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Youth build bonds for peace

The Morrinsville dairy farm is staggering to the young overseas visitors – 440 cows on as many acres, the biggest and most productive farm they have seen.

The visitors are six young people from Sri Lanka, Fiji and East Timor. They are in New Zealand for Christian World Service’s Global Youth Encounter, a national series of conferences on making peace a reality in New Zealand and overseas, part of the Decade to Overcome Violence.

John Walsh (centre) showing Fijian visitors Onoria Vakaloloma and George Seeto around his Morrinsville farm.

Before the first conference Fidelio, Sandun, Onoria, George and Alcina visited the farm of Morrinsville dairy farmer John Walsh where they wore gumboots, toured milking sheds and petted newborn calves.

Global Youth Encounter leader Geoff King says it was neat watching them grasp the size of the property. Fijian woman Onoria was especially surprised by the beauty and space as she looked down at the farm from a hill, over the plains towards Morrinsville. Fidelio and Alcina were astonished at the number and size of the cows as their native East Timor has few dairy cattle. The farm tour was rounded off with a tasting of New Zealand cheeses and yoghurts.

The peace and quiet of the farm did not compare with the turmoil in their home countries. All the international visitors to Global Youth Encounter know the tension of violence, coming from countries that experience conflict and political instability.

The visit had special meaning for Geoff who served as a NZ Army chaplain in East Timor in 2001 during the difficult days just before East Timor’s independence. He enjoyed making contact with Timorese again, he says.

However, when group discussions turned to family matters, Geoff felt for Fidelio, who lives in an orphanage in East Timor and has no known immediate family. "There’s a lot of pain and grief in their stories, so we need to be sensitive."

For most of these young visitors, Global Youth Encounter – which ran from July 16th to August 3rd – was their first chance to visit another country. They were quickly made to feel at home. The group was welcomed onto Te Maungarongo Marae in Ohope as visitors, and the next day they served as tangata whenua to welcome the Kiwi young people to the first Global Youth Encounter.

"They have a genuine sense of wanting to learn about another culture. Some words in East Timorese are similar to Maori, so already links are being made," Geoff says.

The young people had a true taste of New Zealand, stopping in 10 provincial and main centres, and taking part in three weekend conferences to share their message that violence in society shouldn’t have to be a way of life.

CWS youth coordinator Liz Whitehead says the experiences of young people from countries that are in or have been in war or political turmoil is invaluable for young Kiwis. Although the violence headlining the news in New Zealand doesn’t compare with what’s happening overseas, young people here can draw on overseas experiences of peace building and work out how to be peacemakers here, Liz says.