(ANS – Hua Hin) - The Voices Project was inaugurated on September 19, 2023, at the Hua Hin Retreat Centre, Thailand with the participation of all the Social Communication delegates and Youth representatives from around the East Asia Oceania region. The Young people shared their stories and experiences on digital addiction, substance addiction, violence, crime and oppression, and climate change, the environment and indigenous peoples, either through live speeches and pre-recorded videos.
The day began with the mass celebrated by the Provincial of Thailand Fr. Fr. Boonlert Paneetatthayasai Anthony, who exhorted everyone to see, hear, feel and act like Jesus as they participated in the Voices program.
Fr. Harris Pakkam, from the Dicastery of Social Communications in Rome, explained to the contingents the felt need for Social Communications to respond to current issues in a concrete way: “Voices is a unique platform to listen and give voice to the voiceless, accompanying them and empowering them in their struggle so that their voices are heard, awareness is created and the desired hope is arrived at eventually”.
The Chief Guest of the day Fr. George Plathottam, SDB, the Executive Secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences of the Office of Social Communications and the Consultant to the Dicastery of Communication in Rome, also reminded Salesians of the role of communication towards making decisive interventions and the need to perpetuate Don Bosco’s positive presence in youth realities.
The youth delegates identified the reality of ubiquitous connectivity that may lead some to escape their daily life for the digital world where the need for validation is met. This escapism is driven by a lack of meaningful relationships and dissatisfaction in one’s life. Young people seek to be known, understood and loved as they are. Dysfunctional use and abuse of gadgets have led to physical and mental health problems even at a young age. They admit that there is a problem, and it is through regulation rather than prohibition, education, time management, and goal setting that they are helped.
Two young men shared their own stories of risk-taking behavior amplified by family dysfunction that led them to substance addiction. Yet it is in the same network of relationships that they have found support and help, albeit sometimes forced, for them to enter rehab. There they realized the missed opportunities, the bad cycle of addiction, and the need to change and move on. By given a second leash on life, they see themselves as youth who made the wrong choices but that they could change and stand up again. Drug dependents for them have their stories and struggles worthy to be listened to and that they are always redeemable.
The reality of climate change was also felt by young people in the EAO region. They are concerned for our shared future and recognize that wanton exploitation of natural resources puts it in jeopardy. They have realized that they cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that they can do. Young people in the region have shared their own initiatives for climate change mitigation. In the midst of environmental exploitation, it is often the marginalized, especially the indigenous peoples who suffer not only the loss of their natural environment but also their culture, language and way of life. They advocate for a sustainable future and guarantee to rights of the land, local traditions and identity.
From the struggle for freedom in Myanmar, to gang wars in East Timor, and to abuse and oppression in Papua New Guinea, violence and crime continue to grip the EAO region and affect the youth. The youth delegates understood that these are but symptoms of deeper problems in society and the shared brokenness of humanity. But they also understood that peace deserves a chance and that violence begets violence. They see that they need to be brave enough to take action on things that matter and that the creation of safe spaces allows the healing of wounds.
Fr. Gildasio Mendes, SDB, General Councillor for Communications, in a teleconference, congratulated the youth who spoke up and shared their stories. The youth themselves thanked the Salesians for giving them their voice and the platform to be heard. The conference ended with words of thanks, sharing of tokens of gratitude, awarding of certificates and a hearty fellowship through a sumptuous dinner.
The Voices program experienced sumptuous hospitality and care offered to all the delegates and participants, and thanks to the Salesian Province of Thailand, and the generosity of Fr. Depharat Pitisant, SDB, the former provincial and the current Rector of the Hua Hin Retreat Center.
Voices is an innovative project from the Dicastery for Social Communications, Rome. It comes as a concrete response to implement some of the proposals of Pope Francis’ Global Educational Pact, Synodality and the Rector Major’s Programmatic Proposals, giving priority to Communication at the service of the neediest, migrants, refugees, indigenous peoples, victims of war. It is aimed to be the voice of those who have no voice in the East Asia Oceania region.