Regina Lepping represented the Solomon Islands Young Women’s Parliamentary Group at the United Nations in New York this week. This was her speech.
Honorable Prime Minister,
Honorable Ministers and Ambassadors,
Honorable UN officials,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
My name is Regina Maefasia Lepping. I grew up in a traditional home at peace with nature and each other. My father was a politician, a paramount Chief in Shortland Islands, an island at the Western end border of Solomon Islands, bordering with Bougainville in PNG.
While my home is relatively peaceful and one of the most beautiful places on earth (you must visit my country to see my island), I grew up in the middle of conflict. I saw with my own eyes, rebel soldiers crossing the border. Father would travel back and forth to various islands to help sort out the border issues, and the conflict. It was his role and his commitment as the paramount chief and elder, until his death in 2016. He was a peace builder.
I wanted to be like him.
In 1999, when I was 9 years old, I witnessed rebel soldiers pointing a gun at my mother’s head threatening her to tell them where my father was because my father works for peace and the government. It was the Ethnic Tension crisis. Government officials’ vehicles were destroyed and their homes were looted. Malaitan and Guadalcanal people were not safe in their homes. My family’s home in the capital was looted and destroyed.
Then RAMSI [the Australian-led Pacific peacekeeping mission] came to our rescue, bringing law and order again. But in 2006, the April Riots took place. I remember on that day when Chinatown was burnt down, my father and I climbed a hill in our backyard and watched the inferno engulfing our capital.
Father told me that these are dangerous times we are living in and it’s not easy to be a leader but there is no backing out only stepping down and that is the part no leader wants to take.
Going through all these challenges and conflicts and growing up in a home where we live by our nation’s motto “To Lead is To Serve”, I felt that it is my obligation and my role to be a peace builder in my community as well.
Today, my country is relatively peaceful, but fragile. The scars of Ethnic Tension are still fresh. We could play sport, feast and pray together. We build friendships based on faith and peace.
Myself, I am a Peace Writer and Filmmaker. I made short films on the theme youths conflicts and peace in harmony with nature. In addition, my effort in building unity and peace made me elected a secretary to the youth women parliamentary group, a non-governmental organization we founded to dialogue with our parliamentarians.
Also, I am a President of the Solomon Voices Choir group. This is a group of about 200 young people from different ethnicity, denominations, background, schools and youth groups coming together with love and passion for singing. A majority of the choir members are unemployed youths who found peace in being together in a diverse community and be empowered by the inspiration songs we sang. Like my father’s role and duty was to maintain peace with the border, I feel that it is my role to promote young peace builders.
From my experience in working with youths in Solomon Islands for 7 years, I see the main challenges young people are facing as lacking of support for our ideas and initiatives. With no support, it has shunned many from participating fully in peace building activities. If young people are given the chance to take the lead in their own affairs, they can help build bridges to join the gaps our fathers and forefathers have left behind.
We are very grateful to the United Nations peace building programme that is currently supported and implemented in Solomon Islands, focusing on supporting youth. Getting youths involved in such peace initiatives like the Dialogues helps to broaden their perspective. It helps them to see areas where they can be effective in working together with the elders and leaders.
Recently, I attended a regional dialogue supported by the UN peace building programme. Together with other youth representatives, we took part in discussing about our future. We don’t want to be only the leaders of the future. We want to become leaders of today and now.
Young people want to participate and take part in decision making processes. In my country, we have an active youthful population but fewer activities. We don’t want a future that is a mirror of my past.
I will continue to be a peace builder in everything I do and I know every youth in Solomon Islands is a peace builder too and we are ready to work hand in hand with the Government, our elders, woman and other youths to achieve peace and development in our country.
But we cannot do this alone, with the help of United Nations in our peace agenda, I believe we can achieve this.