A Session on Active Citizenship
An article by Xenia Kekae (The Voice Inc. Communications & Marketing Intern, UPNG)
“It doesn’t take a lot of people to create a positive change. All it takes is a few dedicated and committed citizens to create that positive chain reaction of change.” U.S. Ambassador to Papua New Guinea Catherine Ebert Gray quoted this powerful statement addressing a group of young people about Active Citizenship at the American Corner. She challenged the students to get out there and identify what we as individual can do for our community, what we as educated individuals can do to confront those pressing issues that continue to surround and suppress our communities today. “How can you as young powerful individuals use your education to address these concerns? You may think an individual effort or attempt is powerless,” said Mrs. Gray. “But it’s not. It’s so much more that. And if as individuals with the same vision and drive came together, PNG would see drastic improvements.”
The Voice Inc. had the pleasure of partnering with the US Embassy to co-host a session on Active Citizenship at the American Corner opposite the Waigani National Court House on Friday may 12th. Students from the University of Papua New Guinea, Gordens Secondary school, Don Bosco Technical School, Port Moresby International School and Caritas Technical Secondary School were there to attend the session on Active Citizenship. So many times, when we hear the words Active Citizen, it is natural for people to shrug and suddenly feel discouraged because as the terms stand, active citizen can literally refer to those who can confidently address a crowd, people that are leaders, people that are of great prominence, people who are influential, people with power…etc. But the more the terms are defined along these lines; we fail to realize that we too are or can be active citizens. In fact, we are all active citizens. We just have not maximized our potential in realizing that each and every one of us are powerful and that within us lies so much potential to do great things. Yes, the above points with regards to being an active citizen are true but only to an extent. True active citizens are those that identify certain issues and concerns within their community and try to do something about it. The more we continue to ignore these issues; they become a norm to our communities and is practiced unconsciously and eventually, they are accepted in our communities as “normal”.
Cleanliness for example, the more people keep throwing rubbishes everywhere, the more the people’s mindset are directed in a way to think that it’s okay to carelessly throw rubbishes everywhere. And this suddenly and unconsciously becomes a social norm that is practiced literally every day by everyone. Yet there are minorities of people who share the same vision and vibe to see a clean Port Moresby or a clean community, take the stand to say no to this norm by disposing rubbishes at the right places. These groups of people take initiative in organizing cleaning groups and activities in their respective communities to see a change in their society. That is what being an Active Citizen is all about: identifying a certain issue or concern in communities and volunteering to actually do something about it.
Thenceforth, as the session kicked off, students were broken up into groups to identify and discuss certain issues or concerns they felt was a problem in their communities. They were than required to come up with strategic action plans to address these concerns. These discussions were then presented in front and it was amazing to see the kind of issues that were being identified by these young people and the actions that they were willing to take to make a change in their communities. Among the issues that were identified by these powerful groups of young people were the importance of cleanliness, denial of citizen rights to vote in the National Elections, unemployment, lack of service delivery, lack of quality education, lack of innovation, nepotism, and so many others.
Furthermore, students were also asked to define the term “volunteerism” and one female student from Gordens Secondary School simply yet strongly defined it as “the act of giving one’s free time and service to another person or community with no expectation of any rewards at all.” Fundamentally, this is what active citizenship is all about. Today in the world, people are motivated by so many different factors in life that they forget to ask the one primary question of “why”. Why does one wake up every morning to do what they do. Why do students stay up as late as 3 A.M. studying for a test that they’ll still get half the questions wrong. Young people are so focused today about getting a good education that will earn them a good life later on, but we fail to ask ourselves the real question and that is ‘why’.
As the session drew nearer to its end, TVI’s executive director, Ms. Barbra Thomas stressed on the importance of networking and connecting with like-minded people; that things happen when people connect. The importance of influence and living our life with intentions as that is how we live a life of purpose. Influence can only happen when we create networks and this network starts when we surround ourselves with like-minded people who support us and push us to be better people. Hence, this is where true Active Citizenship falls in: recognizing the need of the people or the community and volunteering to do something about it.