Being a Member of Youth Parliament was an unexpected, but fabulous opportunity for me. It provided me a way to connect with other young people who have some things in common, and to learn what it is like to be a member of Parliament. I gained a much better understanding of what the Government does in the Beehive and how to be an advocate. My name is Katrina Sneath. I am 21 years old and I have Down syndrome. I am now doing a range of jobs including voluntary work in Early Childhood and a support worker through IDEA services, helping support people with disabilities. I left school last year and being able to be part of Youth Parliament, as a Youth MP, was a real privilege and well worth striving for. I learned about the role of an MP, seeing their daily routine. I learned how our laws are made and how to make a difference.
I am extremely grateful to Mojo Mathers from the Green Party, for having the courage to select me to represent her as her Youth MP. Mojo was extremely supportive, and knows what it means to have a disability and have to work hard to participate and make a difference. As a Youth MP I participated in community discussions, canvassed the youth in my community, including people with disabilities. I ran a Facebook page called ‘Emerald Green’ as a forum for ideas and issues of concern to youth.
I learned the process of how to make laws and present arguments for and against Bills in the debating in chamber. In select committee discussions we presented a case for protecting the environment by getting rid of plastic bags. I learned about the different opinions of others. This does take a lot of patience because we all need to express our views and arrive at a fair agreement for ways to achieve the benefits for society.
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Once we agreed a position the Select Committee report was debated in the Debating Chamber. In the process of learning how to make laws we learned how to find extra information and evidence that supports a particular topic and how to gather community views and opinions.
The debate on easy access on websites for people with disabilities was an important topic. I had learned a lot from other Youth MP’s speeches about positive ways to support easy access on websites and also listened to arguments for not having easy access on websites. I learnt about interesting opinions, suggestions and about research in preparing for speeches. Listening and watching others present their speeches in the debating chamber was very inspiring.
What I’ve gained from being a Youth Parliamentarian was confidence in my role representing Mojo Mathers from the Green Party and being able to make a difference. Part of my role was to ask a question to Mr Speaker of the House. It was exciting to be able to engage with some of our Members of Parliament, participate in the debates within the Debating Chamber and participate as an equal with some of tomorrow’s leaders. It was wonderful to be part of a caucus group investigating issues and suggesting solutions to make the community better.
I have since gone on to be active in the local Branch of People First, an advocacy group for people with learning disabilities. People First is very proud to see one of their members, Robert Martin being elected onto the United Nations Committee for the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I have been inspired by Robert Martin and it is a privilege to be part of People First. I have been privileged enough to speak at Rotary Best Speaker Awards and to present at several conferences here in New Zealand and in Australia. To be able to represent Mojo Mathers at Youth Parliament has been the “icing on the cake” and an outstanding opportunity to learn and develop.
I am very grateful for the support provided to me by the Ministry of Youth Development and the Green Party. I am especially grateful to Mojo Mathers for providing me the opportunity to show that Down syndrome is not a barrier to making a meaningful contribution and it is important that we all deserve an opportunity for presenting views and opinions worth listening to.
Overall being involved in Youth Parliament was a lifetime opportunity for me. It was a chance to remind people of the abilities of all members of our society and the importance of being represented by Parliament and in my case, Youth Parliament.
– Katrina Sneath