The wind was acting up and the weather was getting wacky. The short walk from the Charles Street terminal to Queen Street Commons Cafe seemed like a herculean feat. But it was worth it to attend the Kitchener Youth Action Council (KYAC) Unconference — a conference with a goal to change the world, one conversation at a time.
An unconference, the invitation said, “is a discussion with no one expert on an issue. Instead, it is an event that consists of small groups discussing what each individual is passionate about.”
Roughly twenty people attended the unconference. “I thought, why not? I’m youth myself and I thought, why not have a day to connect with other people my age and just to talk about things that matter, that sometimes get overlooked,” said attendee Adam Knight.
The first half of the evening was spent talking about issues like poverty, youth homelessness and mental health education. After attending the TEDx Youth Conference, and various other discussion forums, KYAC members found that these were issues that youth most passionately advocate.
“We came up with the idea for an unconference when the three people running TEDx Waterloo came into one of our meetings and suggested we hold one,” said Aly Pintea, a member of KYAC and a student at Huron Heights Secondary School.
“So, we thought that an unconference would be perfect for us to get used to what youth want, as well as a cool event for people to talk about things they are passionate about.”
Youth are generally not offered the opportunity to voice their opinions.
But over the course of the evening, a buzzing energy could be felt from the young voices arguing, commenting and discussing things like stress management, employment opportunities for the homeless, and the lack of resources and support for the initiatives of young people.
There was also a very interesting debate on the popular casino issue which soon turned into an ideological debate of communism vs. democracy.
“It is an opportunity for people to talk about issues, things that they might not know about, if you’re denied opinions,” said Erin McKlusky, an attendee. “In high schools people don’t usually have the opportunity to have these sort of discussions.”
Sitting at a nearby table were Nikki Millesh and Karmez, who were sceptical of the event. Both were happy to see young people get involved, but had reservations. “I guess it’s alright but, look around. Who’s really listening, except the people that are here?” said Karmez.
“I think they should try to live [like a homeless person] for couple of weeks,” said Millesh.
Though the gathering may have been small and the publicity lacking, there is no denying that this was a step forward in giving young people a voice.
This past year, KYAC has been present at Gay Straight Alliance conferences and Kitchener Council meetings, and the group was recently nominated for a Volunteer Action Group award. Their stand on the budget cuts for fire fighters was appreciated by both council and community members.
KYAC have come a long way in enforcing for young adults, aged 14 to 24, the right to be heard in a society where ‘young’ is often a synonym for ‘immaterial’.