59. Lily Kingbawl

1 Dec


Content note: this article discusses sexual assault and violence and may be confronting for some readers.


When I first met Lily, she greeted me with a warm smile and shook my hand. She was mature and kind, and her positivity was contagious. I’d never have anticipated the journey she’d taken to be where she is today.

Lily Kingbawl is from a small town in Burma called Chin Hakha. She’d grown up there with her five sisters, brother and parents.

“Chin Hakha is one of the poorest places in Burma. It was really difficult to live there because of the corrupt government. We lived under a dictator, and we weren’t able to access basic things like food,” Lily tells me.

Her mother ran a farm at their house, and every day after school, Lily and her siblings would come home to help out. Their house didn’t have gas or electricity, so they relied on natural resources, like clay to build their kitchen, and wood to make fires.

“At night when we went to study, we didn’t have any lights, so we used pine tree, which are a red and orange colour, and were able to start fire really quickly. They were really hard to find in the forest, so we had to buy them from other people. We couldn’t afford candles either, they were really expensive.”

The 16-year-old said that the Burmese Army would often visit their home and intimidate her family.

“My house was quite big because we had a big family, so the Army would frequently come to our house and eat all of our food and kill our animals. There was also the threat of rape. I was really young so I didn’t realise how dangerous things were, but for my parents and older siblings, it was very scary,” she says.

In late 2007, someone from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offered to help Lily’s family move to Australia. Her father, brother and two of her sisters would meet them in Malaysia, and her mother would stay in Burma until she was able to join them. The journey took just under two years, and was, according to Lily, one of the hardest experiences of her life.

“We had to go through Malaysia, and there are only two ways to get there, by plane or by car. We didn’t have enough money to go by plane, so we went illegally by boat and car. Even when travelling through Burma, we had to hide. They took us by car, and the car ride was extremely squishy. There were about 10 cars filled with people hiding in the boots,” she says.

After this trip, Lily’s family, and the other refugees who were travelling with them, were dropped off out the front of a Buddhist temple. They were told that their next lift would arrive in thirty minutes. Lily says that three hours later, no one had arrived.

“We had to go and hide in the temple, because if anyone saw us, they would contact the police and we’d be arrested. We stayed there for three days, with no food and no blankets, until someone finally came to pick us up.”

They were picked up by a truck, and were all squished into the back of it like animals.

“Even though I had absolutely no energy left, and just wanted to sit down, I couldn’t. We all had to stand up because there were so many people. I couldn’t even lift up my arms. Everyone was crying and yelling, and punching walls. There was no air to breath; I thought I was going to die. When we got out, everyone just threw themselves out of the truck and onto the ground, and started vomiting everywhere,” she says.

After this traumatic experience, the group had to spend more time waiting to be picked up again.

“They said they’d be back in an hour, but they never came back, so we had to stay there and sleep in the forest in the rain. I was so freaking cold. In the morning they came back with food, which was rice and water. It was like pig food, but we were so hungry we didn’t care.”

They were then taken to another place, and split into two groups. During this process, Lily was separated from her sisters.

“I was so frightened; I thought they’d left me. I was worried that we’d be sent to different countries. I was crying all day and people were comforting me, and luckily I was eventually able to be moved to the other group,” she says.

Lily and her sisters were reunited with their dad and uncles in Malaysia, and lived in a house with the other refugees. Lily says she thought they’d be safe once they arrived in the country. Unfortunately they weren’t.

One of Lily’s friends from the group was raped and murdered right before her and her family were going to move to America. “They chopped up her body, and just left her in the bush. Her parents went crazy when they found out, everyone was incredibly frightened.”

Not only this, but Lily and her sisters had a close encounter with being kidnapped themselves.

“I took my sisters to a local park and this guy came out of his car and offered us candy. This was right after my friend had passed away, so I was more aware, and when he came closer to us I told my sisters to run. As soon as we started running, he got in his car and began driving towards us. Thankfully a car came from the opposite direction and blocked him, so we were able to get away.”

After this experience, Lily was understandably frightened to leave the house.

Lily’s mother arrived in Malaysia after six months, and a year later, the whole family got on a plane to Australia.

“It took my breath away when we arrived in Australia. It was like I could finally breathe,” she says.

The family moved to her uncle’s house in West Heidelberg and became part of  the Olympic Village community.

“Everyone was so welcoming. The only English I knew was ‘hello’ and ‘my name is Lily’, but everyone understood me. There were so many multicultural people there too, so that helped me fit in.”

She met people from the Banyule Youth Services team and says watching them help young people opened her heart. They helped her achieve a lifelong dream – to play soccer.

“I just love soccer, but in Burma, girls don’t play it. My parents didn’t like the idea of me playing it, so I had to watch all of the boys play it from the sidelines. When I came to Australia, it was like a dream come true. I was able to take part in interschool sport, and I started playing it in my backyard and at school. When I met Liz from the Youth Services team, she helped me find a club to play with,” she says.

Lily has since attended Multicultural Day and the Banyule Youth Summit, where she was able to discuss issues she’s passionate about.

“When I heard all of the young people’s opinions at the Summit, I was amazed. The topics we discussed were relevant; I discussed domestic violence and mental health. Violence was very common in my country, but I didn’t expect it to be an issue in Australia. When you think about mental health, the first thing that comes to mind is depression and anxiety, but there are lots of things that affect mental health, like TV and our peers.”

Lily never knew what she wanted to be when she was older, but she’s now been inspired to be a social worker. She says she’d also love to continue playing soccer, and maybe even one day play at the World Cup.

“I really do love sport. If I’m not active, I get restless and just can’t stand still.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Jason Rohmursanto

If this article raises any issues, give Headspace (1800 650 890 or eheadspace.org.au) or Lifeline (13 11 14) a confidential call. You’re not alone.

58. Alex Sibbison

16 Nov

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Nowadays, it’s rare to hear success stories of people who’ve made it into creative industries. However, Alex Sibbison’s approach to obtaining competitive work could be exactly why you’re reading his story today.

“You should perceive what others perceive as their competition as your friends,” the 26-year-old says.

“They’re doing the same thing, and you’ve got skills that can help each other, particularly when you’re freelancing. It’s really about trying to provide as much value to as many people as you can, and you’ll find that it’s a really supportive environment.”

Alex started his own video production company about four years ago, called Masterworks Media Productions. Since then, Alex has created content for countless people and businesses, and has even begun hiring others to help him.

But he admits that he comes from humble beginnings.

“When I was younger, I always loved creating films and movies. In high school, I created a really exciting movie in film class, and I was like ‘hey, I’m actually pretty good at this’,” he says.

Alex studied film and television at NMIT for two years, and begun volunteering at Jets Studios, which is a local creative arts studio for young people.

“I said to someone at Jets that I wanted to start my own video production business, and he told me that I should collaborate with the Banyule Council and make videos for them.”

He then got a gig with Channel Nine, which he says only came about because he put himself out there.

“The television industry is interesting because it is very close-knit and it’s definitely about who you know to get your foot in the door,” Alex says.

“One of my friends owns a large furniture business and he told me that Channel Nine was coming down to film a TV ad, and offered for me to come down and help out. So I volunteered myself for the day, and passed on my name, and later on I was asked to help out with filming at the Whittlesea Relief Concert.”

While he enjoyed working for Channel Nine, it made him realise that he wanted to create products for people and businesses.

As well as collaborating with local businesses, Alex has worked very closely with the Banyule Council, creating countless videos for them.

“A lot of the videos [I do for the Council] are promotional videos for festivals or events, or videos they use to apply for funding. It’s just really enjoyable because these sorts of videos are so positive, and I like being able to work with people on the ground,” he says.

At the last two Banyule Youth Summits, Alex has been able to film content from the morning, and have a video put together and ready to show the audience by the afternoon.

This, he says, is not a normal timeline for him.

“Filming usually takes half a day or a full day, and then you’d edit for about three quarters of a day, and then you might do some revision. It’s usually about a three-day process.”

One of Alex’s favourite videos he’s created was for the Kids Arty Farty Festival in 2015.

“It was really well thought out. We thought we’d have a young person go through and experience the festival, and with all of the high impact shots of people smiling and having fun, it made you feel like you’d experienced the festival in the one minute the video went for,” he says.

Alex says that as your network grows, you start getting more and more job offers. While he’s clearly got a natural talent for film-making, he’s had to teach himself how to run a business.

“At the start, I didn’t know how to run a business, I just loved film-making. And then after a few years I realised I had to learn the business elements, and how to contact people,” he says.

When I asked Alex how he learnt these skills, his face lit up.

“Through working with really supportive people at the Council and at Jets.”

In 2015, Alex won the Northern Business Young Achiever Award. He says this was an incredible achievement.

“[The award] is about recognising the kind of impact you’ve left on the people you’ve worked with. It was fantastic to be recognised. I do my work because I love film-making, but to be recognised by other people, it was just great,” he says.

He’s also spoken at a local government conference, discussing the benefit of using film to convey messages.

“I did a lot of practice and rehearsal [for the event], and even though there wasn’t a lot of people there, it was a good opportunity to get myself feeling comfortable talking about my own experiences and journey.”

He says his success to date have allowed him to build confidence in not only his film-making abilities, but also in himself.

“It takes time to build confidence in your skill set and how to run a business successfully, and I’m still learning. It’s just a big journey and you always have to grow in order to provide good value,” he says.

Alex’s other passion is documentary making. He filmed a documentary in Japan called Champion to Challenger. It followed his friend, who was travelling the world to compete in karate championships.

“Documentary film-making from all over the world is still my ultimate goal. In the next few years, I hope to be somewhere, maybe back in Japan, filming another documentary,” he says.

Alex’s advice for anyone wanting to follow a similar path?

“For film-makers, you can support yourself by starting to provide your skills to other people. You’ll be surprised how many people would really value video content for their business,” he says.

“For business people, I’d say, just give it a go. There will be a lot of challenges, but there will also be a lot of opportunities to grow.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Picture: Sean Porter

57. Peter Owen

13 Oct


There is one word that keeps springing to mind when I meet the calm, confident twenty-five year old man that is Peter and listen to his story about his transition into his career: determination. Peter is currently working at Dolphin Products, in the role of Design Drafter, doing Industrial Design and his passion for his job is infectious.

A country boy from Kyabram, Peter says that in school he never knew exactly what he wanted to do.

“Nobody knows exactly what they want to do. You’re in Year 10 when you have to pick your subjects! … I grew up in the country. We don’t have the same facilities or the same jobs available. In year 10, you’re not even looking at becoming a designer because there are so few designer opportunities around …”

Peter says he still knew that what he wanted to do “was in the design area. So I just did every subject related to design – Art, Studio Arts, Multimedia, Graphics. It gives you a chance to use your mind, but be hands-on.”

Then, Peter chose his Industrial Design course at Swinburne “based on whatever covered a little bit of everything that I’d done … I knew from that [degree], if I wanted to change, I could and it would give me an insight into what else is out there.

“I moved [out of home] straight after school at 18. I stayed on campus at Hawthorn. Going from the country to the city is a big change straight away. It’s difficult when you lose your close support, your family … It also gives you the chance to grow up quicker, to be independent, to learn how to look after yourself. You know your Mum’s not going to feed you!”

Peter’s independent thinking shone through most clearly in his efforts to gain his role at Dolphin Products, a role that certainly didn’t fall into his lap. His perseverance is an inspiring story of hope for other young people trying to break into the working world, an increasingly tricky business.

“It’s challenging in every field… I remember thinking, just because I study industrial design, doesn’t mean that I can’t do similar things and work my way into industrial design… sometimes going off topic can help you get back to the topic.

“Of course, face to face interaction is always important – it builds your communication skills,” Peter says.

“Every time you have an interview, there is always something to learn. If one type of area isn’t working, try somewhere else.”

After going through about six job application processes with big corporations where it was necessary to sit exams, Peter says he learned what they were looking for.

“I started looking at my resumé and [thinking], since finishing uni I’m starting to get a gap where there’s not a lot happening.

“So, I went back and did three short courses in 3D CAD (Computer Aided Drawing) programs. I noticed, when applying for jobs, that the software I was working on at uni wasn’t necessarily what they were looking for. I thought, I could add this extra skill while in the process of still looking [for jobs].”

Peter suggests that “further education is the easiest way [to build your resumé] but obviously getting relevant experience is good. Get something relevant on there.”

His advice to job-seekers is not to be discouraged by setbacks.

“The hardest part is not necessarily doing the work, but getting a foot in the door. Every young person has that challenge. After I graduated it was a year and a half before I got my job here at Dolphin Products, which is my first industrial design position.

“A year and a half is a long time! I was constantly applying for jobs, and obviously after so long you realise it’s not working and you need to do something different.”

Peter then adopted an interesting approach by thinking outside the box, to present himself in a way that would ensure he stood out from the pack.

“I thought, ok, I’m a design student. How do I advertise to everybody that … I’ve got skills, rather than just saying it on paper?

“So, I produced my own business cards, I produced my own website with all my projects on it. Instead of just bringing in a generic resumé, I went for a more artistic one which had graphs, icons and a lot more images, rather than words. More colour, something that would be different to somebody else’s,” Peter describes.

“Then, after [about] a year in I decided sending emails wasn’t good enough.

“So that’s when I started walking around, going to places … and that’s how I managed to get a job here.

“I saw a sign out the front that said innovation and 3D printing and I thought, I think that’s what I want to do!

“It’s amazing… once you get in somewhere, it gives you the chance to then help out other younger people in the same position as you. You can say, it worked for me, why don’t you try doing this for you?”

Now that he has secured the role, Peter says he loves the work he does.

“My job is to come up with new product ideas for Waterdale, a new commercial brand sold under Dolphin Products.

“I’m here to spark an idea, to think about things differently, to innovate new designs and to give them something new to sell as their brand.

“I am the only product designer here at the current time which gives me a lot of open range … I get to do research, sketching, model-making, 3D printing and testing and from that stage I move away from industrial design to graphic design… It’s a very diverse position, I’m not just doing the one thing all the time, it’s always something different,” Peter says.

As he proudly describes the work and the products he designs, it is evident that Peter is in his element.

“The environment is nice in a way that someone is not constantly… watching every little thing that I do. It gives me freedom to explore and I don’t feel constant pressure. This then supports me to be self-motivated and gives me the freedom of always doing something different. I’m not just stuck on the computer, I get to build, print and test prototypes, and get to be involved in the manufacturing process… from start to finish.

“It’s a big learning curve … I have made mistakes. I had the chance to work on some tool design, just to get my brain thinking about how the parts are actually made, rather than thinking in open space and then six months into the project realising we can’t make it,” says Peter.

“Through that … I’ve made mistakes that the toolmakers have then had to fix. So it’s a good wake up call… about how important designing something correctly is, in speeding up the timeline of a project.”

Peter’s hard work in his role at Dolphin Products is evidently paying off with his achievement of runner-up for the 2016 Young Business Achiever Award from the Banyule City Council and Northern Business Achiever Awards.

The managing director of Dolphin Products credited Peter with the creation of “a fantastic range of new, innovative products for our home and office line.” He commended Peter’s “artistic flare and talent for product design,” as well as his ability to take on challenges.

Being a designer appears to be an inherent part of Peter’s identity as he unconsciously finds himself problem-solving in daily life.

“As a designer, there is always things ticking over in your mind – you go shopping and you see things and you go, why is that like that? … I’ll see a product with a problem and I know how to fix it.

“I think one of my skills is being able to predict … how someone is going to use something. I notice problems that other people don’t notice … in design, where I can fix problems, it’s perfect.”

Peter is still aiming high and his determination will undoubtedly see him accomplish exciting new things in the future.

“I think any product designer wants to see a product they’ve designed on the shelf, with customers actually happy with that product! I want to achieve something that others think is amazing or special, it’s about chasing the dream of your idea being what people want.”

Peter is very grateful for all the advice, support and time provided by his “family, friends, colleague, lectures, class mates and [his] wife”, as he says they have helped him to achieve all that he has and will achieve.

“I believe it is important to thank people who help you get to where you are, and to strive to return the favour”.

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Sean Porter

56. Kristy Bryans

21 Jul

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Ever since she was young, Kristy Bryans knew she wanted to be an artist. Now 20-years-old, she’s beginning to fulfill that dream.

However, she hasn’t got to where she is today without self doubt.

“Since I was little, I always said that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I kind of lost sight of that a little bit when I went to high school, I thought ‘oh maybe I should do psychology, I’d be good at that’,” she said.

Kristy said her school was not overly encouraging of folio subjects.

“They said ‘you’re going to stress yourself out, you have to get good marks, do Maths and other subjects like that’,” she said.

“It got to the point where it started sounding reasonable to do something reasonable.”

But with an artistic family behind her, and a constant drive to create pieces of art, Kristy eventually realised she had to follow her dreams.

“When I got to year 11, I was like ‘nah stuff Maths, stuff Science, I’m going to do folio subjects’. In year 12, I did a piece that got a lot of social media attention, and from that I thought ‘yeah I think I still want to be an artist’,” she said.

This piece of art may be recognisable to some Banyule residents; it was used to advertise the 2015 YouthFest.

“I posted a picture of it to Facebook and it started to get a lot of likes from people I didn’t even know, and then Banyule contacted me asking if they could use it, and Nillumbik asked to put it in an exhibition, it was in the paper to advertise my school, it was in newsletters, and suddenly it was just all over the place,” Kristy said.

“It was the first real piece of art that I was proud of. It made me think that this was something I could actually do and get recognised for.”

Kristy describes her art as abstract, experimental and modern; she likes to use lots of different colours and shapes.

“Art is so progressive, and ever-changing, so I’m still trying to work out my style. I’m still trying to discover myself and my art,” she said.

“When I was first exploring my style I had insomnia, so it was my sleeping problems and my dreams that would inspire my art. Now I really like looking up resin art, which is art made out of liquid glass. I also like looking into other artists’ stories, and what inspires them. Everyday I’m on my Instagram checking out lots of different artists.”

Kristy says she’s a perfectionist with her art. Some pieces take over 30 hours to put together.

“My biggest one took me 50-70 hours, I spent a whole week not moving, just sleeping, eating and drawing,” she said.

“I don’t think I’m ever 100 per cent happy with my art. There are always things that I could change, but it reaches a point where I just have to accept that it’s done.”

While admitting it might sound clichéd, Kristy says that practice really does make perfect.

“It is natural ability too, but every time I make something new, I think that my art is getting better and better from doing more and more different pieces,” she said.

Kristy is currently studying communication and design at RMIT University. She says that the course is quite broad; there are illustrators, typographers, photographers, graphic designers, web designers, and more.

“Through my work at Banyule, I realised that there’s so much opportunity for work, even just in the community. I’m just an illustrator, and I’m getting work as an artist, and there are so many more talented people that could be getting work too,” she said.

This inspired Kristy to create an artists collaborative group called Ink Design Solutions.

“I put out a call in my course for people interested in being a part of a group to source work,” she said.

Kristy now works as the middleman for the six people involved in Ink Design Solutions. Not only does she source work for them, she also teaches them how to quote, how to invoice, and how to look for work themselves.

“We called up people we knew [to find work], so the Council and local businesses, and I put the word out on social media.”

Since its inception, Ink Design Solutions has created countless logos for local businesses, helped companies design their websites, and helped at local events doing face painting and henna.

“We’re getting work in every field.”

Kristy says that getting experience in the industry is incredibly important, particularly given there’s a massive surplus of artists in the world right now.

“It is a really hard industry to break into. Helping these people out is so important to me because I know there are so many passionate people out there that may have to turn to other careers because they can’t find work in their field,” she said.

“If our youth is being productive, then imagine what our world will look like in the years to come.”

As well as running Ink Design Solutions and going to university, Kristy works two jobs and runs various workshops at local libraries. She says she sometimes struggles to find the time to work on her art recreationally.

“I did start something yesterday, I only had half an hour before work, but I sat down and thought ‘I’ve got to draw something otherwise it’s never going to happen’,” she said.

“I’d love to be creating more, so this year I’m going to focus on setting aside a free day where I do nothing but art.”

With so much artistic potential, and a passionate drive to help others, what does the future hold for Kristy Bryans?

“I would love to be a freelance artist/designer/illustrator. Working freelance and earning good money to do it would be awesome,” she said.

“My great –grandmother was a successful artist, and when she became successful, she opened up her own arts community to help other artists. I’m now living in the house she used to live in, and in the house has the art studio she used to work in, and I think that’s really inspired my long-term goals.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Picture: Sean Porter


55. Kate James

8 Jun


Kate James is a strong, vibrant, open-minded 25-year-old, and a self-proclaimed lover of cheeseburgers. Kate loves to travel, listen to music, and enjoys the brighter side of life – finding any opportunity for a good story and a laugh.

Kate is a Youth Programs Officer at the Banyule Youth Services. She’s been in the industry for around four years, and says she’s so far loved every minute of it. She says she never wakes up in the morning dreading coming to work; she’s always excited to see what new challenges she may have to face that day.

“Every single day I get up in the morning and look forward to going to work. I love everything about youth culture and the spirit young people have,” she says.

“Getting to support a young person along their journey means a lot to me each time I work with someone.”

Part of Kate’s role involves going around to local schools to speak to students about body image and gender equality. In these discussion sessions, she explores how society can pressure women to look a particular way, or to act a particular way. She admits that this can make being a woman difficult; however she’s confident that these challenges can be overcome.

“There is a massive buzz at the moment amongst young women I work with from early secondary school onwards around changing the way society views them,” she says.

“I feel that girls are becoming more empowered to discuss what affects their perceptions of themselves and to say ‘actually, that stuff really does not work for me and I don’t want to feel bad about myself just because of what the media or the internet tells me’.”

Kate initially wanted to be a primary school teacher, however after finishing year 12 she instead did a one-year course in disability studies. After starting to work in the disability field, she became more interested in advocacy so she completed a Diploma course in community services; this is what inspired her to work with young people.

Kate says she has no plans of leaving her current position any time soon. She loves working with her team at Banyule Youth Services; she describes the group as extremely creative, talented, inspirational, and always putting young people first.

She says a highlight of her job is being able to talk with young people directly. She loves being able to hear their stories, and to help guide them through any challenges they may be facing.

“[I enjoy] the little things, like having a really awesome conversation with young people in a school, or when a young person achieves a goal they have been working towards. Seeing a young person become empowered to do what’s best for them – it’s such a privilege to be a part of,” she says.

By speaking to young girls at schools, Kate hopes she can encourage them to feel comfortable in their own skin. She wants these girls to walk away from her presentations feeling strong and empowered, and not intimidated by the opposite sex. She wants them to love themselves for who they are.

“The everyBODY Banyule workshops aim to challenge the stereotypes, get young people thinking about how social media affects them, and most importantly, just allow them to chat about what they feel causes negative body image.”

Kate grew up in the local area, and went to school at Montmorency College. She has a large tight-knit extended family, and is particularly close with her parents and brother. Her family has supported her with everything she’s pursued. She says her mum constantly reminds her that “she has a gift of being able to communicate with other people”.

Kate says she loves being around people, and in particular fellow women. She’s a world-class listener, and is always up for a chat.

Kate is currently studying at university one afternoon a week to get a degree in youth work.

“I studied at TAFE originally to get into the field, which set me up with some great skills at first. Now a few years into my career, I am at Uni to get a higher qualification,” she says.

“I really love learning and enjoy studying, but also think it’s important to have work and life experience along the way to add to study.”

Kate was nominated for the ‘Victorian Young Achiever’ award for her talks in communication, inside and outside social media boundaries. Kate says that she is “extremely grateful and thankful for the nomination”.

She’s incredibly modest, and when anyone in the workplace brings up her nomination, she squirms in the corner and tells them to keep it hush.

However, her nomination is a big deal, and a reflection of her achievements to date. These achievements are definitely something to be proud of.

Words: Ruby Colley & Joely Mitchell

Photo: Sean Porter

54. Hani Qaafow

16 May

HaniWithin an instant of sitting down with her, I am surrounded by the bright and bubbly personality that is Hani Qaafow. Hani exudes an easy confidence as she laughingly states, “I’m your typical girl, I guess”. She loves “hanging out with friends” and was also raised by a “family [that are] all into sports. All of us were in sports … I did little athletics, basketball.”

Despite her modesty, Hani has exceeded the title of “typical girl” through her contributions to her community.

When I ask what first inspired her to become a youth worker, Hani tells me, “Look, I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t really know that I wanted to be a youth worker … I kept changing courses. I went from science to applied science, thinking oh my God, what am I supposed to do … you always want to help people, be there for anyone going through certain stuff. I feel like that’s what worked [to] my strengths. … I always go that extra yard to help people – this just formalised it.”

“I did my first placements at Banyule and I got to work on a few different projects … Eventually, I got casual work at Banyule. I was also fortunate enough to get to do my second placement here. So then, I formed the AWAG group.”

I quiz Hani further about this interesting organisation, the African Women’s Action Group.

“They’re the local Somali girls here. It’s the older generation working with the younger girls … They’re so inspiring! We formed the group from the Youth Summit, because they found [there was a] gap between young Somali girls and their interaction with the community … We played around with it, came up with the name. So we are currently called the African Women’s Action Group.”

“Initially, we used to meet up every fortnight, [to] think about projects. We went on camp, we organised basketball tournaments, we helped with the younger girls playing soccer at Olympic Village as well. A lot of people think of it as you teaching people. But I have learned so much from them.”

Hani and her own experiences helped form part of her motivation to get involved with AWAG. Hani arrived in Australia at the age of 1. She says she “did school here [in Australia]. I went to an Islamic school from Year 7 to Year 9.” She then moved “to Macleod in Year 10”.

“I grew up here, so I can relate to the girls. I feel like they have me to turn to and me to go to. Local government can be hard to approach, but if there is someone they can relate to, then they voice their opinions. And often, it’s doable. All that is needed is for them to announce [what is needed]”.

As Hani explains more about the goals of AWAG, it becomes clear that they are nothing short of inspiring.

“The main aim [of AWAG] was to inspire the younger girls to do more with their lives, to have careers, have families, learn how to juggle the daily life of being a Muslim and an African within this community. There are a lot of layers to their lives … they face a lot of things, such as their home responsibilities, they juggle uni, work. It’s hard – it actually gets very hard.”

“Another thing we wanted to focus on is mental health, because it’s not highly recognised within our community. A lot of people think of it as shame. You won’t see a young person seeking help, you won’t see the older people recognising it … So it’s about speaking out, not being ashamed, [or] hiding it. A lot of girls wanted to speak out and make that recognised. It’s about awareness, so then girls will know where to seek help.”

“One of the other things that we focused on was sports. We formed the big basketball tournament, because there are not so many opportunities for young Muslim females to play sport … I personally think it’s a great developmental step. The boys can just get up and join any team, but we don’t have that. So what we did was organise the basketball tournament and we had guests from local clubs attend, to see if there were opportunities for them to get involved there.”

Upon the differences in the opportunities women face compared to men, Hani states that it is not always a negative thing and that religious barriers are not necessarily bad, but they must be dealt with.

“If the boys want to play soccer, they have less cultural things to consider, but that’s not to say that we can’t be involved too. For example, the boys have a local swimming place to go to and we [the girls] now have that too. So I feel like the Banyule community put thought into that. Acknowledging that females can’t go to a local pool to swim, they said let’s consider their cultural barriers, address that and make it accessible. I feel like we are not disadvantaged, because it can happen, like with the swimming and the basketball, but us females don’t voice our opinions nearly enough … It is just a matter of saying, these are our barriers but this is what we want. How do we get there?”

When asked about how the group is going, Hani replies with a grin and makes it clear that the work of AWAG is already taking effect in her community. “I feel like the girls are a lot more involved in their community. I feel like they are taking responsibility for what they want from their community – they will speak loudly and be very opinionated! … It’s driven by them, which is great to see.”

“It has broadened our views on the status of Muslim, young females from the community … they are so driven. It has changed the whole dynamic of where Somali young females are headed, compared to the older generation when our parents came here and it was all about settlement, [providing] comfort. They’ve done the hard work, it’s our chance to run with it, to create stuff for the younger girls.”

“I think the whole point is to lead by example. I love it. I absolutely love it, because we sit down and it’s like, each of us have different views and a direction that we want to go and we are not going alone. If we move as a community as a whole, I feel like we can do bigger and better things.”

Through AWAG, Hani hopes to create “a go-to place” where girls are encouraged to “seek assistance with anything from employment and careers, education, and mental health.”

Education for girls is also of top importance in Hani’s eyes.

“As my dad would say, educate a woman and you educate a whole household. We were all brought up with education as priority and nothing else would get in the way of that.”

Her experience in Somalia helped emphasise the importance of education. “I have been to Somalia. It was bitter and sweet. I don’t remember leaving when I was younger, so going back there… it’s so war torn. You see people living with nothing. I feel like it inspired me to do more. That’s probably why I encourage a lot of females to get an education under their belt because that is what our [home] country is lacking.”

Here, women are doing everything, they are juggling it all and I think that is just incredible.”

As for the future, it seems that a lot lies ahead for this vibrant and enthused person sitting across from me.

“Personally, I want to travel to all different places. I feel very sheltered, because I wasn’t exposed to much growing up.”

Hani also wants to become fully qualified, as she hopes to be able to work in a school one day, in order to become “someone that students can relate to.”

The message that Hani wishes to pass down to girls she works with is a positive one. “I would say to every female, not just Somali females, that they should work with their strengths. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing – as long you are doing what makes you happy. Set goals and have aims in life.”

Words: Annabelle Pendlebury

Photo: Sean Porter


53. Ben Smith

22 Apr

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Ben Smith’s motivation to volunteer is simple.

“See a need, fill a need,” the 22-year-old says.

Up to two times a week, Ben volunteers at Boots For All, a not-for-profit organisation that collects and distributes second-hand sporting equipment.

“Boots For All is a sports recycling place, we gather used equipment that’s still in good condition, clean it up and donate it to people in need,” Ben says.

Ben got involved with the organisation after they visited his local football club about three years ago.

“I came down to football training one day, and there were these random people washing boots outside the club. I asked them what they were doing, and they explained that they were washing the boots, recycling them and giving them to people in need,” he says.

“That made perfect sense to me, so I just got involved from there.”

The group, which consists of about 30-40 people, collects football boots, runners, cricket bats, tennis balls, basketballs, and any other unwanted equipment.

“We have donation bins and donation partners, so at schools and sporting clubs. They often come forward, or we go to them, and they give us any excess sporting equipment that they don’t need.”

There is a Boots For All store, located on Sherbourne Road in Briar Hill, where people can come and purchase the recycled boots for as little as $5.

Ben says it’s frustrating to see how much sporting equipment can be wasted.

“It’s unbelievable the amount of equipment that’s not used, and just thrown out. And some of it’s in really good condition, almost new,” he says.

Ben says he’s always amazed to see how many people know about the organisation.

“It’s not really big on social media, it’s more spread through word of mouth. I’m surprised how many other communities know about us, I don’t understand how the word gets out.”

Boots For All has a few big named ambassadors, including Carlton FC and Essendon FC players, and The Biggest Loser trainer Tiffany Hall.

The organisation aims to break down barriers that may prevent young people from participating in sport. Ben believes that by providing vulnerable Australians with cheap and accessible equipment, they’ll be more able to get involved.

“I’ve been around sport all my life, and I know the impact it has on people’s lives, especially those that can’t afford to play.”

Ben admits that he was a hyperactive kid, which is probably why he played so much sport.

“I’ve played far too many sports over my lifetime, football, soccer, swimming, cricket, squash and gymnastics, just to name a few.”

Ben says it’s incredibly rewarding to see kids playing and enjoying sport while using equipment sourced from Boots For All.

“A lot of kids up in the Northern Territory don’t have access to football boots, shoes, balls, anything. They run around bare foot, kicking old footballs in the sand. We got funding to send them up some boots, and we later got a video of them playing around with the equipment, and it was amazing,” he says.

“I’ve seen a few local examples too. There are some single-parent families, with 4-5 kids, who just can’t afford to pay $200 for a pair of boots. Every now and again you see the kids wearing the boots, it’s really good to see.”

Ben is also passionate about the environment. He recently completed a Bachelor of Environmental Management, Sustainability and Policy Management at Deakin University, and is currently part of the natural resource management team at Melbourne Water.

“We go around removing weeds, rubbish, cleaning, surveying, planting animal identification throughout the catchments, making sure the diversity is high, and ensuring that ecosystem services, like water purification, are maintained throughout our water system,” he says.

Ben also volunteers at the Anderson’s Creek Land Care Group.

“It’s a local group that works to clean up Anderson’s Creek in Warrandyte. We do the same as Melbourne Water, but specifically around the creek,” he says.

Thanks to the hard work of the group, who plant plants and pull weeds, there’s been massive improvement to the creek and its surrounding environment.

“Growing up I was always out in the backyard, playing in the environment, so I saw what it can be, in comparison to what it is now,” Ben says.

“I just can’t believe how some people treat a local park, or a local creek. It’s unbelievable.”

Ben says that with work, and volunteering at these two organisations, he’s barely able to squeeze in anything else.

“It’s getting more and more difficult to find time to volunteer, especially fitting it around work and life in general.”

He says there are many ways you can volunteer with an organisation.

“You can either be a bit of an outsider that comes in every now and again to help, or you can get drawn in and become part of the major system,” he says.

“It can be very demanding and time consuming.”

But Ben says he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I don’t think much will change in ten years. I’ll stay in the same area, do the same things, and I’ll definitely still be volunteering.”

He’ll probably also remain as modest as he is today.

When asked why he thought he was nominated for Banyule100, his response was simply “I don’t know”.

Hopefully after reading this profile, he’ll see that he is overwhelmingly deserving of such recognition.

He saw a need, and he filled the need.

Words: Joely Mitchell

Picture: Sean Porter