Queen’s Young Leaders address Heads of Government at Formal Opening of CHOGM

As Commonwealth Heads of Government meet at CHOGM 2018 this week to address shared global challenges facing the Commonwealth, two of the Trust’s Queen’s Young Leaders took centre stage at the meeting’s Formal Opening to share their stories.   

Her Majesty The Queen hosted the CHOGM Formal Opening at Buckingham Palace, London where guests included Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, The Duke of Cambridge, Prince Harry, The Countess of Wessex, Heads of Government, High Commissioners and Foreign Ministers.

Two of the Trust’s Queen’s Young Leaders, PJ Cole from Sierra Leone and Devika Malik from India, joined the stage alongside Her Majesty The Queen, the UK Prime Minister The Rt Hon Theresa May, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland and the Prime Minister of Malta Joseph Muscat MP, and shared their stories of how they are changing lives in their communities.

Devika Malik is a para-athlete with a congenital disability. She established Wheeling Happiness Foundation to give young people with disabilities confidence and independence through sport. During her speech she explained how her organisation is changing lives:

"One of our beneficiaries, Shweta, was abandoned by her husband after polio progressed and left her unable to walk. With our support she took up sports. Over the past two years this single mother of two has emerged a self-reliant sportswoman with national and international medals to her credit."

Devika went on to explain how the Commonwealth is a pioneer in recognising that young people are the leaders of today:

"Young community leaders with disabilities came together at a round table on Monday to discuss their vision for an inclusive common future. There is a growing commitment of Commonwealth Governments towards empowering people with disabilities.

My experience is testament that when people with disabilities have a voice, they make the society a richer place."

PJ Cole is the Executive Director of Lifeline Nehemiah Project, the organisation his late father founded in 1996 to support former child soldiers affected by the civil war in Sierra Leone. PJ’s family took in more than 800 child soldiers and children affected by the conflict. In PJ’s speech he said:

"Today a group of these former child soldiers with whom I shared my life are standing shoulder to shoulder with me. Together we are running four schools, a safe home and a vocational training centre. We are working with farmers; running businesses; rebuilding Sierra Leone.

In the last 6 years we have had to respond to Ebola, cholera, floods and most recently a mudslide that killed 1141 people and left many young people orphaned. We have supported colleagues in Mozambique, Dominica and the United Kingdom in diverse ways.

During this week’s youth forum, a colleague pointed out that it’s time to move away from talk of including young people to recognising that young people are proffering solutions to the biggest challenges facing our Commonwealth. 

And my experience bears that out."