If there’s one lesson you should take from International Youth Day, it’s that you’re never too young to make a difference.
This year’s International Youth Day theme is “Transforming Education”. According to the United Nations, this “transformation” includes making education more equitable, inclusive and diverse for all young people, including youth with disabilities, LGBTQIA youth, young women, disadvantaged youth and indigenous youth.
There’s a good reason for this: access to an education in a safe space where you are free to thrive is one of the best ways to develop the skills needed to improve your world. Without it, it’s difficult to break out of cycles of poverty, abuse, bullying, intolerance and violence against difference.
We’ve rounded up just a handful of young Aussies that are using the power of their education to transform the world they live in.
UNICEF Australia’s Young Ambassador Team
Australia’s current Young Ambassador Team is made up of eight young people that pack a powerful punch! As Young Ambassadors, they develop their skills in media and communications, government advocacy and engaging with children and young people. They aim to become effective advocates for children’s rights at a local, national and international level. Currently, they’re in Canberra, presenting their “A Climate for Change: 2019 Young Ambassador Report” to decision-makers in parliament
. The report focuses on the biggest challenges that face children and young people in Australia today: climate change and education.
The Unicef Young Ambassador Team for 2019/2020. Back row left to right: Eva, Josh, Lachlan, Xavier. Front row left to right: Atosha, Indiana, Ashleigh, Steve. Photo: UNICEF Australia.
Meet the team:
- Eva (16, VIC): “I felt that I had no voice. Being 16, not being able to vote, I felt like there was a lot of restrictions on what I could and couldn’t do. I saw this as an opportunity to get my voice heard.”
- Atosha (17, VIC): “I was born in DRC in central Africa, then I migrated to Kenya because of the war. Our family was lucky enough to be resettled in Australia just a year ago. I’m part of the multicultural group in my city. We come together, share stories, music, culture & food. We try to fit into the community and offer whatever we are willing to contribute. Young people and children should be involved in the decision making, especially if it concerns them. We can offer something incredible"
- Josh (18, VIC): “Growing up, I was always that kid that was really into school. Education is so important because it equips kids to go out into the world and take opportunities. It also builds up people’s social connections and teaches them to socialise and builds friendships. Children who are denied that miss out.”
- Indiana (16, QLD): “In our communities we ascribe worth by age and I think that’s something we need to stop. We need to listen to kids because their opinions and what they value are just as important as the politician or school teacher or as anyone else. There are a lot of children who don’t even know that they have rights. I want to contribute to that change and know that I helped someone along the way, whether that be hundreds of children or just one child.”
- Lachlan (22, ACT): “I’m really passionate about child health in Australia. There are simple solutions out there that can really make sure that no child suffers. As long as they’re healthy and happy that allows them to do all the other important things in life – to play, to get a good education, to grow up with a really good foundation. I want every child to smile. That’s what I want. They need a reason to smile and they should be able to smile.”
- Ashleigh (21, NSW): “Children have a lot to offer and it’s worthwhile giving them the chance to have their voice and to give their say. If more children were aware that they have a right to participation then they would feel more encouraged to stand up and tell people their opinions.”
- Xavier (15, NSW): “Keeping something on your chest can do a lot of damage. I want to tell children who have things to say that it’s ok to say them. I want them to have a good family that loves them and cares for them and lets them be who they want to be. I want to help. I would like to learn other people’s stories and I would like to do my best to help kids in poverty.”
- Steve (20, WA): “I always wanted to make a difference in the community that I live in. I want every child to have a safe environment where they can grow healthily, mentally, spiritually and to be able to live their life to their full potential.”
Trans rights activist Georgie Stone has come a long way since becoming the youngest Australian ever (at the age of 10) to be granted permission to take stage one puberty blockers by the Family Court. Her case paved the way for a 2013 decision to allow access to stage one treatment for transgender children without court involvement, which in 2017 was extended to stage two access to hormone replacement therapy.
Georgie went on to be selected as school captain in Year 12, and in 2018, she was voted the Victorian Young Australian of the Year. Currently, she is studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Melbourne and enjoying her first big break as an actress: she plays the role of transgender student Mackenzie on Neighbours
! This is only the second time ever that a trans character will be played by a trans actress in an Australian TV drama, so it’s a big deal.
Georgie’s experiences as a child changed the way that transgender children were treated in Australia forever. It was by no means an easy journey, and the fight isn’t over yet… But for now, as Georgie recently told Women’s Weekly
magazine, “I feel like I'm finally learning who I am outside of being trans. And that feels good.”
Macinley is a budding inventor that won the 2017 INTEL International Science and Engineering Award – the first Australian to do so! Her “Smart Armour” invention is a shield to protect the non-treated breast tissue of cancer patients who are undergoing radiotherapy treatment.
Macinley Butson. Image: Robert Peet/ Illawarra Mercury.
“I came up with the idea for Smart Armour after a conversation over the dinner table,” says Macinley. “Dad works in medical physics and he mentioned that the other breast that isn’t being treated receives excess radiation. This can cause side effects, like skin burning. I was in Year 10 and couldn’t understand why there wasn’t already something to shield the breast from all this radiation… You know, it’s a bit of a no-brainer! So, I decided to do something about it.”
And do something she did: Macinley was named 2018 NSW Young Australian of the Year and is also a national youth ambassador with environmental group Green Cross Australia.
Refugee advocate Bassam started the #uBelong campaign at the age of 13, selling key-shaped badges and raising $10 000 for refugee support groups. Bassam became the YMCA NSW Youth Parliament member for Strathfield in 2019, and also won the 2018 NSW Youth Community Medal.
“Being a Muslim and having a Lebanese background means I’ve lived through a lot of intolerance. I’ve been called a terrorist and told to go back to my own country. But going through a lot of discrimination motivated me to make a positive change. That’s how I came up with #uBelong. It’s a simple message of embracing diversity.”
Amelia is a climate change activist, and the first-ever Indigenous Coordinator at the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC). She is now the national director and founder of Seed, Australia’s only Indigenous Youth Climate network
“I signed my first petition when I was at high school in Lismore, but really my activism started much earlier. Being an Aboriginal woman, you are born into politics, and I was really lucky to be brought up in a family that had such strong values around looking after our land and looking after each other. My friends and family supported me to not only feel that responsibility, but to do something about it.”
Main Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash.