Tag Archives: Banyule City Council

34. Amma Boakye

21 Jan

_MG_9964-EditBorn and raised in Australia, Amma Boakye’s upbringing was no different to the majority of teenagers her age. Although a trip to Ghana with her family in 2002 completely changed Amma’s perspective of the world.

As we sat down for an interview, the seventeen year-old Loyola College student described what the current situation in Ghana is like. “The country itself is breathtakingly beautiful,” she said, “although it lacks many basic services such as a good public health system and easily accessible roads.”

Amma’s parents, Cecilia Yeboah and Nana Boakye were both born in Ghana so the trip in 2002 was the first since their settlement in Australia. Being their first trip, Amma says that the experience was a culture shock for her and her siblings as they were all used to the Australian norms. “We found the Ghanian culture, which is completely different, a little confronting,” she said.

As overwhelming as the experience was, she believes that it was just as educational and insightful. “I saw Ghana as a country with great potential for future development,” she said, “because of its access to natural resources like gold, cocoa and fertile land.”

Amma’s aunty lives in a rural town near one of Ghana’s larger cities called Seikwa. According to Amma, the journey there was long, bumpy and rough. “A trip by car which should have taken about 15 minutes ended up taking about an hour due to poor road conditions,” she said.

On arrival, Amma’s family was surprised to discover that her aunty, Veronica Appiah- Kubi and uncle, Akwasi Appiah- Kubi were the sole basic medical care providers for the small community including maternal and child health. Amma’s aunty is a qualified midwife and a nurse practitioner, but almost all of the services that she was giving were free of charge.

With little financial support, the funds come from Veronica and Akwasi’s own pockets. “Witnessing the simple care provided by my aunty, my parents initiated their support by donating some money to help my aunty with the great work that she was doing,” Amma said.

“After our visit, my parents continued to periodically send donations,” she said, “although on our second visit to Ghana, I came up with the idea to create a charity organisation to help with the running costs and improve the condition for my aunty and her few helpers.”

Since returning back to Australia, Amma has kept her promise to pursue this charity. “My involvement in the charity is, through networking with friends and their friends, and also other experienced charity workers, is locating and contacting organisations who are able and willing to support us by donating money or healthcare equipments,” she said.

Every two years, Amma and her family return to Ghana to deliver the goods and funds that they have collected through their charity, Nyarkoh Family Health Fund. Amma says that these goods may include nappies for the infants, stethoscopes and other medical tools and of course, money to help them support themselves.

Leading a busy lifestyle, it’s surprising that Amma is able to fit the charity work into her schedule. Although she said that she is relieved that her friends offer their support for the charity whenever they can, often assisting in contacting local businesses.

Amma has just completed her year 11 studies and is currently enjoying her final holidays before she begins year 12. She admits that she is a very creative person, so subjects such as textiles and studio arts will be a breeze. With two languages already under her belt, Indonesian is another subject that Amma says she should do well in.

“I usually dedicate my spare time to sports such as athletics and basketball but have stopped participating regularly to try and keep up with my school load,” she said. She has also completed drama and acting lessons over the duration of the year.

When asked what she wants to do when she’s older, Amma has more direction than most. “I have always dreamed of becoming a professional actress,” she said, “but I wouldn’t mind going into the law profession due to the social justice appeal of it.”

Amma is a strong believer in charity work and endeavors to encourage more Australians to get involved. “Charity work could possibly be the very thing that makes people feel worthy in society and therefore turn into better people,” she said. “I think it’s something that would help them appreciate what they already have and make them generally more sympathetic to the needs of others.”

Amma’s ambitions are certainly not minor. She plans to take a break from the charity throughout year 12, but will resume straight after, hoping to expand and develop it to achieve more to help not only Ghana but the whole of West Africa. “I believe that if more Australians were involved in charities, we would be a step closer to making, restoring and creating world peace.”

Words: Joely Mitchell

Photo: Sean Porter


19. Stephanie Livingstone

5 Mar

Stephanie Livingstone has an interesting theory. She considers education to be currency. It flows naturally that her investment into bettering the lives of individuals in the developing would be through teaching. At the age of 20 and with no formal training Steph realized that a love of teaching as a skillset could be more valuable than a merely financial contribution to combatting some of the challenges faced by the small Indonesian community of Sembalun on the small island of Lombok.

Steph’s induction into helping others came into its own in her local community. Volunteering in the St Vincent De Paul Society and serving as the Diamond Valley division’s Vice President set her apart from many people her age – volunteering in a soup van for the homeless as well as helping out at holiday programs and kids days. It was through this experience that Steph first learnt about UN Youth. UN Youth had at its core an educational purpose, and anyone that watched Steph in action will agree that she truly did justice to UN Youth’s tagline to “open young eyes to the world”.

Graduating quite quickly from facilitating workshops in classrooms to organising them Steph was delivered a significant challenge.  Reflecting on her experiences she describes the process as an opportunity to learn about teamwork, leadership and to channel her passions into real outcomes. Her passion for the plight of Asylum Seekers and Refugees influenced her choice of theme for two day long events for Year 9 students, attracting over 400 attendees. Steph remembers standing nervously in front of “a stadium of young faces” trying to start up a conversation which is often sensationalized by politicians and figures in the media. Regardless, Steph relished the challenge and has soared to great heights utilising the skills she has developed along the way.

Steph’s most recent and exciting project has developed since returning from a month long visit to Sembalun, Lombok in 2010. The village is located precariously at the base of a Volcano and has been the catalyst for a major realignment of her world view. Steph says that her “whole perspective on life was turned on its head”, returning she harboured “a resentment of Western Culture, stayed away from shopping and was unable to take part in consumer culture after watching friends of mine living on less than $4 a day in Lombok”. Personal friendships formed and a feeling of welcome have aided Steph’s ability to build her project in Sembalun. At home in Australia Steph continues to teach English classes by Skype with a classroom sitting around a mobile phone on loudspeaker.

Steph radiates positivity and enthusiasm. What’s the secret? “Focus on something that resonates with you, take opportunities to take that spark or frustration and do something about it” oh and another thing “you can never dream too large, get a team together and strive for ten times what you think is possible”.

Steph’s big dream for the future of the Skype program is for it to go National and has already begun building capacity here in Banyule conducting a pilot program at St Martins of Tours Primary School in Rosanna. This component will have primary schoolers taking part in letter-writing and creating storybooks that can be used by Steph as a teaching tool and foster a greater understanding of the lives of kids in Indonesia.

Steph and the Skype program are taking off but not without the support of her community. So far the program has had a positive reception in schools as teachers and students recognize the real opportunity to experience cultural exchange. Individuals are encouraged to contact Steph to register their interest in supporting the program, “Support comes in many forms but really it’s what people are capable of it could be money, or donation of resources but the more important thing is education and awareness”. Listening to her speak I am endeared to her cause, her moral obligation to enhance kids access to universal and basic education. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And we’re all hoping that simplicity spells her success.

Steph can be contacted at Stephanie_livo@hotmail.com

Words By:Anna Carrig


Photo by: Sean Porter


© Sean Porter 2011

18. Anushka Phal

6 Feb


When you walk past Anushka in the school yard, she comes across as an everyday teenager. After ten minutes of conversation with her, you discover she is much more than an everyday teenager and has huge and inspiring dreams to help and support people in need.

Anushka is a New Zealandborn Indo-Fijian( better known as Fiji Indian). She migrated to Australiawhen she was 8 years old with her parents and her little brother. She speaks both Hindi and English. Her family are her biggest inspiration, especially her grandfather and the stories she hears about him and how he has influenced so many people in a positive way and have supported so many people. Unfortunately for Anushka, her grandfather and the rest of her extended family live back inFiji.

At the tender age of 16, Anushka has already helped many people and raised a significant amount of money. Her latest project is called ‘A Drop of Clean Water Please’.  “A Drop of Clean Water” is the name of my campaign page which I opened through mycharitywater.org. This organisation allows individuals to open campaigns and help raise money for their cause- which was to build wells in villages that do not have clean water sources.”

Anushka made posters and posted them around her school promoting her fundraising efforts. She also set up a Facebook page with more information about her campaign, made presentations at school assemblies and made personal approaches to teachers, family and friends.  In 60 days she raised over $600 which is enough money to provide 32 people in a developing country with access to clean water. Anushka plans to fundraise for The Brosnan Centre and the Fred Hollows foundation in the future.

Anushka said experiences in her life such as losing her grand aunt in 2010 and seeing people in difficult circumstances inFiji motivated her to reach out to others. “It is my passion to help others, be it a small favour or a charity campaign.” This is amazing coming from a teenager, as most teenagers are busy pursuing personal interests and hanging out with their friends.

This years Anushka is going to complete year 12 at LoyolaCollege. She will be studying Business Management, Chemistry, Literature, Further Maths and Psychology. She plans to go to university and study Optometry because her life ambition is to work for the Fred Hollows Foundation inFiji.

Anushka is a great person with a positive attitude. She has very high personal standards and is a great role model for other teenagers. She believes one person can make a difference. It is only a matter of time before more people come to benefit from Anushka’s efforts.

Words By:Lewis Harry

Photo by: Melanie Price 

17. Emma Brett

30 Jan

Setting her sights on serving our community as a police officer at a young age, before sparking an interest in wildlife from beloved family camping trips- Emma Brett; a 22 year old chocolate and Brussels sprout lover, has a profound passion for responsible food purchasing.

A recent graduate and honours student of Deakin University, Emma is keen on sparking awareness in the community as to how our everyday choices can have a lasting impact on the world- both positive and negative.

In her second year of University she went on an Environmental exchange to Canada. Upon her return  unshe started a questionnaire with the assistance of her University lecturer. She asked one thousand people from five different suburbs if they ever considered where the food that they put into their mouths each day came from. When the results came in and weren’t what she fancied, her desire for change emerged.

When asked how she lives an eco-friendly lifestyle, she responded by stating that she’s “trying to eat more in season food… and won’t buy food from overseas”. Whilst she agrees that these tasks may be difficult as she isn’t living alone and has to share a lifestyle with others, she is still an admirable role-model by making her own bread, planning her weekly meals ahead of time, growing her own food at home, and eating as a vegetarian. She even looked into fostering a local community garden in a vacant block of land and whilst she was unable to because the land was privately owned, it still remains an interest of hers.

Her goals for the future are high as she hopes to pursue her passions by continuing her research, returning to Canada for permanent work and “educating people by running a university subject or working with kids in a school”.

Her advice to people of all ages is that “You don’t have to be a hippie” to “do your own research” and “know what’s in season”. “You can look at any books from the library or websites which will tell you what’s in season and try to work around that”. Whilst you may not feel as though your actions are contributing, “even if it’s one person, you can make a difference”.

Words By:Annalisa Cercone

Photo by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011

16. Cheryle Michael

20 Jan


Cheryle Michael is the Youth Planning and Policy Officer at Banyule City Council.  She has worked in Youth Services at Council for a number of years and in addition to the planning and policy role has had other positions including the Employment Education and Training Officer role and has worked as a Team Leader.

Cheryle also worked at the Banyule Community Health Service as a JPET (Job Placement, Employment and Training) worker based in Greensborough and West Heidelberg. JPET was a program to assist homeless young people to find accommodation, training and work.  Most of the young people she assisted came from the northern suburbs. Cheryle has fond memories of working at the Community Health Centre as all the staff were really friendly and keen to help whenever and wherever they could. The best thing about working in that environment was knowing that the people you were referring your clients to were helpful and respectful of young people. This meant that young people could feel confident and comfortable about the help they got and that they were able to ‘get back on track’ quickly.

Prior to her time with JPET she was a secondary school teacher and student welfare officer at a number of local schools. Cheryle found her work in schools very rewarding, particularly enjoying the planning of school camps and outdoor adventure activities. She has been from one end of Victoria to the other and interstate toTasmania and NSW.  From horse riding in Gippsland to canoeing down theMurray, she’s done it all.

Cheryle volunteers her time to sit on the Board of Management of Catchment Youth Services which is a youth refuge and accommodation support service for young people who are homeless. Cheryle described the refuge as a ‘home’ for these young people. Residents have their own room, share chores and share the space with 5 other young people. She also volunteers her time to sit on the Board for PRACE (Preston Reservoir Adult Community Education).

Back when Cheryle left school she was planning to be an Occupational Therapist but changed her mind a few weeks into the first semester. She then changed to Social Science (Economics, Politics and Sociology).

Cheryle said she enjoys working with young people. They are honest and grateful! Sometimes she feels young people have taught her more than she has helped them. ‘Young people have taught me to be tolerant, non judgemental, respectful and grateful and that everyone can achieve their goals, no matter what the barriers are.’ Some of the best moments of her career have been the thank you cards, the letters, the hugs of appreciation and the smiles.

In April of 2012 Cheryle is due to retire because, as she explained, it is time to achieve some of her other goals that she can’t achieve while continuing to work.

Frances Gianinotti, Cheryle’s Co-ordinator at Banyule Council, says Cheryle will be thoroughly missed by many people including residents and colleagues from across the community sectors. “Cheryle has enormous capacity for work and is tireless in her commitment to the Banyule community. Cheryle is very community minded and committed to positive outcomes for young people and the community. She has built strong partnerships across the service sector and is respected by her colleagues and peers”.

Words By:William De Maio

Photo by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011


15. Ming Kang Chen

21 Dec

Ming Kang Chen was once a Mayor of Banyule. ‘But he’s so young’ I hear you saying to yourself, and I guess in response I should start by explaining where his journey began.

Ming Kang’s mum stumbled across an advertisement in the Banyule Banner looking for a young person living in Banyule to put themselves forward as a Young Mayor for the 2009 Banyule Youth Express, a Youth Summit otherwise known as the BYE. The role of the Mayor as Ming Kang explains is to help organise the event and assist with the running of the day, a sort of Master of Ceremonies. 2009 was actually the first BYE event, focused on the theme ‘Mental Health and Relationships’. The BYE is designed to bring young people with broad ranging views and experiences together to have input into the council’s decision making. A perk of the job for Ming Kang on taking it up was the opportunity to present the findings to Councillors and the Mayors at a Council meeting. Probed on whether he has ambitions to be mayor Ming Kang smirks, “It’s not on my short to long term outlook, but you never say never right?”.

What are his plans then? Ming Kang’s not absolutely sure himself, the future holds many opportunities as he muses that “I could be overseas, I could be here, I could be starting my own business”, the world is definitely his oyster. In the meantime Ming Kang is contently studying Marketing at theUniversityofMelbourneand he’s keen to try to put his skills to good use. Ming Kang would like to apply his skill set to good instead of simply “driving consumption”.

Beyond the requirements of University Ming Kang still stays involved with Council as a member of the Banyule Youth Participation Network (BYPN) and is involved with MUDS- the Melbourne Uni Debating Society. In his capacity at BYPN Ming Kang has supported the Banyule 100 project. Banyule100 has helped open his eyes to the variety of things that young people are doing in his community “I had no idea that there was a young person in Banyule composing operas… it really highlights the diversity that exists amongst young people”.

Ming Kang’s involvement with debating had opened his eyes in a different way and taken him from local competitions inCarltonand Clayton to international championships inKorea.  Just a short while ago Ming Kang travelled toKoreato the Australian debating Championship, commonly known as ‘Australs’. Ming Kang says that the thing that is most valuable about young people getting involved in debating is the ability that it fosters for people to better understand the world, to “understand why things are, or aren’t, the way they are”. Other skills you develop along the way aid confidence and prepare you to think on the spot- a skill that is put to use during our interview.

Ming  Kang’s funniest debating memory takes him back to an afternoon in high school when his teammate started a debate on conscription asking “Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he chose to”. Needless to say they didn’t win the debate, but the fun of it is what keeps him going back.

One thing that I greatly respect about Ming Kang is that he harbors a strong set of values which comes across in his humble, warm and unassuming manner. Somewhat boldly I enquire what it is that drives Ming Kang. After some confusion he consolidates this to a simple philosophy as he tries to “focus on what I feel is right”, particularly the focus on “finding the good in people”.

Ming Kang isn’t your typical young leader. Not particularly outspoken, his care for global issues is none-the-less there, a “quiet campaigner in my own head”. The example that Ming Kang sets is one of the variety of things that young people in Banyule are involved with and their capacity to break the prejudices that many adults hold toward their younger counterparts. As he says, “we’re not just complainers or radical or naïve”. A hope that Ming Kang and Sean Porter, the mind behind Banyule100, hope that projects like this will do is highlight the depth and breadth of young people’s experience and contribution. It’s young people like Ming Kang that help us to escape the overly simplified stereotypes. And on a side note- I think Ming Kang would make a really great Mayor one day.

Words By:Anna Carrig

Photo by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011


14. Kosta and Johnny

16 Nov

Johnny and Kosta met in a juvenile detention facility and identified the need to create a program that would discourage young people from committing offences. They understand how making the wrong choices can change your life and are the founders of ‘Word on the Streets’ a program designed to keep young people out of the youth justice system. They recently received a grant from Youth Foundations Victoria West Heidelberg (YFV3081) which will enable them to visit schools in and around their community to spread their message.

Whilst Johnny and Kosta are trying to move on and become positive role models within the community,  moving forward with a criminal record attached to your name makes it difficult to leave the past behind. The aim of the program is to prevent young people from entering the criminal justice system and to deter them from making choices that could lead them to that path. They thought it would be good to share their insights with young people and talk about their experiences. They believe it is important to help young people stay out of trouble and stay connected with schooling.    

They believe that young people need to hear a positive message about school and the importance of education. They feel that it would have been highly beneficial if someone could have pointed them down the right track when they were younger. Kosta asks ‘why do you have to be locked up to get your point across?’ This is essentially the drive behind ‘Word on the Streets’.

It offers young people the chance to engage with people who have experienced the youth justice system first hand and will hopefully deter young people from committing offences. Johnny and Kosta plan to offer advice and guidance to those who might be at risk to prevent them from entering the youth justice system.

 They also understand the implications of hanging around the wrong people. Johnny admits that the people he once associated with were leading him down the wrong path. He wants to explain to young people that hanging around with the wrong crowd will ultimately have consequences. The ‘Word on the Streets’ program hopes to show young people that they have options and should value their future. If they don’t, Johnny says that they can easily ‘go down the wrong path’.

Johnny explains that detention is not a place where you want to end up. He says ‘you don’t want to end up inside, it’s not a place you want to ever see, it’s not a place where you want your family to come and see you’. Johnny’s brother was involved in a car accident and it was three months before they gave him permission to go out and visit him. He says that ‘you don’t get to do things you want to do, your freedom is gone’.

He also talks about how young people quickly fall back into the cycle of reoffending. He recalls how he saw eight people leave the centre and come back within the space of three months. However, time in detention did have some positive aspects on his life. He improved his reading and writing, was taught to respect, and learnt some important life skills. Now with detention behind him he feels ‘older and wiser’. ‘You learn from your mistakes’, he says, but the crucial message for kids who are beginning to do the wrong thing is simple – ‘just don’t do it’.

Kosta explains that he wants young people to ‘do the right thing, stay out of trouble and steer clear of that life’. Life in detention meant that Kosta was unable to see his family as often as he would have liked and opened his eyes to the ‘real world’. He completed a TAFE course whilst in detention and is currently furthering his education at a local TAFE. He says the project is a great way to ‘share a part of your life with someone you don’t know’ and he hopes that the project will teach young people that ‘If you get locked up you’re just wasting your life and the time that you have been given’. He sums up the experience by saying that its ‘better to understand than judge, we all make mistakes some are just bigger than others’.

Words By:David Joiner and Stephanie Neville

Photo by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011


13. Lauchlan Denny

2 Nov

Not many 15 year old boys are able to raise over $11,000, complete a 9 day solo cycling trek from Melbourne to Sydney and all to benefit disadvantaged school children in Kathmandu, Nepal. Lauchlan Denny isn’t like any other 15 year old boy; he is already making a difference in this world, one pedal at a time.

Lauchlan has been cycling since last September, when he began training. This young man uses the words “freedom, independence and enjoyment” to describe his new found love: cycling. Unlike many 15 year olds who have a love for video games, Home and Away, or Facebook, Lauchlan’s passion has encouraged him to achieve greatness beyond imagination – all in the name of charity.

Lauchlan’s journey is something that words cannot describe – 9 days of hard work, pain and torture, which even he admits was the “hardest thing I’ve ever done”. It was an amazing feat of over 1,000 kilometres, something that a lot of us could never imagine completing.

Lauchlan attended an information evening held by World Challenge. World Challenge are an organisation that takes teams of high school students trekking in third world countries and encourages them to play an integral part in the planning, fundraising and participation of a chosen community project whist there.  He thought of the bike ride as something he could do akin to Shane Crawford’s inspiring walk from Adelaide to Melbourne to raise money for breast cancer. It was this which helped Lauchlan decide he wanted to sign up to raise money to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than himself.  Always one for adventure, Lauchlan loved the idea of travelling to Nepal with its extreme conditions, as well as the opportunity to experience a culture unique and so different from our own.

He soon learned how difficult it is to fundraise being a non celebrity or unknown!  The money was mainly raised through company sponsorships and individual donations.  Sadly, he was repeatedly knocked back by the big corporations who mostly send the standard email response ‘unfortunately we do not sponsor individuals.’  This is quite deflating for someone who is driven to a cause, however his never give up attitude was necessary to succeed.

Fortunately, a few local businesses got behind his efforts and believed in his ability to successfully carry out what most thought was impossible for his age having a lack of cycling experience.  For example, on his arrival at his first town, Mansfield Cycling Club kindly offered him the opportunity on arrival to set up at their registration sign on for a major weekend alpine ride, where fellow cyclists could donate money to Lauchlan’s cause. Opportunities such as these meant a lot, and was a great way to kick off fundraising for the World Challenge project at the conclusion of his long and painful ride on day 1. 

Telling us of the journey to Sydney, Lauchlan explains that the first and second days were the hardest. After Day 1, he couldn’t walk properly after getting off his bike, which is not surprising considering the first day started at the Melbourne CBD and ended in Mansfield, a 200 kilometre effort! But he says it became “progressively easier… I felt like I got stronger.” From there, he then travelled through areas like Beechworth, Junee, Young, Cowra and Bathurst and finally reached the Sydney CBD, where by then he was understandably relieved to have completed what he set out to, although body tired and exhausted.

Although his sports performance coaches warned there would likely be a slump in attitude around day two or three of such an endurance event, for Lauchlan, this depressive state did not come. His mother, who was with him throughout the journey, says he simply became “more and more determined”. He did have with him a “support crew” of his mum, his grandad and his friend Jake to help and encourage him along the way, and most importantly ensure his safety.

Lauchlan could not hide the smile on his face when modestly acknowledging the idea of being named the next Cadel Evans. Living in an area not far from where Cadel grew up, he is someone whose heights Lauchlan aspires to, particularly with his extraordinary achievements in the Tour de France. Some have labelled Lauchlan as the next Cadel, and this is a prospect he is certainly most eager to fulfil, being thrilled at such a comparison to his hero.

It’s easy to imagine the shock he received when he gained an invite to an exclusive ceremony hosted by Premier Ted Bailieu in Cadel’s honour with special guest Cadel himself! Lauchlan told us with a grin “it was pretty cool” to meet Cadel  and he was very excited at the opportunity. When his mum first came home with the news of his invitation to the event, apparently Lauchy could not believe his ears. His talk with Cadel is now all a bit of a blur, due to the excitement of meeting someone who he very much looks up to. An amazing night was topped off with the Premier mentioning Lauchlan’s solo ride fundraising efforts in his opening speech. Lauchlan was able to chat to Mr Ballieu who was well informed of all that Lauchy had been through, and showed genuine interest in his achievements.

Lauchlan assured us, most eagerly, that cycling is definitely something he is considering as a career. After returning from a long journey that required a lot of endurance, Lauchy explained he has now started looking towards racing as something to take up and has joined a local cycling club. Getting this glimpse of how motivated Lauchlan is in continuing the sport he’s come to love is very inspiring, and it’s easy to see his passion shine through despite his young age.  Lauchlan feels to be able to give back to others through something you happen to be good at no matter your age is very rewarding and satisfying in itself.

Endurance sport takes a lot out of a young growing body. After many months, Lauchlan feels he is almost fully recovered after his long journey, but there is no way that he has stopped riding! He continues to cycle in his spare time and says he also gets pleasure just from riding for fun. Recently he was awarded an ESS Athlete Development Scholarship, where he hopes to build on and develop his skills and abilities in cycling for future success.
Next year at school Lauchlan will be doing a broad range of subjects and apart from cycling he is considering sports science as a future pathway. “Fitting in training and school can sometimes be hard” says Lauchlan, yet it appears he is balancing his commitments very well.

An extraordinarily talented cyclist with a great amount to look forward to in his future, Lauchlan Denny is sure to be a success. He has already proven what fantastic heights he can reach simply by setting his mind to it, and shown that it’s important to give anything a go. Watch this space, as we have no doubt that one day we’ll be celebrating Lauchlan’s win in the Tour de France.

Words By: Annabelle Pendlebury and Joely Mitchell

Photos by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011


12. Ahmed Tohow

27 Oct

Ahmed Tohow has the extraordinary ability to bridge the chasm between two cultures encouraging understanding and mutual respect.  Having come to Australia ten years ago as a Somali refugee Ahmed has a spectrum of experience to draw upon.  He recounts his own childhood and the freedom with which he moved from place to place.  To a degree he despairs at the difficulty of raising his own children inMelbourne’s suburbs. Like many parents Ahmed is forced to recognise that his children are growing up in a vastly different world to that which he did.  Working to build an integrated community Ahmed is affecting change from within.

This journalist will happily admit to having a bit of a chuckle listening back to our interview and hearing Ahmed’s offhand comment that parents in Somalia had far less to worry about- “only wild animals” different to Australia where “you have to have a parent or guardian with your children at all times”.  For Ahmed and his wife, this new world presented challenges at first as the rest of his family remained overseas.

To the credit of Ahmed’s own upbringing his mother’s encouragement to give and to help has stirred in him a spirit of volunteerism.  The establishment of Dugsi is just one demonstration of his work to build a stronger community.  Dugsi is the product of lengthy observation of the challenges that were facing Somali youth attending Olympic Village Primary School. Dugsi is the Somali language word for school and is a volunteer run homework club for kids in the area.  Without the immense support of Olympic Village Primary School these programs would not likely operate and it is crucial that their contribution be acknowledged.

Language barriers and lacking confidence were two difficulties that Ahmed noticed were impeding his own son and some of the other children from participating at school.  Alongside studying Ahmed chose to spend time at the school helping out. Ahmed was then invited to step up to the role of Multicultural Liason Officer- working to bridge the gap between teachers and the parental community.

The origins of Dugsi brings to mind that old saying that ‘from little things big things grow’. Humble beginnings have since grown to attract up to150 students from prep to year 12.  Initially 2-3 volunteers ran Iqra ,a Saturday class to encourage reading and help Somali students to learn and practice Arabic.

The greatest breakthrough for the program has been the fostering of trust in the parent community. As Ahmed puts it much cultural misunderstanding between the school and parents can be broken down if the “hearts and minds” of the Somali community are won.  This must be done, he suggests, through fostering “trust and respect”.

Trust is one of the core elements of any community and a tool for bridging the gap between the Somali community- that Ahmed calls an “invisible community”- and the greater Banyule community.  The issues at hand are complex. Resettlement and the negotiation of two very different cultures present great challenges for migrant groups of East Africa.

Problems at home are not far from Ahmed’s thoughts either- provoked by an SBS news report the night prior to our interview he speaks of how “disheartening” it is to hear of the ravages of drought and famine over East Africa. He speaks too of his efforts to rally interest from local media to fundraise for this cause.

Ask Ahmed about the future of the young people that come through Dugsi and Iqra and you will be met with a mixed response. On the one hand he has high hopes for young Somalis, “a lot of the young women” he says “are educated and doing really well”. On the other hand Ahmed is pragmatic and speaks of the mentoring support that is needed to raise the potential of the young men and women to take full advantage of educational opportunities. 

In Ahmed’s exceptional hands a simple idea has grown to be a model for success.  Dugsi has succeeded in engaging and empowering not just young Somalis but also parents and community leaders.  Similarly, Ahmed’s message is a simple one.  If we can collectively take steps to uncover the hidden groups in our community and extend a welcoming hand then positive partnerships will form.  If Council and Banyule residents- young and old- work collaboratively then ultimately the future looks bright.

Words By: Anna Carrig

Photos by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011


11. Ashlea Michau

20 Oct

According to Ashlea Michau, there’s nothing like the thrill of going to see your favourite band and she should know-she’s been seeing live bands play for years. And now Ashlea has made helping youth through the music industry her job.

Ashlea was a high school student at Greensborough College. As a teenager she loved going to concerts to see her favourite bands play. She said “Nothing beats the atmosphere at a live concert.” I asked Ashlea,’ Did you always see yourself working in event management?’ She replied, “No. I once wanted to be a graphic designer.”

Ashlea started volunteering on Banyule’s FReeZA committee, known as FIAB,  in 2006. FReeZA is a Victorian Government program which supports young Victorians to get involved in community life by planning and running drug, smoke and alcohol-free music and cultural events for other young people. The program works with new and upcoming DJ’s and musicians, getting them publicity and opportunities to perform in their local area. FIAB is a group of 8-12 young people who organise events for youth in Banyule , including YouthFest which has been held at Macleod Park for the last two years as part of National Youth Week. Ashlea is the now the leader of FIAB after coming up through the ranks as a volunteer.  At the meetings with the FIAB she really gives her all and tries to get really involved in helping others.

Ashlea works with youth in Banyule on many other levels. As well as working with the FReeZA program, Ashlea works at the YMCA where she has been nominated for YMCA Leadership Awards.  One of her roles at the YMCA is a new project called ‘Moving Together’.

It is a peer support and leadership program for the schools involved with the regeneration in West Heidelberg. Ashlea says that  “Moving Together has been great to be involved with. It has had its challenges along the way but also has been very rewarding and fun as well.” She explained that it is good to listen and support the students. Ashlea has been helping the children go through the process of planning for a series of activities to celebrate the project and the move to the new school campus.

I asked Ashlea what she liked about working with young people. She replied, “I love working with youth. It’s heaps of fun and very rewarding. At times it can be challenging but this is what makes it exciting.”

Words By: Tyson Jardine

Photos by: Sean Porter

© Sean Porter 2011