“I want every child to have a safe environment where they can grow physically, mentally and spiritually and be able to live their lives to their full potential,” says Steve. “I have always wanted to make a difference in the community that I live in and I think one of the human rights that is being neglected is Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that children should have their opinions taken into account; most often children are just being told to obey and their voices are not heard.”

Steve (Vung Sian Muan), a current Year 12 student who began studying at Cyril Jackson Senior Campus in April, 2017, after arriving as a humanitarian refugee from Myanmar, has recently been appointed to represent the opinions and concerns of Australian children and young people as a UNICEF Young Ambassador. Steve was chosen, along with nine others, from 450 applicants across Australia, selected for their diverse life experiences and worldviews. Aged from 15 to 24, these ambassadors live in capital cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Perth) and rural areas (Mount Gambier and Gawler (South Australia); Coffs Harbour (New South Wales); Wodonga and Timboon (Victoria) and Gympie (Queensland)).

Making this difference will be possible for Steve as a Young Ambassador in this exciting and innovative program, which extends from July 2018 to June 2019, requiring these future leaders to directly consult with children and young people across this nation and, in an official report, present their views and concerns to the government in Canberra in 2019. Given that Australia has no funded national youth peak body, this platform for children’s rights is critical. Moreover, Amy Lamoin, (UNICEF Australia’s Director of Policy and Advocacy) reminds us of the important contribution children need to make to public policy because they have to live with the consequences of today’s decision-making well into the future.

The young Ambassadors prepared for their great responsibility, under the guidance of UNICEF (Australia) staff at their headquarters in Sydney, by completing five intensive days of skill-development in which they learned about children’s rights and the work of UNICEF, in both the Australian and international context. There was a focus on how to effectively consult with, engage and speak for their peers, as well as a demystifying of advocacy and government decision-making.

In addition, ambassadors attended the official launch of the programme in Melbourne led by Ishmael Beah, former Sierra Leonean child soldier and best-selling author of A Long Way Gone: The True Story of a Child Soldier (2007) and Radiance of Tomorrow (2014))  and who is currently UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and Ambassador for Children Affected by War.

Having traversed the continent, Steve and his fellow Young ambassadors will now undertake peer-to-peer mentoring, building their capacities in their own communities of children and young people. Following these consultations, the Young Ambassadors will report their findings to Parliament in Canberra, in 2019.

Simultaneously preparing for University in 2019 and advocating for children’s rights at local, national and international level, may appear to some of us to be daunting. However, by focusing on child rights issues in Australia, including the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and those from refugee and asylum-seeker backgrounds, as well as contributing to the development of a National Plan for all children in Australia, Steve will have the opportunity to exercise leadership, develop new skills in media, communications and government advocacy, attributes which will enhance any future career.

We are very proud of Steve’s achievements, including his voluntary assistance at our homework club! We also thank CJ teacher, Jeannie Stevenson, who has supported Steve throughout the whole process of his dream in becoming a UNICEF Young Ambassador.

Links:

SBS video on UNICEF ambassadors: https://www.facebook.com/UNICEFAustralia/videos/10156463000437457/

SBS News article:
https://www.sbs.com.au/news/unicef-ambassadors-join-global-fight-to-save-children