Montserrat was one of eight British Overseas Territories (BOTs) which made history on Friday at the UK House of Commons in Westminster Palace.
This was the 12th sitting of the British Youth Parliament. Members from across England debated the Impact of Discrimination on Health, and Environment and Health.
This was the first time that representatives from British OTs had been invited to speak in the UK House of Commons. The Speaker of the House allotted his thirty minutes on the agenda to the young parliamentarians from the small island states.
“From my perspective, the overseas territories have long been overlooked. Yet many of the decisions we make here in the UK have a huge impact on their futures. They are after all part of the UK family. I’m very pleased to offer them a platform on which to speak on their concerns …to enable us to learn from their insights,” Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle said in his brief remarks.
Jaena Golden, Financial Secretary in the Montserrat National Youth Parliament, represented the island in the Friday morning sitting which was streamed live. The other BOTs represented were Kelly Yon (Saint Helena), Yahya Ugaili (Falkland Islands). McKenzie Kohl-Tuckett (Bermuda), Oliver P. Whitmore (Gibraltar), Charity Rymer (British Virgin Islands), Rhonica Connor (Anguilla), and Chad Anthony Powell Jr. (Cayman Islands).
The eight young people were asked to present on The Most Important Issues Affecting Young People in Our Territory.
Golden shared her story of graduating from secondary school in July, then migrating to the United Kingdom to pursue higher education. She said there were limited scholarships available for young people coming out of school and the curriculum was inadequate to prepare them for the world of work.
“We need a reconstructed curriculum, supported with the human, technical and financial resources to ensure that young people can access free, equitable and quality education, as well as targeted training opportunities,” the youth parliamentarian told the House.
Comparable stories were shared by the representatives from other BOTs. Kelly Yon from Saint Helena, population 4200, said the curriculum was limited and the options for higher learning were sparse. She lamented that young people on her island had no opportunities to pursue creative interests such as musical theatre or fashion design.
Youth Parliamentarian Rhonica Connor from Anguilla said the National Youth Policy 2021 – 2031 had identified significant gaps which negatively impact the island’s young people. She said Anguilla was severely impacted by the loss of its athletes and creatives because of their inability to pursue these passions at home. There was a need for an Olympic-sized swimming pool and proper running tracks for athletes.
Charity Rymer of the British Virgin Islands said climate change was a pressing concern, one that became very real after the 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria which devastated the overseas territory.
Rymer, who is currently studying in the United Kingdom, said the cost of not mitigating against climate change will lead to a heavy price that youth would have to pay as the impacts are felt in education, food security, their part to employment and entrepreneurship and their mental and physical health.
Chad Anthony Powell Jr. of Cayman Islands, population 72000 shared that along with the issues raised by his colleagues of climate change and education, the high cost of living was a deterrent to young people staying in the three-island nation.
Powell Jr said it was not a matter of if young people would move away but when as they are unable to afford to purchase homes or afford basic groceries.
“We are losing our Caymanians,” the parliamentarian declared.
“It was an honour to take part in this parliamentary sitting,” Golden said. “Being able to represent my island’s youth and to hear the views of my colleagues from the other overseas territories and across England was very impactful. Our stories and concerns are similar, and we recognize that our voices are important to sounding the alarm.”
The entire sitting can be viewed on the Parliament TV here à https://parliamentlive.tv/