73. Ally King

7 Dec

Ally 2

Ally King is a passionate young woman who is well on her way to changing many lives. The first year Monash University student was recently nominated in the Youth Category of Banyule’s Volunteer of the Year Award, and for a good reason.

She has been volunteering with the organisation Open House for about four years now, on top of studying Science at Monash University, working part-time at McDonalds and playing in an orchestra at university.

“I’m one of those people who has to be busy,” she says with a laugh. “So I have to be careful I don’t bite off more than I can chew.”

Located in Macleod, Open House is an organisation committed to providing safe places and programs for a variety of people who are marginalised in society. Their focus is on disadvantaged youth.

“Originally I was with their Fun For Girls program, which provides good female role models for kids that are mostly primary school aged who might not have that in their lives. We do a range of things. We might do cooking one week or dance another week.”

During the four years Ally has been with them, Open House has been able to expand their programs.

“I moved with them into their Fun For Teens program, which we run on a Friday night. It gave that same kind of structured program but was aimed at teenagers, in a mixed gender sense. We’ve now expanded and instead of that we run a drop in centre on a Friday night. So I help in the drop in centre, and it’s a safe place where kids can come in their teenage years, and hang out with their friends and get a cheap meal.”

“I’ve also helped develop and run their new playgroup, which has been running for about six months now. So that’s a place where mums from all walks of life can come, bring their kids, and the kids can play while the mums have a talk, have a coffee. It’s a nice place for them to be able to relax while their kids get that important social interaction with other kids.”

This interaction and the possibility of helping vulnerable young people is what Ally finds so satisfying.

“I think it’s so rewarding to see how I can positively influence young people’s lives. See their smiles when they come in every week. I’ve made some amazing friends and connections with some of the teenagers and I’m able to be that positive influence in their life that they might not otherwise have, which is really great.”

“Before that I was already doing volunteering. I’d done an Anglicare asthma appeal through school … I’d been doing the newspaper rounds at the [Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital] for a couple of years.  I’d sung Christmas carols at old people’s homes. I already had a strong history of volunteering by that point.”

Ally heard about Open House through her high school Ivanhoe Girls Grammar. When she was completing her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award, she was approached by the volunteer coordinator at school.

“She asked if it was something I would be interested in doing…and I’ve been there ever since.”

When I ask about the future plans with Open House, Ally answers straight away. “We’re looking to expand the playgroup a little bit. Get some more toys and stuff so we can make it the best program possible.”

Her own future plans are just as certain. “I want to work with kids in medicine.”

Given all she has already achieved, I’d say she is well on her way to making this happen.

Words: Charlotte Long

Picture: Sean Porter

 

 

 

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72. Joanne Rockwell

20 Nov

joanne

Joanne Rockwell is a go-getter. In 2006 the Co-Founding board member started Boots For All, a sports equipment recycling charity and store, when she realised nothing existed to help disadvantaged people with limited access to sport. Since then the charity has grown and gone from strength to strength.

“Boots For All started after a close person passed away and it was during a period of acute grief,” Rockwell tells me as we sit in a room at the Banyule City Council offices. “At the same time I met some women visiting Melbourne from Maningrida, which is a remote community in Northern Australia.”

They were in Melbourne to buy football boots for their sons and grandsons who were about to play in a grand final in Darwin.

“The women were embarrassed their sons weren’t playing in football boots. I thought, oh wow, we’ve got several pairs at home. I was also the registration director of the local St Mary’s Junior Football Club at the time and we had more than 650 juniors. So I thought, we could collect some footy boots and drop them off to a charity or recycling sports equipment store.”

Rockwell found nothing when she looked for a charity that already did this. “So I got a team together and we made a start.”

Initially, Boots For All just started with footy boots. As they grew, though, they expanded to include “all codes of sport and all items including footwear, clothing and equipment.”

They have sent out close to 70,000 items to children and teens across Australia, and have spent five years advocating to the federal government to have barriers to sport included in the definition of poverty. Rockwell’s advocacy paid off. The tax act has been changed to include barriers to sport within the definition to poverty.

“Fundamentally our organisation is based on respect. So everything we do is founded on respectful relationships and treating people in our business with respect and treating our recipients with respect.”

Boots For All’s focus on respect extends to the condition of the sports equipment, all of which are hand-washed. “We have a philosophy. If we wouldn’t like to receive it we don’t send it.”

Through this, Boots For All have gained a reputation of being extremely trustworthy and have gained well-known partners and supporters. Essendon FC is the founding partner of Boots For All and Rockwell has been able to connect with Australia Post, Commonwealth Bank and Netball Victoria to name a few.

Alongside the aim to break down barriers to sport, Rockwell is committed to helping break downs barriers to social isolation, such as being unable to find paid employment, by employing young people and providing volunteer positions for work in the store.

“People coming through our volunteer program actually were getting really high quality training and on the job experience, but weren’t getting publicly recognised or being able to put that on their resumes. So that motivated us to formalise our on the job work experience and training program.”

Ultimately, this has resulted in a partnership with Box Hill Institute and the establishment of an accredited training and employment program. This program was started to help provide support to deliver accredited pre-employment training to 90 young people in the community who face barriers to employment.

“We found some of the feedback and reflections on the project was that some people could benefit from pre-employment training and accredited on the job work experience and  vocational training before they commit to particular area of either warehousing or retail for their apprenticeship.”

“We partnered first with the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation to provide apprenticeships in retail and we’ve had a really great initial cohort of 9 people. We’ve re-employed 5 of those graduates within our social enterprise sports store.”

“There are lots of young people in our community that have a lot of great skills and a lot of experience to bring to a business and to bring to an organisation. Having flexible employment environments to people to learn on the job and get that foot in the door to be able to develop their skills and increase their capacity for work is really important.

“By not providing those flexible environments, our society and our community are really missing out on benefiting from what our young people in our community have got to contribute.”

Rockwell is looking forward to the future of Boots For All, and hopefully continue it’s growth.

“We’d love to have a Boots For All store in every state and territory. We’d love to be across more regions, to connect with more people in our community that could benefit from quality accredited training and on the job work experience and paid employment.”

With such a passion and drive, it is clear Rockwell and her team will achieve this.

The Boots For All store is located in Briar Hill. People who want to get involved can volunteer in a variety of roles or can donate sporting equipment. For more information visit their website https://www.bootsforall.org.au.

Words: Charlotte Long

Picture: Luca Johns

 

71. Dave Pizarcoff

20 Oct

Dave

Dave Pizarcoff is friendly, fun and full of energy. It’s not hard to imagine him up on stage doing what he loves best – cheerleading.

Dave, who has Down syndrome, has been cheerleading for around five years now and was the first Special Abilities Cheerleader in Australia. He is known within the cheerleading community as Dynamite Dave.

His father, Peter, has been involved in cheerleading since it commenced in Australia. A friend of Peter’s, who is a cheer coach, helped Dave to become involved. The coach spotted Dave, saw how strong he looked and immediately wanted to give Dave a go at the sport.

Peter proudly tells me, “Straight away, on his first day, he was picking up all the girls over his head!”

Dave started out at Cheer Factor, before moving to Atomic Cheerleading. Then, about two and a half years ago, Dave was invited to go over the United States to compete with the Oklahoma Twisters in the National Cheer Association championships, the biggest cheer competition in the world.

Peter says, “There’s about seventeen to eighteen thousand cheerleaders competing in it – it’s huge! Dave was the only non-US Special Abilities Cheerleader to compete in the NCA.”

According to Dave, the experience was “really good”. He also loved having the chance to perform a cheerleading demonstration in Palm Springs.

Now, Dave is busy competing in competitions around Australia.

“I love Championships and Nationals,” says Dave. “I love going in the State Championships in Knox and MSAC.”

Dave has been focusing on stunting, which is “like a one and a half minute showcase of all the cheerleading skills,” says Peter.

Dave competes with his cheerleading partner, Blazing Brittany, in the Special Abilities division.

Dave loves the physical challenges of the sport too. “I lift some of the girls up over my head and I’m happy to be one of the big, strong boys,” says Dave.

“I’ve got a personal trainer and I go to the gym to do weights every Saturday,” he adds.

Thanks to his cheerleading success, Dave has become quite the Australian legend and has even been interviewed by The Project.

“Now all my fans love to take photos!” Dave says with a mischievous grin.

 Dave has around 3,600 followers on Facebook and has done presentations at schools around the state.

 “A lot of kids write to Dave, saying he has been an inspiration and has got them into sport – not necessarily just cheerleading,” says Peter.

“Dave’s hash tag is ‘Be Your Best’. I get a big buzz when kids write to Dave and say they’re getting involved because of what he’s doing.”

Apart from his passion for cheerleading, Dave is also pursuing his other interests. Dave is particularly interested in music and with the help of the Jets organisation, has become an enthusiastic DJ.

When I ask Dave about this, he is quick to show me his customised t-shirt with his DJ name, ‘DJ Dave’, emblazoned upon it.

“I’ve got another DJ name, which is ‘DJ Funk-D’,” Dave says. “My older brother is also a DJ and used to be called ‘DJ Funk-C’, so I’m called Funk-D.”

Banyule Youth Fest, Banyule Arty-Farty Festival, Watermarc Greensborough and the YMCA are just some of the places where Dave has performed. “I enjoy being a DJ at Watermarc,” he says. “When there’s people swimming in the pools, I think they enjoy the music. I had one of them dancing and singing in the pool. It’s good fun.”

Eventually, Dave hopes to play even bigger gigs. “I’d like to do weddings, parties, things like that. I’d like to play in the United States. You’ve got to start somewhere!”

With Dave’s ambition, I have no doubt he will be a hit wherever he plays.

As for his favourite musicians, for Dave there is no question. Dave loves the Australian band, Sheppard.

“I’m going to see them on Saturday!” Dave says excitedly.

The last time Dave saw the band live with his cousins, he was spotted by the band and pulled up on stage. “They got me a t-shirt, that was all signed, and they drew a Dynamite on it,” says Dave.

The band members are fans of Dave’s too, allowing him to use their hit song ‘Geronimo’ in an edited video showcasing Dave and his cheerleading skills.

Peter pulls out his phone to play the video for me and as Geronimo plays, Dave dances along to the catchy song. It is easy to see why the band loves Dave too – he is a straight up, hard-core fan and is not afraid to show it.

At Jets, Dave is also spending time making comedic parodies of his favourite songs.

Dave says, “I got the idea of making parodies from Fitzy and Wippa on Nova. My parodies are based on theirs.”

“That’s how I got my idea. I’ll listen to them and then come up with my own words.”

“In the past I have done Ariana Grande’s song ‘Break Free’. Then I did ‘You should be So Lucky’. I’ve done heaps!” says Dave

Dave is going to continue working on his parodies at Jets. “We’re going to film it on a green screen and edit it on a video editing software.”

Once he finishes recording them, Dave is keen to create a Facebook page dedicated to his videos. When his videos are finalised, Dave and his father plan to upload them to Facebook. Keep your eyes peeled for Dave’s upcoming parodies.

With so many incredible accomplishments under his belt, it is no wonder Dave has now become a mentor for younger kids at Jets. “I get something out of it too,” he says.

If you would like to see what’s up next for this local favourite and internationally recognised cheerleader, then check out his Facebook page here.

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Luca Johns

 

 

70. Nancye Harrison

25 Sep

nancye

Nancye is positively full of energy as she talks about her work for and with young people. The more I hear, the more I find myself sharing Nancye’s enthusiasm about the importance of helping them stay engaged in education and employment pathways, and making services for young people more supportive and accessible. Her passion for the young people in our community is heartening and it’s inspiring to witness.

For Nancye, it all began in the classroom. Despite her father’s hopes of an accounting career for Nancye, she headed into teaching because she “couldn’t picture herself sitting in an office everyday crunching numbers”.

“I just thought, I love teaching, so maybe I could make it interesting for other young people!” she says.

It seems an open-minded outlook comes naturally to Nancye, as she talks to me about readily adapting her teaching style to the needs of the kids she taught.

“In my first year out of university, I went to a school in the Northern suburbs. I was going to teach like I was taught, in an academic environment – only, English wasn’t [the students’] first language. It was a big shock to me. Not everybody learned by opening the textbook and doing the questions,” Nancye says.

“I really liked the kids, so I totally rejigged the way I taught and made it more engaging,” she says.

Nancye was also eager to “give something else a go” and spent some time in the hospitality industry, then worked for a recruitment agency. However, Nancye soon decided to go back to teaching. At her next job in Coburg, she found herself teaching students from an array of diverse backgrounds.

“It was pretty amazing, pretty interesting,” Nancye says.

“Again, I had to work out how to change my teaching so everyone there had an opportunity to learn because there were big extremes in ability, disadvantage, all sorts of things. So it really became my mission to make sure everyone had an opportunity to do well.

“And to do that, I think, is actually much more rewarding. You inspire those who are academic to do better in those pursuits and for those who are applied learners, you give them an opportunity to learn as well,” says Nancye.

Eventually, this school was closed so Nancye moved to Montmorency Secondary College, becoming the VCAL Coordinator.

“It was awesome!” she tells me.

“I am just amazed at what those young people achieved and still continue to achieve.”

“I’m still in contact with a lot of those students,” Nancye says “Through social media, I’m able to check up on them! Even though they are not my kids, I feel good because I had a bit to do with that, for some of them.”

Nancye’s eagerness to expand the opportunities of young people has led to her becoming Executive Officer of the Banyule Nillumbik Local Learning and Employment Network (LLEN), where she has helped “set up their Workplace Learning Program, so that our kids get experience in industry while they’re still at school”.

“These days, I don’t actually work with young people and I miss it a bit! But I have to be satisfied that what I do makes a difference to young people,” says Nancye.

“I bring people together to make a difference. By bringing people together, through collaboration, the output should be greater. Working with 25 kids in a VCAL class was awesome! It was very satisfying, but here I can bring community agencies and schools together and – hopefully – we’re having an impact on hundreds of kids.”

“Schools are great at being schools, parents are the experts in their own kids, we have industry experts who know what’s going on in their industries, we have the government having a guess about what’s going on! So we’re partnership brokers. If we’re able to bring them together and then share that expertise with schools, with parents and with community, then hopefully we can get some programs up and running that support kids to transition to their next step.”

According to Nancye, industry-based learning is important because “research shows that those who are engaged in education and training will have better long-term outcomes in terms of employment, ongoing employment and earning capacity”.

“We need to look at how we help young people who are experiencing some disadvantage to transition. School can be very supportive. What do you do when you leave school? We need to look at how businesses and schools can come together to support everybody,” says Nancye

Last year, a major event the LLEN helped facilitate was the ‘R.O.K’ (‘Reengage Our Kids’) Forum. Community agencies, youth workers and representatives from schools were amongst those who gathered to discuss challenges preventing students from engaging in education and to devise practical methods for improvement.

“That was really well received. This year, we’re filtering through that information and looking at what we can put in place to help those young people. Some of the information is being funnelled into the Banyule Nillumbik Youth Services Network and they will work on some projects,” says Nancye.

Nancye also chairs the Banyule Nillumbik Youth Services Network, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

“It’s so important because, like the LLEN, it’s all about that collaborative effort and it’s about supporting those who, at the grassroots, are working one-on-one with young people who could be really doing it tough and need support,” says Nancye.

The Network has been responsible for some important initiatives, such as research into youth homelessness.

“Because we don’t see kids on the street here, people aren’t often aware that homelessness is an issue. We have huge numbers of kids couch-surfing, kids in their cars, or kids sleeping in other people’s garages. But you can’t stay on someone’s couch for a month.

“We are advocating to State Government to bring resources to Banyule and Nillumbik, to help us with this homelessness issue. We would like to see increased access to crisis accommodation, separate for both boys and girls so they are safe. That resource is very limited… If they have to move into the city, they may have to be in shelters with adults, where other types of harm might become an issue,” says Nancye.

Nancye and the networks she is a part of are working towards some truly wonderful changes in youth services. In particular, Nancye emphasises the importance of wrap-around services that can cater to the diverse needs of young people.

“We can have better communication and links between services – the government can help with that,” Nancye says.

“If someone goes to a service like headspace and goes there to talk about a mental health issue, well if they also at that time specify they’re having trouble with housing, then they should only have to tell their story once. All the services should be networked together so they can work together to solve those sorts of problems.”

Nancye leaves me some final words that convey a strong message of support for young people.

She says, “I think the other thing that has to happen – and youth services can help with this – is celebrating young people. The way we talk about young people has to be positive. Our policies need to be more positive about young people because I have seen – just from teaching young kids – that if you give them some self-esteem, some belief and some support, great things happen.”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Luca Johns

 

 

 

 

 

69. Maddie and Grace

21 Aug

B100 Grace MaddieIt’s almost impossible to get a word in when you sit down with Maddie Russell and Grace Britton, and listen to them talk about their passions

In the last two years, the duo have added a long list of successes to their resumés, all while completing VCE at Our Lady of Mercy College (OLMC) in Heidelberg.

And it all began for them in late 2014, when the then year 10 students were nominated by their teachers to participate in that year’s Banyule Youth Summit.

“We got an email from our Vice Principal saying our teachers had recommended us to take part in the Summit,” Maddie said.

“They asked for students who had great ideas and could articulate them well, and we’d always been pretty vocal at our school, and had good awareness of what was going on.”

Maddie and Grace found themselves on the Gender Equality and Life after School discussion tables at the Summit. They said they were incredibly inspired by the discussions that were had.

“It was really important to talk to people who were our age and were dealing with the same issues as us,” Grace said.

“It meant that we were more conscious of the world around us, and it gave us a taste of what we should look out for.”

They both said it was eye opening to hear about the inequalities other young women faced at their own schools.

“We went to a girls’ school, and tended to hang out with people who went to single sex schools, but things are really different for students of co-ed schools, so it was really interesting to share those experiences,” Grace said.

But they both agreed that it was important for the discussions to be constructive.

“It’s all well and good to be angry about something, and everyone on the table was, but you can’t just sit there and say ‘it’s so unfair’ without doing anything about it,” Maddie said.

“Activism is about more than just sharing articles and starting fights on Facebook, you’ve got to focus on being productive and finding solutions.”

And that’s exactly what the girls did.

In conjunction with some of their fellow OLMC students ( Laura Cecconato, Frances Biggar, Eliza Pinner, Julia Melitsis), Maddie and Grace created Life Hacks, a how-to guide for young people that focuses on life skills that aren’t usually taught at school.

“We identified that there was a gap in knowledge that schools weren’t teaching students, so young people were leaving school lacking skills that they needed in the real world,” Maddie said.

“We thought implementing a program into schools might be helpful, but that would have involved a lot of time and resources, so the booklet was the next best idea, because it was a starting point, and could lead young people to other resources if they needed them.”

They said they were impressed by how quickly things eventuated after the Summit.

“We identified the areas of concern, taking out loans, mobile phones, rent and houses, sex education, and more, and the Banyule Council just took the ideas and made the book,” Grace said.

“Not long after, they came and told us it was done, and we were like ‘what the hell, that was so quick’.”

The Life Hacks book was launched at an assembly at their school in 2015, an experience the girls described as “unreal”.

“That was the first time we actually realised how legitimate it was,” Maddie said.

“We thought we’d just be sharing ideas at the Summit, we didn’t realise it would actually eventuate into something like this.”

And the girls didn’t stop there; they were influential in the startup of a feminist collective at their school at the end of 2015.

“It’s only been going on for a year, and is only in the starting phases, but we just wanted to get it off the ground,” Grace said.

“We met fortnightly, and organised a fundraiser, and just had discussions about sexism, and other related topics.”

Grace said the group attracted a wide range of students.

“We had some younger girls join the group, and they were really engaged and interested,” she said.

Two years after they first took part in the Banyule Youth Summit, Maddie and Grace took on a new challenge.

The girls volunteered as facilitators at the 2016 Banyule Youth Summit, where they guided the conversation, and helped inspire those younger than them.

“Our first Summit, we just came and spoke about what we were passionate about, but at the most recent Summit, we got to sit back and listen to what these young people had to say,” Grace said.

“We got to show them what came out of us participating in the Summit, and hopefully that inspired them to get involved.”

Both girls did extremely well in their VCE studies, with Maddie getting accepted into a Bachelor of Science at The University of Melbourne, and Grace getting accepted into a Bachelor of Global Studies at Monash University.

They said they plan to continue speaking out about what they’re passionate about, and encourage other young people to do so too.

“Don’t be afraid, people are interested in what you have to say,” Maddie said.

“If you have issues you’re passionate about, you should definitely stick up for them.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Sean Porter

68. AWAG – African Women’s Action Group

2 Aug

DSC_0219

As I sat down on a comfortable cushion and sip my deliciously spicy traditional Somali tea, I found myself surrounded by the warm smiles of the young women of the African Women’s Action Group (AWAG). They had a stall at the 2016 Banyule Youth Fest. It was decked in colour, overflowing with artwork depicting the henna tattoos they were creating for visitors. Tea and biscuits were in abundance and their good cheer was infectious.

Omayma, who has been a member of the group since its beginnings when she initially “fell in love with it”, told me that the group was formed as a way for young Somali Australian women living in Banyule, to come together and help enhance their sense of community and inclusion.

In today’s world, many women who wear the hijab face discrimination and persecution. This forms part of the reason why the young women of AWAG are eager to share stories at the festival about the positive work of their group, to counter such negative stereotypes.

When asked whether her hijab has resulted in negative judgments from other people, Omayma said, “Personally, I have not experienced discrimination. But I know other girls have, yes. I remember hearing a story about a friend who had been asked why do you wear a tea-towel over your head? I was shocked.”

As explanation for these comments, Omayma emphasised how spreading awareness is vital.

“A lot of people just don’t know what it means to wear hijab. It’s all about how people grow up.”

“We are spreading the word about what it means to be African. The group is really peaceful and we hope to share the message that it’s important not to categorise us with a small minority.”

Omayma also said “Some of the really positive things we’ve been doing include basketball tournaments, henna workshops. We think fitness is really important. For us, we do cover up… but we still want to be active and to take care of ourselves.”

Last year, AWAG organised an African Basketball Tournament, as well as working on making a gymnasium accessible for African women.

***

Aisha is a youth worker who is a part of AWAG. I get a chance to chat to her at a later time and even away from the vibrant atmosphere of the Youth Fest stall, Aisha visibly lights up as she talks about the work she does with AWAG. Just like Omayma, Aisha is proud of how AWAG is making sporting and fitness facilities available for girls and women.

Aisha became a youth worker because, she says, “I had grown up as a young Muslim woman in Australia myself and I guess I could have done with a role model or someone who had that experience, to help me out in my youth”.

“AWAG came about because there were a lot of Somali women in the Banyule community, but there wasn’t really a voice … or really anything happening for the Somali girls. There are a lot of recreational opportunities for the young Somali boys… but there haven’t been those opportunities offered to girls,” Aisha says.

“There are girls sports teams they can join, but nothing that would accommodate their faith as well, spaces where they could go and be comfortable to take off their hijab.

“[It’s important] to give them those opportunities to have those recreational activities where they feel comfortable. That is what we’ve been doing,” says Aisha.

Aisha has fond memories of helping to organise a weekly basketball event at an indoor court.

“Everyone would chip in what they could to hire out a court, and we would then just get plastic sheets and cover up the windows!” Aisha says, with a laugh as she remembers these makeshift facilities. “So then everyone was comfortable to take off their hijabs and really get into it.”

“Organising small things like that gave me the energy to want to… do it on a bigger scale, where it becomes normal and we don’t have to put up plastic sheets on the windows and it’s a normal thing for Muslim women to want to hire out a court and have those facilities available to them.”

Aisha said they are starting to see this happen now, with connections to the local leisure centre enabling women’s-only gym sessions on Sundays.

“It’s been received really well by young and older women! It was funded for a couple of hours a week at first, as a trial and it’s been really successful. They’ve had the gym packed out. They haven’t seen it like that in years.

“The numbers were kind of crazy – it was like sixty odd women in the gym in the first few weeks! Now, it’s not as much but it’s still a really good amount every week. That showed everyone that there is a demand and a need in the community,” says Aisha.

“We have other long-term plans like that, for accommodating Muslim women in these spaces.”

According to Aisha, “the Banyule Council has been really accepting of that and wanting to do as much as they can to accommodate the needs of the Somali community. They are respectful of the culture as it is, as well. [There is an understanding that] the needs are different for the boys and the girls, which has been really good.”

Aisha reflects on the upbeat and inclusive vibe of Youth Fest, saying that AWAG’s participation in the event was simply “the best”.

“It was nice to just be there with all the girls. There were a lot of people who … did not expect the Somali community to be at Youth Fest.  To have that [positive] response there and get in really cool conversations with people and sort of break [down] barriers, even in a really small way, was really good,” says Aisha.

“It felt like the start of something that maybe hasn’t happened before in this area. Most people were just really accepting and loved seeing the diversity that was there at Youth Fest.”

In the future, Aisha wants to continue working with young people and, in particular, young girls. She hopes to encourage them to pursue their dreams, no matter their religion or background.

“I want to inspire young girls to be able to go as far as they want in any career, to be proud and accept themselves for who they are, to be proud of their religion, their culture and their heritage and to not feel like it will stop them from getting anywhere or [making] the life choices they want to make,” Aisha says.

AWAG is certainly an avenue for making this a reality, with leadership training opportunities for its members.

“We do some leadership work with the young girls too, trying to inspire them and connect them to women who have gone through what they are going through and who have achieved lots [whether it be] at uni, or after they’ve graduated and are working,” says Aisha.

“The idea of AWAG is for the girls in AWAG to advocate for the rest of the young women in the broader Somali community. They themselves may go on to inspire younger girls.”

The young women of AWAG are impressive in their ability to handle whatever life throws their way and are spreading a message of empowerment. According to Omayma, one tricky issue can be dual nationality.

“Culture is a really important thing for me – but sometimes it’s confusing being raised in a Western culture… I stay true to myself. Just be who you are and I think it’s ok to take what you want from your culture as well as the society you live in.”

“To any girl who is afraid of wearing the hijab, go out and do it if you want. Be strong. Stand up for your beliefs.”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto

67. Skye Lacy

5 Jul

Skye

In a mere 17 years, Skye Lacy has managed to contribute so much to their school and community. Skye is agender, using they, them and their pronouns. They are an open, engaging and passionate person who attributes their journeys in the past few years and into the future to a wide variety of influences and a person who finds meaning in helping others.

But as Skye says coming to where they are today has been a long and arduous process, beginning when they moved to Victoria from Emerald Beach, a small town on the central coast of New South Wales before moving to Victoria in 2014.

“When I was younger, I had no idea about the world,” Skye says.

They describe moving from a town with “3000 max” people to 4 million as a shock, especially as they had never been exposed to the LGBT community before – something that is now an integral part of their life. They recount using slurs frequently, not knowing what they meant.

“Even when I go back there now, my friends say stuff like ‘that’s so gay’ and it’s confronting,” they say.

Skye cites Minus 18 – an organisation dedicated to LGBT+ youths – and their school counsellor as two things that opened their eyes “the world beyond what [they] knew” and their own gender and sexuality.

They recount becoming aware of sexuality before gender, coming out as bisexual first.

“I vaguely use pansexual now but I go out with whoever I want to go out with at the time,” they laugh.

“Gender came a few years after that, around the time that I cut all of my hair off and started wearing whatever I actually wanted to wear. My views on the binary genders changed to more than just male and female.”

Skye identifies as agender, meaning that they do not associate themselves with being male, female or both.

“If you’re thinking about a line as a spectrum [of male and female], draw a little dot away from the line and that’s of where I am,” they say.

As Skye began to realise and understand their gender identity, they came out to their family.

“My parents are really accepting so coming out to them was really easy and my sister, coming out to her was really easy as well.”

Skye recounts that coming out to others wasn’t as easy though as they were “forced out” of the closet.

“I wouldn’t say that it was a coming out story for the ages or anything but I told a couple of people that I was bisexual (which is what I thought I was at the time) and the next day the entire school knew… It was confronting having everyone know and having that vulnerability thrust upon me but I was at a point in my life where I thought ‘I’m just going to take this in my stride, I’m just going to deal with what I have been dealt.’”

Skye regards coming out and developing confidence in your identity as a long process that they are still going through.

“It’s been years of challenging my ideas on the world. It’s been years of people challenging me for who they think I am and who I think I am. It’s been years of facing stereotypes and years of facing judgement.”

Skye began to work with Banyule Youth Services’ Rainbow Space (formerly known as Queer Sphere) around 2 years ago, attending the weekly/fortnightly meetings, although with a busy year 12 work-load it is difficult for them to attend as regularly now.

Skye has run workshops for the Rainbow Space with other group members. In 2015, they ran one of the first IDAHOT day workshops but Skye says that it wasn’t as successful as they all hoped it would be.

“We tried to cram too much into one day,” they explain.

“The year after that, we did a poetry workshop which is probably still to this day probably one of the most beneficial things I’ve ever done in terms of poetry,” Skye says, adding that they go to live poetry events now as they love it.

“It was really interesting and what [poetry] people came up with on the day was so diverse. It was still a small group but it was such a diverse group of people.”

“We’ve made Banyule a safer space in the 3 years I was there. I know it’s been running longer than that but just in the three years I was there we’ve done so much for the community and I just can’t begin to imagine what we can do in 3 more years.”

As well as being an agent for change in a community space, Skye has been an integral member Viewbank College’s Stand Out group as part of the Safe Schools Coalition. After Skye first came out, they contacted a teacher at the school to put up anti-homophobia posters around the college. The teacher later contacted Skye to ask if they would be interested helping to create a group for LGBTQ+ students, an offer that Skye quickly accepted in the hopes of helping other students like themself.

“If I can do anything, it’s helping people – that’s what I love to do,” they say.

“2015 is when we officially came together as a group and I don’t think we had a name for a very long time. It was just me, Mr Murray and Ms Moss for about six months with the help of [school counsellor] Rose [Gray] with Ms Craze [principal] coming occasionally.”

“We went to our first pride march in January 2016 with a school banner and around 30 people, which was really awesome. We ran our first IDAHOT day [at the school] which by all means was like the first Rainbow Space IDAHOT day – too much stuff on one day. This year’s IDAHOT day ran a lot smoother,” they say.

At this year’s IDAHOT day, there was a pledge against homophobia and transphobia printed on a large canvas that was signed by the whole school, students and teachers alike. The pledge now hangs on the wall of the school library where is can be seen by everyone.

“That being signed by the whole school is a great thing to be left behind and doing Pride again this year with double the amount of people [than last year] shows how far we have come, especially with our principal marching with us in the first year,” Skye says.

“Having the head of the school marching with you at the Pride March is such an awesome experience and having people shouting things from the side-lines, like ‘yeah, Viewbank College,’ [is great because] schools are so well received and there aren’t many schools there,” they explain.

Skye has also recently been fundamental in Viewbank College’s decision to un-gender the school uniforms.

“That started with me around the time I was coming to terms with who I was in terms of gender. I started asking Rose (school counsellor) and the assistant principals if I was allowed to wear the shorts and every time I got told no. Not particularly by Rose, who was very supportive and probably one of the main reasons why I was so comfortable with being ‘out’ at school. It was being knocked back for about 2 months but [the issue] was finally pushed to Ms Craze’s desk and she said yes. I remember being pulled out of class, into the science corridor and Rose was there and she told me I was allowed to wear the shorts to school. It was one of those moments that doesn’t really sink in until later so I was walking home from school and I started crying,” Skye recalls.

“From there I began seeing more people around the school wearing shorts and I thought ‘this is awesome’. It wasn’t just guys, everyone was allowed to wear shorts. That moment of pure relief that I felt really motivated me, I wanted it for everyone.”

“When the Stand Out group began talking about wanting to change the uniform I was like ‘yes, let’s really try.’ I remember Ms Moss creating a Google Doc for us to put our arguments in and she was expecting dot-point arguments and I remember going in there and writing out an entire 1000-word essay on why we should have ungendered uniforms at school, and what that would mean in terms of physical activity and relief, I included as much as I could to make it persuasive – I looked at my persuasive techniques for English,” they laugh.

The petition was then sent to one of the school’s two assistant principals who passed the motion immediately.

“It was really relieving, her saying ‘you’ve done it, we’re changing the uniform.’”

“It was another one of those moments. I went home and called my mum and dad and said ‘listen, look at what I can do.’ It was like I was leaving something behind that everyone else can use. The next step is getting it formally published. We were all ready for a fight and the fact that it came so easily has us on edge as it hasn’t been announced yet.”

Skye cites their biggest achievement as “working hard towards something” but they have small achievements on a day to day basis.

“It could be getting 3 hours of study done without stopping, which is a great achievement for me considering how much my anxiety [can] affect my life.”

“[The ungendered uniforms] stand out as my biggest achievement for the school,” Skye says.

They also do other volunteer work outside of school for Arts Project Australia, a non-profit organisation and gallery that showcases the art of artists with intellectual disabilities. They have been volunteering there for two years, going in on every Saturday from 10am to 12pm.

“I go there and I help with everything that the two workers can’t cover at that time, whether that be assisting artists in getting paper, cutting paper, cutting out something, printing things, cleaning their workspace, getting paints, et cetera.”

This volunteer work has helped Skye to realise a future career path – Art therapy, saying that it is combining their two favourite things, “art and helping [others].”

“It’s not highly paid… it’s not the profession you go into if you want to earn a lot of money, it’s a profession that you go into knowing that you’re going to benefit the world around you. That pretty much explains the kind of person I am.”

Skye says that their volunteer work at Arts Project has taught them many things, like human differences.

“Everyone is the same, everyone just wants love and acceptance, everyone just wants humanity shown to them. I think my idea of disability and LGBT has changed so much having done the things that I have done and having met the people I have met. My acceptance of difference is probably a lot higher than other peoples are.”

Words: Eloise Derrett

Photo: Luca Johns