84. Samira Liban

11 Dec

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Samira Liban said she wouldn’t be the person she is today without important mentors that guided her through her younger years.

While most of those were primary and high school teachers, the 23 year-old said one particular group was formative.

When she was in grade six at Olympic Village Primary School, a mentoring group for the older primary school students was formed, called Girl’s Group.

The group, led by Banyule Youth Services’ Leonie Farrell, was an open meeting place for young women, to discuss issues and opportunities, and strengthen relationships.

Samira recalls running to the Banyule Community Health Centre when the bell rang at the end of the day at 3:30pm once a week, excited about what the activity or discussion topic for the day would be.

After running for multiple years, Girl’s Group eventually wrapped up, but Samira said the impact it had on her life was immeasurable.

“It helped me maneuver my way through to high school” she said.

And now, over 10 years later, she is returning the favour.

Already connected to Banyule Youth Services, she was approached last year to see if she could suggest a program worthy of starting up to support young women locally.

She said her answer was a no brainer – Girl’s Group.

So at the start of the year, the group was reformed at her old primary school, with the same intentions it had over a decade ago, to support young women in their journey to high school.

Knowing the impact it had on her as an 11 year-old, Samira decided to get involved again.

But this time around, she wouldn’t be a participant, rather a mentor.

Samira has almost wrapped up a full  year’s worth of mentoring 10 and 11 year old girls.

She said while she came prepared knowing a lot would have changed since she was in their shoes, she was blown away by how mature they were.

One of the most important themes they worked on this year was self-respect.

“We really wanted to dig that into them at a  young age, because once they’re in high school, these sort of things start coming to mind,” she said.

To start these conversations, at the start of most meetings, they would go around the room and get each person to say something they had done that day that they were proud of.

She also worked to strengthen relationships in the cohort.

“Straight away we saw there was a division between them, the little groups they had formed, and the preconceived ideas they had of each other.” she said.

“We’ve taught them how to talk kindly to each other, and how to communicate their feelings.”

She said each of the girls was different, and needed different approaches to take information in.

“Some were loud and some were a bit quieter, so in some sessions we would do drama and plays, and in other groups we’d do writing or games,” she said.

But she said each session was different.

“We plan most sessions beforehand, but it’s always dependent on what the girls want to do, ” she said.

“One might be having a bad day and need one-on-one mentoring, so we’ll give them that.”

Samira finds the concept of giving back incredibly rewarding, and her pro activity to getting involved speaks volumes about her character.

In addition to her hard work mentoring young women in Girl’s Group, once a week she volunteers her time and goes to her local bakery to collect the unsold bread.

She then distributes this to local churches, mosques and individual houses, so it “doesn’t go to waste”.

And she has been recognised for her contribution to her community, having been invited to the Governor’s house for a breakfast during Mental Health Week recently.

“That was really cool,” she said.

In the midst of all her community work, she has also found time to study.

She admitted she had been a bit “all over the shop” when it came to choosing her study path and eventual career.

She originally enrolled in Human Resource Management at La Trobe University in Bundoora, but realised that wasn’t her “cup of tea”, so switched to an early childhood course, which she has just completed her second-last year of.

But she said sh was still unsure where she wanted it to take her.

“There’s not really job title suited to what I think I’m best doing, maybe I’ll just have to make up a role,” she said.

When asked what it was that she thought she was best doing, she paused to think.

“Talking to young people, and trying to help create a better future for them,” she replied.

When asked ‘why’, she recalled a moment from many years ago, at an end-of-year dinner with the Girl’s Group when she was in grade six.

“We went around the table and everyone had to say what they wanted to be when they were older, and I said I wanted to be like Leonie,” she said.

“Everyone laughed, but it was true, she had so much of an impact on me, and I wanted to do the same for girls like me.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Picture: Heidi Woodman

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