening and closing ceremonies, orientation and lectures. At Goesan amongst the backdrop of the woods and the river, the real work of coming up with the Declaration was done.

Right on the first day of the forum, the ice was quickly thawed between the delegates. No, not due to global warming, but the delegates’ friendliness and warm Korean hospitality. The ice-breakers and orientation facilitated by the Korean delegates also added to the atmosphere of camaraderie.

The theme of the forum was “The Role of Asian and European Youths in Tackling Global Issues through Intercultural Dialogue”. Delegates were grouped according to sub topics such as

1. Environmental Protection and Climate Change
2. Education to Eradicate Poverty
3. Decent Work and Unemployment
4. Public Health Policy and HIV/AIDS
5. Gender Equality

As the delegates were from different walks of life, some already working or volunteering in the respective sectors while some are just university students with no prior knowledge of the issues, special lectures and documentary screenings were held to provide more information on the subject.

Still, due to the fact that the IYF acted as a platform for delegates from all over the world to meet, it meant that even those who professed that they have ‘no prior knowledge’ in a given sub-topic were privy to the situation faced by their own countries, providing a fertile ground for sharing of the ideas.

I joined in the discussion group for 'Environmental Protection and Climate Change'. A lot of the delegates shared their concerns about the environmental situation in their countries, ranging from deforestation, pollution and pertinently, solid waste management.

The environment was also conducive for the sharing of feedback.

The purpose of the workshops was to come up with the Seoul Declaration which was to be presented to the ASEM governments to urge them to do more to solve the problems, and well as signal a commitment that we, as youths, will also undertake action to complement the government’s actions.

The wide smile hid the butterflies fluttering in my stomach, being the first presenter for the plenary session.

The plenary sessions, involving sharing of each subtopic group’s discussion with all the delegates, was held after a whole day marathon of workshops and discussions within the group.

But it was not all work and no play. There were plenty of opportunities to revel in the hotchpotch of the different cultures of our counterparts.

The Koreans introduced us to their traditional musical instruments.

Traditional drinks.

The way to make rice cakes in the olden days. From something rough and outdoors...

To something more refined, the traditional tea ceremony where each step from lifting the lid to pouring the tea is an act of gracefulness.

And who can forget taekwondo, the Korean martial arts. The performance drew gasps and applause from the audience and it is not hard to see why.

On cultural night, we were all treated to various performances by the delegates.

From Austria...

From Korea...

From Indonesia...

From Japan...

And from Thailand...

Among many others.

I even had a chance to try on a yutaka that night!

Each delegation group also got to get down and dirty with painting a mini-mural!

On our final day, the Singaporean delegates were fortunate to meet our country ambassador to South Korea (before a 2.5 hour mad dash for souvenier shopping for folks back home!).

It had been a great honour and privilege being part of the Singapore delegation for this trip. All of us had the chance to speak and be heard, to lead and to play an integral role in the trip - especially during the discussions and plenary session.

No doubt the forum has exceeded my expectations, not least of them is the chance to meet new friends and benefit from understanding a greater part of the mosaic of what makes up this world.

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