Investing in our young people: Akaupokotuanga i ta tatou mapu no te au tuatau ki mua

Youth Behavioural economics Cook Islands
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Although most young people engage in positive life activities and become healthy adults, some become involved in risky behaviours. This has long been a concern for families, health professionals, policy makers and academics. Despite considerable research and the construction of a range of theories and interventions very little research has been done about young people in the Pacific, including in the Cook Islands where this thesis is based. The aim of this study is to address concerns about young people by developing a health promotion model in a Cook Islands context for young people in the Vaka Takitumu, a specific district of Rarotonga, and to contribute to scholarly debates on youth development. As a key step in developing this model, my research examined the health and wellbeing experiences of young people in the Cook Islands within a socio-ecological framework. This was guided by Community Based Participatory Research and Participatory Action Research approaches. This investigation explored the health behaviours of young people and how cultural identity, spiritual and health beliefs, and social networks impact on these behaviours. A community assessment was conducted with twelve focus group interviews, twenty key stakeholder interviews, and twenty key informant interviews, to examine concepts of health, the positive contributions by young people to themselves, their families and their communities; the issues and concerns faced by young people; and strategies for solving or minimising the impact of the issues and concerns identified by the participants. The results of this step suggested that a new paradigm using the Pu Ara Model which depicts a “health promotion” and “positive youth development” approach was powerful in the Cook Islands context. Young people voiced their need to be part of the big picture and to be part of the solution. The Pu Ara model emphasise strength-based and positive development outcomes. Young people need to belong, and be connected to family and communities to thrive. They also need to be empowered, have a voice, and learn the competencies and leadership skills to prepare them for adulthood, so they can engage and participate in meaningful activities and decision making, take responsibility for their actions and actively participate in civic discourse. This reflects a major shift in thinking in the Cook Islands, in that adults need to work in close partnership with young people in providing opportunities, learning experiences, and support. Ultimately, the implementation of the model needs a multi-sectoral collaborative effort by everyone, including young people, in the community. Keywords: Young people, community, health, wellbeing, health promotion, positive youth development, Pacific, Cook Islands, Vaka Takitumu.

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