Youth Co:Lab prepares young leader for Queen’s Awards

Coming back on a high from The Queen’s Young Leaders Awards in June, a young Samoan woman is putting her learning into action.

Petronilla Molio’o Mataeliga, 26, was one of 240 people from 52 Commonwealth countries who were presented the awards, which recognised the achievements of inspiring young leaders from around the Commonwealth.

Petronilla said the experience was an eye opener having never experienced a high level security event, which to her was more daunting than meeting Queen Elizabeth II. 

“The protocol and security over there is intense,” said Petronilla. “Even though we were invited, we still had to be searched and identified every step of the way leading up to eventually meeting the Queen and even afterwards, which coming from Samoa was a real eye opener. 

“We always talk about security here but nothing like I saw there, which was a great experience for me to see they take security so seriously.”

During her time in London, Petronilla was surprised to find out the awardees were expected to give a pitch presentation about their entrepreneurial idea. As someone who is extremely shy, the experience could have been problematic if it wasn’t for the fact that a week earlier she had just participated in her first Youth:Co Lab in Samoa.

“Being in the Youth Co:Lab and thinking of ways how I can help out actually helped me prepare personally for London because I was getting Youth Co Lab vibes when I was in London because a lot of people, and youth came to London with their ideas and were bouncing it off each other.

“Pitching an idea, which we did on the second day of Youth Co: Lab was very good for me to come out and talk to people because we did pitching ideas in London as well. I didn’t even know until I got there to London that we were expected to give a talk, so when I was there, all of sudden they said, we’ll give you 10 mins break and then pitch to us your idea and I was so nervous but I managed to pitch about my project with women empowerment at a grassroots level.”

Asked what it was like to meet the Queen, Petronilla said she did not feel nervous at all,

“It was a great experience, she is really gentle actually,” she said. “I walked over to her and she said to me ‘oh you have a very nice flower’ and then I introduced myself to her. I was actually more excited to meet Prince Harry and Meghan” she laughs. “One thing about him is that as soon as you say something to him, he is so focused and involved what you’re saying, which blew me away because I am actually really shy and I was thinking ‘why would you want to listen to me anyways,” she joked.

“Buckingham palace was so pretty. And after the ceremony, we went inside the gallery room, all of these beautiful paintings – it was so beautiful.”

Launched in 2014, The Queen’s Young Leader Award recognises and celebrates exceptional people aged 18-29 from across the Commonwealth, who are taking the lead in their communities and using their skills to transform lives.

Petronilla has helped provide valuable employment opportunities to young people in Samoa by reviving traditional native handicraft skills. Through the Fala Masi Revival Project, originally run by her late grandmother, Petronella teaches other women how to create traditional Samoan mats. 

The Project is run by the Women’s Committee of Faleapuna, of which Petronilla is a member. Attendees include members of the Samoa Victim Support Group and unemployed young people, who are able to learn new skills in order to become more financially independent.

In the future, Petronilla hopes to help young people make their own creations using recycled materials.

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