Mabel was selected to travel on the Ship for World Youth 27. The experience brought together 200 delegates from across the world. They started in Japan and sailed across the Pacific, home to New Zealand.
More than a year on, I have fond memories of Japan aboard the beloved Nippon Maru ship, which travelled from Tokyo to the southern-most island of Okinawa and further north to Rikuzentaka City in Iwate. It was an opportunity to meet like-minded young leaders and learn about different cultures. More specifically, about 200 delegates from 11 different nations were represented on board (Japan, New Zealand, Kenya, Bahrain, Brazil, Peru, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, United Kingdom, Oman). Culture sharing and understanding is becoming increasingly important in a globalised world, and this experience really embraced this.
I formed a strong connection with my homestay family in Kagawa, the city home to udon noodles. Their humble nature, welcoming arms and generosity are something I still hold dear to my heart. It was a chance for me to put my five years of high school Japanese to good use. I shared my homestay family with a delegate from Oman, Sara, who was also one of the first women to represent Oman on the SWY program. By the time we finished the weekend-long homestay, I considered Sara as a sister to me. The intimate environment allowed strangers to become good friends. I learnt a lot about her life, family, aspirations, and upbringing. This is precisely what made this experience so special. I am fascinated by learning about people’s stories, and the SWY culture helps to foster this.
The International Night and National Presentation were opportunities for delegates to showcase their country in different ways. The former involved delegates bringing their culture in tangible forms to share – food, beverages, art forms and dress. While people fell in love with the unique lemon taste of L&P, there were also shots of Peruvian Pisco and Turkish ebru painting. On the other hand, the National Presentation was the chance for each delegation to express their country through performance. For New Zealand, our stage-challenge style performance included a pōwhiri welcome and a rugby game, but we also highlighted some key issues that are not as well-known on an international stage; a dance portraying the power dynamics of domestic violence, and a skit about child poverty.
SWY is also about developing leadership potential. We heard from professors of local universities about leadership in the 21st century, and delegates also had the option of running their own workshops on any topic or theme. Youth-led workshops included how to samba from a Brazilian, salsa from Peru, while New Zealand’s contribution was how to do the haka. There were henna sessions by the Omani and Bahraini ladies, and a discussion led by a Japanese youth on LGBT rights. These sessions illustrated how talented young people are, and the vibrancy that people have for life and culture.
Upon the ports of call, there were visits to local communities as a chance to learn more about Japan and its people. Okinawa was a beautiful mix of Pacific, American and Japanese culture, which felt quite different from the rest of Japan. Even more special for me was the visit to a primary school in Rikuzentaka City, a region affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Being able to talk to the principal about how the school is continuing to deal with the aftermath, and running around with children in such a carefree way was humbling to say the least.
I left the ship not knowing when I would see these people again, people who left such an impression on my perspective. A remarkable part of the SWY experience is the possibility of seeing people again. A number of the delegates are passionate about international travel, and I was lucky enough to be able to meet friends from Oman, Japan and various areas of the United Kingdom in London last January. This experience reminded me that culture has no borders, and in the end we are all just humans trying to make the world a better place than it was yesterday.