A twenty two year old Hilja Eelu who recently completed a Bachelor of Science Honours in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Cape Town was graced with the amazing opportunity to attend the International Student Festival In Trondheim (ISFIT) 2017 in Norway. The festival took place from 9 to 19 February 2017. She learnt about the festival on a WhatsApp platform and describes her experience after the festival as surprisingly humbling.
ISFIT aims at creating a better future for young people in the world by hosting thematic festivals for students across the globe. It also serves as a platform for students to discuss issues in regards to social and political topics with international significance.
Eelu went as a participant of ISFIT 2017 themed “discrimination, why”. With her passion for active citizenship, the festival served as a great opportunity for Eelu to gain depth and new understanding as to how one could stand against discrimination and consciously accept diversity. It was also an opportunity for her to gain exposure to people of different cultures, countries and creeds. “I learnt a lot about acceptance and that you are never too young. For instance, in my workshop, some of the participants were nineteen years old and they were leading conferences in their countries,” exclaimed Eelu. She also learnt about mediation with regards to how one could try and make the other person conscious of their discrimination when they discriminating against the others. “I think as a young leader you need to be aware of anyone that is working with you,” she added.
Eelu regarded this opportunity important to her because she felt there was a need of being aware of discrimination or to avoid discrimination in whatever environment one finds themselves in. “So I thought it would be great to become conscious of that especially in an environment with other young leaders because everyone at the festival was a student, so that way I thought it would be super beneficial for me going for it,” she expressed.
She describes the festival as a surprisingly humbling experience as it offered her a chance to engage with a total of 466 participants from 107 different countries that came together to trade ideas, gain knowledge and thereafter pass on their newly obtained skills to fellow students in their home countries.
The core part of the festival was the workshops which were subdivided into eighteen categories including education, law and policy, refugees’ rights and media. Within the ten days, students also took part in activities such as the walk of peace, ski day, formal ceremonies and cultural activities.
Eelu describes her ISFIT science workshop as an opportunity for her to discuss discrimination in and around science and get to know other participants on neutral ground, considering the diversity in nationality, race, religion and gender. Her biggest realisation has been the importance of firstly accepting people as part of a community instead of segregating people according to their tribe or place of origin.
She believes that young people need more exposure to international or interregional conferences and festivals such as ISFIT 2017 as such interactions expose them to different perspectives of life, allowing them to think critically about what they considered the norm and make room for learning and improvement.
Eelu urges young people to seize opportunities such as ISFIT to gain new insights and be proactive in sourcing funds and sponsorship for said trips. Although she had received financial aid from ISFIT a portion of her trip was sponsored by Tuyeni Travel Group that covered her train ticket costs within Norway and created awareness of her trip on social media.
Eelu intends on implementing her newly acquired skills in Namibia to create dialogue and activity around matters that are affecting Namibians locally and globally. Considering that ISFIT was organised by students, she believes that regardless of our various nationalities, race, religions, genders or background we can all come together and work to make the world a better place.
“Right now I am not leading a specific organization. I am just trying to make it known in my small practices but I plan on studying for a Masters in Public Health next year. Other than that I am just doing minor projects on the side and also volunteering at Physically Active Youth (PAY)” she concluded.