The Commonwealth-wide Youth Worker of the Year for 2015 has been awarded to Victor Ochen, founder of the African Youth Initiative Network, a Ugandan NGO that works to empower young people to promote democratic leadership and civic engagement in communities that have faced conflict. On receiving his award, Victor said: “I am very grateful for the recognition from the Commonwealth. To me, it is the best opportunity to promote young people’s contribution in the global agenda for development. I want to congratulate my colleagues from other regions as well but, above all, I want to congratulate the community that I serve which has inspired me.

“In Africa we need peace. So we must look at the ingredients of peace - democracy, participation, generational inclusion, gender inclusion, diversity - and focus our positive energy on acknowledging, profiling and amplifying the voices of the voiceless.”

Victor was one of five outstanding youth workers recognised today at the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Worker Awards for their efforts to support young people in building peace. The regional Youth Workers of the Year for Asia, Caribbean and Americas, Europe and the Pacific were from Pakistan, Jamaica, Malta and Fiji respectively.

Speaking at the awards ceremony at the Commonwealth’s headquarters in London, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma said: “The contribution of youth workers is vital to community cohesion and nation building. Their impact on individual development and public wellbeing is beyond measure – but not beyond recognition. That is why the Commonwealth pioneered professional accreditation of youth work, with training and diplomas to set standards and acknowledge the status of these specialist workers.

“The Commonwealth Youth Worker of the Year Awards add to the distinction of the profession, and acknowledge the immense contribution being made across our member states through innovative initiatives led by brave and inspirational youth workers - often in dangerous circumstances and at considerable personal risk. The recipients of these 2015 Awards make heroic contributions, empowering young people to change their lives for the better, building safer and more inclusive societies. They exemplify all that is best in the Commonwealth, and embody the values and principles of our Charter.”

Mr Christopher Mizzi from Malta was named as Commonwealth Europe Youth Worker of the Year, and Ioane Tupou Nawaikula from Fiji was announced as Youth Worker of the Year for the Pacific. Muhammad Shahzad from Pakistan is Commonwealth Asia Youth Worker 2015, and Miguel ‘Steppa’ Williams from Jamaica is Youth Worker of the Year for the Caribbean & Americas.

The theme for Youth Work Week 2015, running from 2-8 November, is Youth Workers Creating Paths to Peace, acknowledging the role that youth development workers around the world play in fostering social cohesion, peace and security in society. 

Ms Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth at the Commonwealth Secretariat, commented: “Youth Work Week is about giving the youth worker sector, which is often unheralded and under-resourced, the international recognition it rightly deserves. As young people are confronted with challenges including marginalisation and unemployment, we must recognise and invest in this vital sector that uncovers young people’s greatness and helps them grow and contribute to nation-building.”