Commonwealth Youth Exchange 2021 - 2022: UK & Cyprus

In partnership with Clarion Futures the Society has been delighted to deliver this pilot social action exchange programme which is designed to foster connections between young people in the UK and Cyprus whilst also seeking to identify and celebrate our common values, share learning on the global impact of COVID-19 on young people, and lead on social action projects that can change the world.

Launched in December 2020 participants took part in a virtual residential programme via zoom which included sessions with inclusions from Associate Fellows on: The Commonwealth and ‘Active Citizenship’, Social Media, Social Action and Community Change concluding with a Model CHOGM simulation.

Between January and May 2021, the Society and Clarion held monthly training workshops via zoom to assist participants with the development and delivery of their social action projects. Workshops focused on refining your message, mental health, engaging in the Commonwealth space, storytelling, video editing and what to consider in project planning.

In September 2021, we were finally able to convene all participants in London for a two-day residential programme. This began at Clarion’s Head Office where participants were joined by representatives from the RCS and partners at Clarion, the #iwill Fund, the National Lottery Community Fund and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This session provided an opportunity to discuss the programme so far and serve as an introduction to some of the projects which focused on various issues including mental health, LGBT rights, intergenerational dialogue, culture and heritage and sustainable fashion. A visit to the Cyprus High Commission and meeting with the High Commissioner presented a similar opportunity. During the residential participants also visited Westminster Abbey, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Houses of Parliament. View photos from the London residential: 

In May 2022, the Commonwealth Youth Exchange: UK and Cyprus came to an end with participants from across the UK travelling to Cyprus to meet with their Cypriot counterparts for a four day programme in Nicosia.

On day one, our young leaders met with the Cyprus Youth Board, including Mr Kleanthis Koutsoftas, President of the Administrative Board of the Youth Board of Cyprus, and learnt about the general situation of youth policy matters in Cyprus, some of their programmes and how they are collaborating with the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport and Youth. During the session Commonwealth Youth Exchange Programme (CYEP) participants discussed the most pressing issues facing young people in Cyprus today, including housing, opportunities and how these have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Now having a grounding in some of the issues facing young people in Cyprus we travelled onto meet with Ben Rawlings, British Deputy High Commissioner for a working lunch. At the residence Ben provided an outline of UK priorities within Cyprus, how they are working with the government, the role of a diplomat and how to enter this field of work. Our young leaders also shared what they have been doing as part of the programme, the social action projects that they have developed to address issues such as mental health, access to education, and sustainability within their communities.

 

The journey continued with a visit to the Home for Cooperation, a unique community centre located in the middle of the dividing lines in Cyprus, in the Ledra Palace area, UN Buffer Zone, Nicosia. At the centre we heard how today, the Home for Cooperation has become a landmark building in Nicosia, acting as a bridge-builder between separated communities, memories and visions through its physical presence and its peacebuilding programs, which use the transformative power of arts and culture.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the second day of the exchange we were privileged to be welcomed to the House of Representatives where we were received a tour and learnt about the Cypriot parliamentary system.

 

At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), our delegates were honoured to meet with Ambassador Korenliou, Permanent Secretary and Mr Stelios Georgiades, Head of Cultural Diplomacy. Ambassador Korneliou discussed Cyprus’s foreign affairs priorities and the role of Cyprus as a Commonwealth member.  

 

Onto the University of Nicosia, where the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) Cyprus Branch hosted our young leaders for lunch. During this session they were able to share details of their work with RCS Cyprus Vice-Chair Dr Emilios Solomou.

 

The discussions continued in the afternoon, this time with Her Excellency Ms Fiona McKergow, High Commissioner for Australia in Cyprus. Topics focused on the importance and power of youth voice, youth priorities and the work of the Australian High Commission in Cyprus.

 

After such an inspiring couple of days, we were able to see one of the social action projects in action - Tsemberi, an inter-communal fashion project, celebrating Cypriot heritage and culture and founded by two of the CYEP Cypriot participants (read more in the December 2021 edition). On the Friday evening Tsemberi hosted an exhibition at the Stelio Philanthropic Foundation showcasing their work which remained open to the public for the  weekend.

 

With the formal component of the exchange at an end, the participants were able to enjoy a cultural day. Leaving Nicosia we first visited the Troodos Botanical Gardens, home of The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy site in Cyprus, before driving down to Kourion Beach for a lunch by the sea, a chance to dip our feet in the Mediterranean and a tour of the Kourion Archaeological site - one of the island’s most important city-kingdoms in antiquity and one of the most impressive on the island.

 

With the tour at an end we travelled back to the hotel for an outdoor Cypriot mezze feast, live music and even a birthday cake for a 21st birthday celebration – a fantastic way to mark the end of such a wonderful trip and cultural exchange.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you to our partner Clarion Futures, to all of the participants who joined us on this journey and to everyone who hosted us in Cyprus – our young leaders were truly inspired and look forward to continuing their Commonwealth journey as Associate Fellows of the Royal Commonwealth Society.