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

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