Waiopehu College Year 9 student Liam Anderson has represented his school and community at two prestigious United Nations youth conferences after being selected from students across the country.
Liam took part in the 2019 Aotearoa Youth Declaration at Auckland University last month, which he received a scholarship to attend, as well as the Wellington Model United Nations held in March.
Aotearoa Youth Declaration is UN Youth's flagship civics education conference, which aims to equip participants from around the country with a deeper understanding of their place within their community and ways in which they can actively contribute to it.
Facilitators lead small ropū groups over four days, each based around a different area of policy.
The groups participate in workshops, visit businesses and organisations, and hear talks from industry experts before developing policy solutions on the issues most important to them.
These views are then collated in the Youth Declaration –a document that represents the voice of youth that is presented to MPs and Parliament for government use in informing them of a "youth vision" for New Zealand.
Liam said he has been interested in politics, law, human rights and similar issues for a number of years and applied for the UN Youth events after hearing about them from his sister.
He was placed in a ropū on justice based on his answers to application questions.
"There were many great things about this conference, including things like the speakers, being around like-minded people and getting to have this opportunity to change and fix problems about justice," he said.
"But by far one of the best things was meeting new people and making new friends and knowing that our voices and input will be heard by NGOs, local government and Parliament."
Liam said his initial application included his thoughts on prison overpopulation and why it affects New Zealand.
"When we got together in our ropū we discussed youth courts, privatisation of prisons, three strikes law, rehabilitation and many more subjects," he said.
The politically-aware student also enjoyed his time at the Wellington Model United Nations in March, where he represented Singapore in a replica UN debate and was part of the Social, Humanitarian and Cultural Committee.
"Easily the best part was being able to speak in front of a big group of people at plenary," he said.
"[It] was a great opportunity to get used to speaking in front of large crowds. I also enjoyed discussing different issues in the Cultural, Social and Humanitarian Committee -women's rights and addictive substances. Debating helps to see different point of views and grow your knowledge of the subject."
Liam said he hoped other students at Waiopehu College and in the wider Horowhenua would be interested in getting involved in the events.
"It was a real privilege to attend and I can't wait for more in the future," he said. "I would like to promote this in my school to get more people to attend with me. It's also very nice to know that the government will hear us."