A 34-year-old teacher from Tigoa, Rennel and Bellona has been elected the President of the Provincial Youth Council, the first woman in the country to hold the post. Very modest, Melly admits having been “driven by a purpose that is bigger than herself.” With a population of more than 700 thousand people, youth make up more than half a million, out of which eighty percent live in rural and remote areas. The Rennel and Bellona province is even more exceptional as it is the only Polynesian province in the country. As in most of Solomon Islands, decision-making processes are led by village elders, leaving Melly and many other young people to think how they can become part of these processes.
Funded by the UN peacebuilding Fund, in 2022, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) joined forces with World Vision and Development Exchange Service (DSE) to launch the first youth-oriented project for the Rennell and Bellona Province, focusing on bridging the gap between traditional governance and the statutory system. Prior to this, in partnership with the Solomon Islands Government, UNDP and National Youth Congress launched the revitalization process of Provincial Youth Councils in four provinces – Guadalcanal, Western, Malaita and Choiseul Provinces. With the same goals in mind, the Provincial Youth Council in Rennell and Bellona was established to help youth engage in decision-making and develop innovative solutions for the land and natural resources management.
“I wish people would listen to tamatama* more,” says Melly who sees the newly established Provincial Youth Council in Rennell and Bellona as their second chance. For young people to reach their full potential, they need to know how to navigate socially, economically, and politically. The network developed by the youth caucuses is already bringing opportunities to young people in remote places, around Rennell and Bellona. To further enhance youths’ traditional role in conflict resolution, the revitalization of youth council was done through a one-week long leadership workshop with participation of over 100 youths where they elected the Executive Board. Even though Melly meets resistance from a lot of people, she sees her mission as “showing young people that there are other ways to fight poverty, unemployment and the low participation of young people in political and civic life.”
Lack of finance and demotivation of youth cause a high level of school dropouts. That in return encourages young people to misbehave and involve themselves in lawbreaking such as drugs and crimes further originating problems within communities. Another challenge is those who leave the province to pursue education in the capital or outside of the country with only few of them decide to come back and work locally. Yet, those who do so, Melly says “reveal to other youth that there is life here. That they are valued here. And that together we can build a better future.” Reflecting on these challenges and plans for the future, she notes “we need change, and we need it now.” As youth President-elected, Melly now observes that Provincial Youth Councils and caucuses “initiate that change.”
As we move forward, the project plans to host a series of consultations not only with involvement of youth but also with communities’ chiefs and leaders to find a common and inclusive way to strengthen youth’s rights and participation in local processes. Thinking about how the project will develop, Melly notes that her “dream is that young people have an equal right to sit at the decision-making and build the future they want.” UNDP and World Vision, in partnership with Development Exchange Service, and with financial support from the UN Peacebuilding Fund, implement the Bridging traditional governance and the rule of law through youths’ participation as agents of peace and change in Rennell and Bellona project to utilize young people’s potential as agents of change.