Two students from each of three High Schools in Christchurch were fortunate enough to be accepted to attend the Commonwealth Youth National Student CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) in Wellington.
St Bede’s College
Cian Hallissey and Mason Devlin
We spent 2 days at the Beehive with 90 other students from around New Zealand all representing different Commonwealth countries. We were fortunate enough to represent Sri Lanka with Cian as the Head of Government and Mason as the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Throughout the 2 days, we discussed multiple different plenary topics including; Trade, Human Rights, Cybersecurity and Migration. All of these being issues that the Commonwealth member states are facing, and the purpose of this event was to discuss these and represent our countries perspective on these major global issues facing the world as well as propose and vote to resolutions, dependent on whether they were beneficial to our chosen country. This required us to research and gain an in-depth understanding of Sri Lanka and their perspective and position on these topics. We also heard from many expert speakers on topics such as Human Rights, as well as hearing from the Former Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand on the topic of the relevance of the Commonwealth to us as youth today. From this experience, we feel that we now see the importance of the Commonwealth in our world, as well as the way that every country has a different perspective on different issues but each for their reasons. After attending this we both feel we have walked away with a greater value for International Relations, as well as politics after meeting some famous Old Boys who are Politicians and getting acknowledged by Hon. Damien O’Connor during question time. We are extremely thankful for being given this opportunity by the School to attend it as well as to Mr Palmer for taking us, as well as the Royal Commonwealth Society (Canterbury) for sponsoring. It was an incredible experience that we have both taken a lot away from, and we could not recommend the opportunity enough.
Riccarton High School
This year I had the opportunity to attend the National Student CHOGM in Wellington. During the event I took on the mantle of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Cyprus, a country I previously knew very little about. Through our research we learned a lot about the issues that Cyprus and other Commonwealth nations are facing, including the effects of climate change, human rights abuses and the refugee crisis. Over the course of two days we used this information to debate with delegates representing a variety of Commonwealth countries with the goal of passing resolutions that would benefit everyone. If a single nation votes against a resolution in the Commonwealth, then that resolution cannot pass. Because of this, we quickly realised how important it was to understand the needs of different countries and learn to compromise.
In addition to the debates themselves, the programme included a variety of other interesting learning opportunities. We tackled a theoretical international conflict in a crisis session, were put on the spot by student media delegates at a mock press conference, and had a state dinner at the banquet hall. One of my favourite parts of the CHOGM was attending question time, where we got to see the
members of parliament debate. We also got to hear from the professionals. Speakers such as Ian Welch, a cybersecurity expert, spoke to us about the very issues we were debating at the CHOGM. This showed us just how real these issues are, but it was inspiring to hear what people are doing to make the world a better place.
I would like to thank the Royal Commonwealth Society Canterbury for helping me to attend this event. It was an incredibly busy, exciting and educational two days where I got to learn about the Commonwealth and the many issues that we are facing in today’s world, as well as having the chance to improve my own debating and negotiating skills. My only regret is that I didn’t take up the opportunity sooner
Riccarton High School
In late August, due to the generous contribution from the Royal Commonwealth Society Canterbury, I had the chance to participate in the National Student CHOGM. This event was held at the Houses of Parliament in Wellington, which meant I would have been unable to attend had I not received support. I took the role of the Head of Government of the country of Cyprus, which my team member and I chose due to my interest in its history, and its interesting role in both the Commonwealth and EU. Researching for this event thus gave me so much knowledge about my country’s role in international affairs, particularly in relation to the wide range of plenary topics.
Throughout our time at the CHOGM we meet a huge variety of like minded students, and forged many strong friendships through negotiations, and sometimes through fierce debates. Additionally, we were spoken to by a wide range of guest speakers, who gave us more in depth learning about the plenary topics, and provided a professional lens through which we were able to begin developing our own ideas. From human rights violations in Africa and the United States, to Cybersecurity issues affecting every nation on earth, we learned about some fascinating topics, that the majority of us knew hardly anything about.
At the CHOGM, aside from plenary discussions we were taken to a state dinner, and question time in parliament, as well as the mock press conferences at the end of each day – which required us to be able to think on our feet and justify the decisions we had made. Attending the CHOGM greatly improved my public speaking and negotiation skills, as well as my own confidence to put forth my own ideas and resolutions. I am so grateful for the opportunity I was given, and I would encourage anyone else in my situation to get involved.
Hillmorton High School
On 26 and 27 August, Year 13 students Alisha Bedggood and Cleveland Grieg participated in Student CHOGM at Parliament in Wellington. Cleveland writes: The National Student Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting (CHOGM) is an annual event where students from around New Zealand congregate to simulate the annual meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. Here we went through protocols similar to those that representatives of the actual Commonwealth carry out. This included plenaries, which are essentially semi-official discussions between the representatives where different motions are put forward and voted on. Time that wasn’t taken up by plenaries involved a lot of food and semi-disguised plotting. We also had a formal dinner and a workshop, in which we discussed more of our personal views and feelings rather than those of our nation.
We came to Wellington as the representatives of Kiribati, a small island nation in the Pacific heavily threatened by global warming. We would say the greatest asset that Student CHOGM offered us was an opportunity to practise public speech and debate in an environment full of charismatic individuals, and to be able to witness the running of New Zealand Government up close through attending a Question Time. It also was a step outside of our comfort zone; for Alisha this was her first time flying without an adult and so she appreciated this, and for me, Cleveland, this type of experience was new because I had basically never been anywhere north of Rangiora.
CHOGM as an event is something we really valued having the chance to participate in, even just to be able to interact with a bunch of interesting politically-minded young people. It’s a very different environment but I think it has taught both of us some valuable things about public speaking and reasoning, alongside just being a fun time of course. Also, special thanks to Rosemary and Graeme Wallis at Kia Mai International Student Christian Hostel for allowing us to stay there for the trip and for the great company they provided after the event was over.