Winchester Conference 2017 – Report

Leeds Conference 2017
June 5, 2017
August 8, 2017

Report on PeaceJam UK Youth Conference 2017 for Rotary Wessex – July 2017 edition

This year’s third PeaceJam UK Youth Conference to be held at The University of Winchester over the weekend of 11 and 12 March 2017 was the best yet, and the visiting Nobel Peace Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, was truly inspirational.  The auditorium was packed with 200 students from schools and youth groups across the District, 40 university students and Rotaract members, and 60 teachers, youth workers, volunteers, workshop leaders, project leaders, Rotarians, University staff and PeaceJam UK team members.  Local and District schools and youth groups included, Avonbourne Academy, Beaulieu, Costello, Fort Hill, Jersey College for Girls, Mayfield, Noadswood, Park Community, Mountbatten, South Wilts Grammar, Ringwood, Romsey, Victoria College and Whitchurch Youth Group.  From the Opening Ceremony on the Saturday morning to the Closing Ceremony on the Sunday afternoon the atmosphere was wonderfully invigorating, and the impact that Leymah’s message of inclusivity, being strong, and caring for others had on all attendees was extremely impressive.  When the young participants were asked how they would take back what they had learned to their school/community, there were many heart-warming comments:

“I plan on doing a project with the awesome people that I came with.” I am abundant with ideas that I’m passionate about, eg encouraging female empowerment.”;  “That you should stand up for what you believe in and just be yourself.”;  “It has made me more passionate about creating peace around the world”;  “Everyone can make a difference, no matter how big the step might seem.  I can make a big difference.”;  “Think about my actions and help those around me”;  “Stand up for people who are treated the way they shouldn’t be treated and not play a role as a bystander.”  

The Conference included talks from Leymah, presentations of the projects that the PeaceJam groups in schools and youth groups have undertaken, or plan to start; workshops; action projects; Saturday evening entertainment; and a Ceremony of Inspiration.  Throughout the programme there are small group discussion sessions (Family Groups) with young participants from each of the schools and youth groups mixed together and working with two or three university students as their Mentors.  These are opportunities for a sharing of thoughts and feelings regarding some of the issues that are raised over the weekend, and this safe haven for the young people really does encourage them to come out of their shells, and grow in confidence.  Rotarians from the Rotary Clubs of Andover, Basingstoke, Basingstoke Deane, Basingstoke Loddon, Hythe and Waterside, Locks Heath, Ringwood, Romsey Test, Salisbury, Vectis Sunrise and Winchester were involved in the organisation, workshop and action project delivery and sponsorship, and were also inspired and encouraged by both Leymah Gbowee, and the young people around them.

Caroline Millman