What makes a good leader? Seventeen-year-old Eileen Vakapora is quick to reel off the qualities.
“Active listening, understanding, sharing and being able to communicate with yours peers; and having your peers trust you so they will share things with you,” she answered.
She was one of 21 Tereora college students to sign up for the Red Cross Youth as Agents of Behavioural Change training of peer educators course held last week, encouraged by her mother Maarateina.
Vakapora had assumed the programme was about first aid and medical training, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it was much more.
“We learnt about issues that youth face worldwide, how our mindsets work and how our behaviour and decisions can affect others,” she says.
“Some of the challenges are being able to share our struggles with individuals who we can trust, because these days we question people’s motives, it’s really about whether we can trust them.
“At the camp we all felt safe and trusting of everyone, to relay and talk about our challenges that we face.”
Memorable moments, she says, were to learn how evens with good intentions, their actions can have a negative impact. “So it made me rethink things and see things from a different perspective.”
Gender equality is an issue, “where some women are submissive because they believe that is what is expected of them – to just stay home and look after kids … and some men believe only they have to provide for the family, then they have to shoulder the burden and don’t share their troubles with their wives like they should.”
Other topics discussed were, “dropping biased, non-discrimination, different fundamental principles like humanity, impartiality, neutrality an learning how to educate young people about these issues and how we can help change things.”
“It has to start with us the younger generation to change, or it will just keep on recurring,” Vakapora said.
Vakapora is happy that although at the start of the course the kids did not know each other well, “at the end, we all became firm friends; and our youth should be encouraged to take part in the next.”
“We have said we won’t snob each other,” she added.
Red Cross volunteer Danny Vakapora, who ran the programme, has delivered the training in other countries like Fiji, China and Thailand.
“It has been rewarding because I have seen the impact this has on young people in other countries and I know it can have the same effect here,” he says.
Games and activities are designed to trigger emotional responses or reactions: “At this point that we start unpacking those feelings and experiences to connect to a skill or social issue.”
“Once the connections are made, self-reflections start to take hold of their thinking and they begin to question their mindsets, pre-conceived notions and biases and it's at this point that they really start to critically think and assess.”
On the first day Danny saw the potential of each individual, on the last day, “students had more purpose and, realization that anything is possible.”
He was alarmed to see that only one person could answer the questions, “what is your value?” and “what is your worth?”
“Most were unsure, some were never asked the question before, some did not know and others remained silent.”
Danny believes more could be done not to support and develop young people so that they may, “realise their full potential, and we should praise their successes instead parading their failures.”
“We all have our part to play and I invite those who are interested in helping out to contact the government agencies and organisations working in this space; Red Cross is just one of them and you are most welcome to sign up and volunteer,” Vakapora says.
The training is the flagship training of the Red Cross for young people and it has been delivered in 145 countries of the 192 member countries.