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A six-hour boat ride from Alotau, on the northern-most tip of Normanby Island, is the district of Esa’ala. 29-year-old Raymond Merpe made the crossing to Alotau this week as Vice-President of the Esa’ala District Youth Council to join fellow young leaders in a UNFPA dialogue to advance youth participation across Milne Bay. 

At the front of mind for Mr Merpe was the need for well-established Youth Councils at the District level. 

“It is important for all districts to have a Youth Council because that is their voice in the District Development Authority,” shared Mr Merpe. “Through this, the youths have a voice, especially in budgets and financial decision making because we know what issues we are facing.”

“Only we can speak for ourselves.”

In his role with the Es’sala District Youth Council, Mr. Merpe raises awareness on Sexual Reproductive Health, Gender-Based Violence and law and order issues quarterly, as per the Council’s workplan. Not all Districts have such an engaged Youth Council and this is something the Provincial Administration wants to address. 

“It is our aim to ensure that all Districts and Local Level Government areas have an established and active Youth Council by the end of the year,” said Milne Bay Provincial Administrator Mr. Ashan Numa said the new Provincial Government.

With an estimated 60% of the population of Papua New Guinea is under 25. Ensuring that services are accessible to young people is important for services to be fit-for-purpose for this growing population. 

“We need this support system to be strengthened by enabling better understanding of young people and our needs,” said Mr Merpe. “I have learnt so much through these sessions. In particular, the panel discussions with the Family Sexual Violence Unit and with sexual and reproductive health services and the different referral pathways, how these are accessible to the young people was informative.”

The aims of this dialogue is to strengthen partnerships with youth-led networks, promote youth friendly support services and address GBV, mobilize support within the province between provincial government and partners for GBV prevention and response for youth, and to encourage dialogue around future planning for population growth, inclusive of the young population. 

UNFPA is supported by Zonta International to work with health service providers in Milne Bay to strengthen survivor-centred models of care. This two-day dialogue was conducted in partnership with the Milne Bay Provincial Health Authority, Family Support Center, Family and Sexual Violence Unit and other partners.