Shaf is a Year 12 student from Narre Warren South P-12 College, in Victoria, Australia, who attended the 1.4 Billion Reasons for Youth presentation launch last year and since then has been raising awareness, fundraising, organizing presentations, and participating in Live Below the Line for the Global Poverty Project.
This blog is adapted from a speech Shaf gave at the City of Port Phillip's Education Leadership Breakfast about her role in the movement to end extreme poverty, and how the Global Poverty Project’s presentation inspired her to be a leader for the cause.
So we all know that there are things that we’d like to change. But why should it be up to us to make these changes in the first place? My name is Shaf and I’m going to share my experiences advocating for extreme poverty and why it’s important that we, as Generation Y, should contribute to our wider community.
In 2011, my friends invited me to accompany them to the Global Poverty Project’s 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation. I had never heard of the organisation or the presentation before, but I decided to attend all the same. So I ended up in Federation Square in Melbourne on March 19th and listened to speakers talk about the issue of extreme poverty, ending polio and more. On stage, the CEO, Hugh Evans, Australian of the Year, Simon McKeon, and other guest speakers took turns to explain why we should support the end of extreme poverty. That day, I was inspired and motivated to do whatever I could to help.
I started to buy “Fair trade” products and encouraged everyone at school to do the same. “Fair Trade” prevents farmers and workers in poor countries from being exploited and helps them earn enough money to give themselves some kind of pathway out of poverty. I plastered school walls with posters promoting the Live Below the Line campaign (which I’ll tell you a little more about later). I realised then that there was an enormous lack of awareness, at school alone, about the issue of extreme poverty. But I kept advocating for it because I acknowledged that, just by communicating, I had the power to make a change.
But talking about the issue wasn’t enough. After I consulted with my school’s Student Representative Council , we began fundraising for the Global Poverty Project. I was able to organise things like a ‘free dress’ day at school, a sausage sizzle and a ‘teacher vs. student’ dodge-ball competition. It took a couple months to reach our target, but the entire process was worthwhile. I learnt how to be committed, giving up countless lunchtimes. I learnt organisational and leadership skills from being in charge of planning and facilitating the dodge-ball event. I learnt to be persistent, despite numerous rejections from the school council. But most importantly, I learnt to take initiative and to take action, to seek what I wanted and to go for it.
Once we raised enough funds, I wanted the Global Poverty Project to inspire other students as it had inspired me, so I visited the Global Poverty Project website and organised for a 1.4 Billion Reasons presentation to be held at school. The presentation was brief but it made an impact, and that was what was important.
Fast forward to August 2011 – the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC) held its annual Congress involving high school students from all across Victoria. I was an executive member of the VicSRC at the time and invited the Global Poverty Project to advertise their cause by holding a stall at the event. I was able to gather a group of students who supported the cause, and together we attempted to pass a motion to have the government run some form of mandatory education on global issues at school. Although the motion did not carry, we received the opportunity to talk directly to the Minister for Education himself, and his acknowledgement meant that we were appealing to the wider community. I always believed that the youth have a voice but I was reminded that people want to hear it.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about Live below the Line. Live Below the Line is a challenge in which you have to live on $2 worth of food a day for 5 days. The challenge teaches resilience. Imagine nibbling on plain rice on a wet and cold night whilst someone else is enjoying a hot roast. Imagine being sick but unable to afford medication. Imagine living in poverty. Several of my friends who I’ve sponsored through this challenge have emphasised how lucky we are to be living in Australia with food in our stomach and shelter over our heads – this should be enough reason for us to fight for those who don’t share the same luck!
Generation Y has been stereotyped, particularly relating to drugs, alcohol etc. We can beat that stereotype when we show that we are capable of making a positive impact by volunteering or catalysing action for a cause, any cause.
I think that we can create a community when everyone pitches in. Get your peers involved, most of the time you’ll find people share the same ideals. And the next thing you know, 20 other people know about the cause, they start to contribute and then you’ve become a part of something important.
I find that, being a 21st-century teenager, it’s almost too easy to get wrapped up in a materialistic life with advancing technology and social dramas. When I began doing the little things I could to help end extreme poverty, I realised that there were more important things that needed my attention other than the next episode of Gossip Girl. Before I knew it, I was making a positive impact, not only on my community, but on myself.
We cannot be leaders by sitting back and watching the world go round. Lead by example because Gen Y has the potential. And when you work towards a cause, it can only better the community.