37. Lisa Said

8 May

_MG_9958-2-Edit‘Why does it have to be this way?’ and ‘Where’s my place in the world?’ are two of Lisa Said’s favourite questions. Seem a little heavy? Lisa spends her days talking to people who ask themselves just this all the time. And no, she doesn’t sit on a panel of philosophers or anything along those lines. Lisa is a youth worker.

Lisa manages Link-U; Banyule Council’s after-hours mobile program that offers Banyule young people information and support for issues in their lives. Regular Link-U work involves going out on Friday and Saturday nights, the members wearing distinctive orange jackets and talking to the young people they meet, offering support, information, or just a chat, and providing referrals to relevant services and programs.

She also looks after the network of youth workers in the Banyule and Nillumbik area and coordinates meetings in which current local issues are discussed, as in what they can do to understand these issues, who is involved, and how they can advocate for the young people who are struggling with some of these issues.

As a little girl, Lisa loved animals and wanted to become a vet – but after passing out in her first surgery on Work Experience, she came to the conclusion that this probably wasn’t for her. An unfortunate (and smelly) incident with a small child while volunteering at a kindergarten meant she again had to look elsewhere to find her kind of work, so Lisa started taking legal studies at university, hoping to become qualified to take on a secretarial legal job. It was at this time that she got involved with a group called Teen Challenge down in St Kilda where she worked with young people who had life-controlling addictions, and found that she really enjoyed what she was doing.

This led Lisa to start doing more volunteer work locally, and getting involved with a youth action group in Eltham that took a caravan out on Friday nights to Blue Light discos and down to the local park area where they would find a number of substance-affected young people, to whom the group would hand out cups of coffee and hot chocolate and talk with about what was going on for them. Lisa realised that she really enjoyed doing this kind of thing, and went back to university where she started doing youth work.

When Lisa talked about her fascination with her work, I could practically feel the excitement and enthusiasm radiating from her. She really “enjoys the way young people are”, acknowledging that ‘young people’ aren’t just a homogenous group where everyone’s the same, but recognising the sense of transition from child to adult, which she see as a really interesting time. “I love the fact that it is very much a time when you explore who you are, and you explore why the world works the way it does”.

Lisa, working first hand with people during this part of their lives, sees the ways that young people express what they’re feeling and thinking and questioning creatively and artistically, and start to take on roles of leadership – but she also sees how young people can get really stuck at times, and find ways to express this too. Lisa says that this is the most rewarding part of her work. “They don’t think necessarily like adults, they don’t think like kids, it’s a very unique phase of life that I find fascinating, really fascinating.”

When asked what she believes to be the biggest problem facing youth today, Lisa first mentions the statistics of Mission Australia’s regular surveys and studies into young people, where the same issues come up very often, usually relating to family issues, family breakdowns; self-esteem issues, body image; and substance abuse. “But I think today… it’s a very interesting world that we live in now… we’re so, in some ways, so much more connected than we ever have been with…But in some ways I think we’re also more disconnected than we ever have been”. Lisa believes this in the sense that, because of all this technology, people are often very isolated, in their own world – “and that can be a very small world, you know” – and become disconnected from the world outside.

Lisa believes that her work has given her “a privileged and quite a unique position” in the sense that she gets to listen to people tell her their stories in all their complexity, all their positive and challenging aspects, and that having this remarkable insight into other people’s lives has gifted her with a huge degree of respect for human capacity. She claims to have been made a more tolerant person now that her experiences have given her the ability to understand why a person might react or behave the way they do, rather than doing the easy thing and criticising that person instead.

Lisa acknowledges that people who are in her line of work can become jaded by what they see and do: “it can be an affirming thing or quite a crushing, defeating thing”. Lisa is one of those who see the positivity and the good in what they have experienced, and allows that to help them continue working to make others see the good in their own lives.

“I guess it has opened my eyes to how amazing people are and their capacity to rise above stuff and also to really shine, and the capacity of young people to really be creative.”

Words: Kelson Hunter

Photo: Sean Porter

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