Around 100 youth 'at risk' met recently to discuss concerns and possible solutions to issues they raised as important to them. Education, employment, human rights, corruption, prostitution, sports and public service provision emerged as key areas.
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, September 2006 - Oscar Angu was one of the 100 young people living ‘at risk’ in Port Moresby that came together at the end of June to discuss the issues that so many vulnerable young people living in and around the capital are facing.
Although unsure of their own ages- at most a few participants knew how many Christmases they had celebrated- the youth aired their concerns and experiences not seeking solutions for themselves but for future generations; a stark reminder of the short life expectancy in the country.
With current estimates standing at between 52 and 55 years, and the dire impact on these numbers of HIV/AIDS projections, many of the participants would be considered close to middle age.
Together with Oscar, youth participants from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from a very young pregnant prostitute to gang members to victims of domestic violence and police abuse, assembled early on a Wednesday morning at the Granville Motel, which served as the venue for the two-day Open Space event.
Most participants turned up in an interesting array of hats, ranging from Rastafarian-inspired knit caps to funnel-shaped beanies, along with their brightly coloured bilum string bags; Oscar’s relatively tame white baseball cap was offset by his neon t-shirt and his denim jacket with the sleeves stylishly rolled up. Almost everyone had the bright red teeth of habitual betel nut chewers.
Setting the Agenda and Leading Discussions
Using Open Space technology, designed to put the agenda and the discussion in the hands of a meeting’s participants, youth set their own agenda under the theme of ‘Needs for Our Future That Concern Us – The Issues and Opportunities.’
Facilitating the session in English, with translation into Pidgin by youth volunteer Stewart Yareki, Father Brian Bainbridge, a veteran in Open Space, explained the process of the forum. From there on out, participants needed little encouragement.
As everyone rushed to collect markers and paper on which to write their agenda items and assign them a time and place for discussion, Oscar initiated a session on employment. He was joined by 12 other participants to discuss the problem --unfortunately too common for young people in Port Moresby-- of finding jobs and suggest solutions such as graduate training schemes in the private sector.
These smaller discussions produced a written session outcome highlighting the points discussed. There was a great feeling of community as those youth who could read and write assisted those who could not.
What is Open Space Technology (OST)?
The key in this form of dialogue is that there is no pre-determined agenda, but only a general theme. The participants themselves are the ones who set the agenda at the beginning of the first session by, one by one, grabbing a marker and piece of paper from the center of the room, and scribbling on it whatever it is their main question, idea, or issue they have relating to the theme.
Each participant then announces his/her agenda item to the circle, before sticking it on the wall, with a post-it note stating the time and place where the item will be discussed. Anyone else who is interested may join this discussion. One person in each discussion will take brief notes and all session outcome notes will be compiled into a booklet which is printed for all participants to take home with them.
This way, and particularly when the number of participants is high, many theme-related issues can be discussed over a relatively short period of time. And even if each participant has the chance to attend just a few discussions, the booklet that compiles the session outcomes provides them with the summary of all of them. It is indeed an encyclopaedia of all the brainstorming done during the sessions.
Open Spaces sessions can convene anywhere between 5 and 2,000 people.