What Does it Mean to be a Palauan Youth in 2016?

2016 has been declared the Year of the Youth in Palau.
2016 has been declared the Year of the Youth in Palau.

By Sally Shute-Trembath

Despite the challenge of limited employment opportunities, for both the Palau government and youth leaders the future of the country’s youth looks bright. 

ADB co-hosted last May a youth consultation and training workshop with the Pacific Community and Pacific Youth Council in Suva, Fiji, where the participants discussed key de development challenges faced by young people throughout the Pacific region, and how to overcome them.

A common concern was limited employment opportunities for youth.

“Young people go abroad to get better qualifications, but when they come back to their country and search for a job, it can be very difficult,” said Andrew Parker, Principal Social Sector Economist with ADB’s Pacific Regional Department. “This feeling seems to resonate Pacific-wide as young people look toward their future.”

In Palau, the government is well aware of the problem and has decided to invest in today’s youth to ensure a prosperous future tomorrow, according to President Tommy Remengesau, who in January declared 2016 the Year of the Youth in the country. The proclamation seeks to implement a cohesive youth policy that encourages and challenges all entities in the public and private spheres, from government agencies and NGOs to community organizations and individual families, to better recognize and serve the interest of the young people in Palau.

Baklai Temengil-Chilton, Minister of Community and Cultural Affairs, has been tasked with updating the national youth policy, and to do she has consulted youth leaders from around the country to figure out how to make the policy more relevant to young Palauans. I had the privilege of meeting some of Palau’s dynamic youth leaders during a recent visit.

18-year-old Trinity Misech, a senior from Palau High School, dreams of becoming Palau’s first-ever radiologist, and is studying hard toward that goal. Trinity is doing some work experience at Palau Hospital, and knows firsthand of the great need for a radiologist in the country. He says his motivation to pursue this career is a desire to help others. The issue that matters most to Trinity is Palauan culture – he is fiercely proud of it, and says it’s different and contains a lot of history that he is keen to share outside of Palau. The environment and the rising crime rate—particularly drug trafficking and drug abuse—also concern him.

Keilan Kenny is only 15 years old, but already he knows he wants to study law and become a lawyer, the second in his family after several generations. He hopes to win a scholarship to study in Taiwan. “I wish I could be a youth everyday all my life because there are so many opportunities for youth right now.”

17-year-old Sylvester Alonz is in his last year at Mindszenty Catholic High School. After leaving school he hopes to attend a Catholic university in the USA, and gain some work experience there to better apply his engineering skills in Palau. Ever since he can remember he has been obsessed with how buildings are made – the structure, the design, the number of doors and windows. Drug and alcohol abuse among Palauan youth also worry him. He is religious and says religion must be made attractive to young people so they will be encouraged to follow that path. “I love how my graduating year is the Palauan Year of Youth. We understand that we are the future of Palau.”

Shirley Mesa, 16, is a junior from Palau High School. She loves mathematics and chemistry, probably, she says, because she is really good at problem solving. She hopes to go to college in the US and become an engineer. “I’m a proud Palauan and I’m trying to speak out against issues that concern today’s youth such as teenage pregnancy, underage drinking and drug use. I want to help pave the way, make things easier for the next generation, so it is important to speak out,” she says. “It’s also important to respect the elderly. Palau is a tiny country and we need to help make it shine throughout the world.”

Despite the challenge of limited employment opportunities, for Temengil-Chilton the future of the Palauan youth looks bright. The minister says it is phenomenal how young people these days can engage, and make good decisions and choices of their own volition. It is important they look very closely at what makes them Palauan, how it feels to be Palauan, and she is encouraged by their enthusiasm for their culture.