Emily has always been an advocate for issues close to her heart.
Growing up in regional Victoria, Emily was passionate about global injustices and always believed young voices could change the world. At just eight years old, she organised a fundraiser to protect orangutans from losing their natural habitat.
Today, her passion for advocacy continues as a UNICEF Australia Young Ambassador. Each year the program provides youth aged 15-24 with a platform to speak up for children’s rights.
We caught up with Emily to reflect on her recent trip to Parliament House where she took the big issues to the Nation’s leaders alongside her fellow Young Ambassadors.
Hey Emily! In June, you brought the voices of children and young people to Parliament House in Canberra. From the Young Ambassador’s latest report ‘Children’s Voices in a Changing World’. What are the top three issues young people in Australia are worried about?
Emily: Young people clearly identified mental health as a major concern for themselves and those around them. While COVID-19 has had a significant impact, young people believe that it has only exacerbated pre-existing issues.
Climate change is still as one of their top concerns for the future. Young people recognised that if governments can react as quickly as they have to a scientists’ advice surrounding a global pandemic, there is no reason why we shouldn’t respond to another existential threat like global warming.
However, the overarching theme for the report is children and young people wanting a genuine way to participate in change-making. They want to be recognised as agents of change in all social issues.
Youth take over Canberra
What was a highlight for you from the trip?
Reconnecting with the other Young Ambassadors was immensely fulfilling. We have worked together for two years now all whilst being separated by a computer screen. It was like any family reunion where you haven’t seen your favourite cousin for what seems like forever.
We were walking down the corridor to meet with Minister Tehan, (Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment) and I realised the significance of the moment. I was donning my bright blue UNICEF T-Shirt meaning I stood out amongst the business wear of parliament. While walking down the corridor, we had various MPs and advisors talk to us after meeting with myself or some of the other YAs.
Even if only fleetingly, our report and program was a platform for young people to become interwoven within government. It felt like we were fulfilling our promise to these young people.
You spoke to countless children and young people in 2020 about issues that matter to them. Is there one story that has stayed with you?
While speaking to a class in New South Wales, one student spoke of the difficulties she was experiencing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. She had family in Zimbabwe but had struggled to have consistent contact with them during lockdown. At the same time, she was completing Year 11 and helping her younger brother through online schooling. I believe her story stayed in my mind as she embodied the unseen struggles of young people during a global pandemic.
"Young people have a voice and must be allowed to use it as ultimately, they are the experts of their own lives."
What was 2020 like for you?
Like everyone, 2020 has required an extreme amount of adaption and flexibility. The transition to online school while I was completing Year 12 was initially difficult. However, it made it somewhat easier to juggle my commitments. I am one of the few that has thrived learning and working from home. My teachers were very accommodating and allowed me the flexibility to complete my schoolwork around my Young Ambassador commitments.
What is one change you’d like to see for children and young people in Australia?
I would like to see young people from around Australia have their voices heard and not dismissed because of their age. Young people can lead movements and just because they are effectively using their voices does not mean they are complaining or whining but simply wishing to be heard. Young people have a voice and must be allowed to use it as ultimately, they are the experts of their own lives.
What are your plans for 2021?
I am taking a gap year to work at my local council. After 2021, I will be attending university to study international and security studies. After last year, I think everyone needs some time for themselves, so hopefully I will have the chance to start a new, exciting chapter in my life.
Learn more about the Young Ambassador program here.
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