ChilOut’s Youth Ambassador program began in 2004 and was revived again in 2012. Our Youth Ambassadors are former refugees, detainees and young Australian people – all united by a desire to see an end to the indefinite detention of children seeking Australia’s protection.
ChilOut is proud to present ten very talented and inspirational Ambassadors for its 2016 program:
Back row left to right- Hilal, Javid, Divya, Vijhai, Sally A. Front row left to right- Sally Y, Gulnaz, Hasina, Shannon, Heba.
Hilal Tawakal was born in Pakistan and arrived in Australia in December 2014. He currently lives in Sydney with his family and is in Year 12 at Holroyd High School in Merrylands. His parents fled to Pakistan due to the ongoing war in Afghanistan and he remembers growing up with insufficient food and shelter. His family was eventually granted refugee status and given a visa to come to Australia. After arriving in Australia Hilal says his English skills were poor and he hardly spoke a word of English. However, over time, he has become much more comfortable and has fully adjusted to his new environment. He is very grateful to Australia for the educational opportunities he has been given and for allowing his family to call Australia ‘home’.
Gulnaz Beg fled Afghanistan with her family in 2000 and travelled to Australia by boat at the age of four due to intensified ethnic and religious persecution in her country. She spent a brief time in Curtin Detention Centre under the Howard government and was then given a temporary protection visa for 5 years. Coming from a refugee background, English was a barrier for her to reach her full potential when she was younger and she has developed a tremendous desire to assist other refugee children. In 2015 she was the recipient of the New Colombo Plan Scholarship – travelling to Indonesia for an interdisciplinary field school. In 2013, she was the recipient of the Refugee Youth Awards for Community Leadership in Western Sydney. She is currently a third year science student at the University of Sydney.
Shannon Hubert grew up in Darwin in the Northern Territory and has a passion for social justice, human rights, law, policy and international affairs that led her to study International Politics and Criminology at the University of Melbourne. Shannon was born in England and came to Australia when she was almost four. Although she did not flee persecution or violence, she says she has never been made to feel she did not belong in Australia, and believes others who are leaving their home countries to seek safety should not feel excluded either. Shannon hopes to be able to educate and show her own community of Darwin that there is more to the story of asylum seekers, refugees and detention centres than what is commonly conveyed through the media and public discourse.
Javid Jafari was born in Iran where he spent most of his life but due to his Afghan heritage, he never received Iranian citizenship. While living in Iran, he encountered a lot of discrimination and racism. He arrived in Australia in late 2013 and is currently in year 12 with the aim of being accepted into dentistry at university. Mohammad Javid has volunteered in various charities and organisation such as Rotaract, Rotary, Cancer Council, Migrants Resource Centre and Afghan Youth of South Australia. Although he is not yet perfectly fluent in English, he believes that language cannot stop him from chasing his dreams. He applied to become a ChilOut Youth Ambassador to be the voice of the voiceless children in immigration detention centres. He believes that all children deserve education, freedom and happiness and that releasing children from detention centres will help to build a brighter future for Australia.
Sally Andrews is 22 years old. She comes from Wisemans Ferry in rural New South Wales and studies Law and International & Global Studies at the University of Sydney. Sally speaks fluent Indonesian and was recently chosen as a New Colombo Plan Scholar and the 2015–2016 Indonesia Fellow by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She is a Director of the West Papuan Development Company and the Indo-Pacific Fellow for Young Australians in International Affairs. Sally is a lifelong member of the Uniting Church in Australia and is passionate about the rights of refugee children. She is particularly interested in refugee policy from the viewpoint of Indonesian and Melanesian politics.
Vijhai Utheyan was born to Sri Lankan Tamil migrants who migrated to Australia fleeing persecution in their home country. From a young age, Vijhai began protesting the discrimination and violence perpetrated by the Sri Lankan government. He and his parents became active in the growing movement within Sydney to bring attention to these atrocities by coordinating protests, running fundraisers and building awareness. Since then Vijhai has been involved in local Tamil youth groups which have conducted activities with refugee children. Now a law student at the University of Technology Sydney, Vijhai hopes to focus on the critical issue of children in detention; making it the foremost concern of all Australians.
Hasina Reza was born in war torn Afghanistan where she was the first child of a newly wed Afghani couple who had seen the horrors of war. Her parents were sponsored by relatives in Australia and migrated to Australia in early 2001 where they started a new life, free of war and violence and were eventually accepted as Australian citizens. In 2010, Hasina travelled to Afghanistan for a three-month holiday where her vague memory of the country was relinquished with new thrilling and saddening experiences. After her first hand experience witnessing poverty and seeing war stricken families, Hasina has been inspired to work towards creating a more peaceful and accepting world. She currently volunteers at an aged care home and is in her second year of journalism at university.
Sally Yahya is a former refugee who fled Iraq with her mother and sister in fear of prosecution, and belongs to a minority religion called Mandeanism. They waited in Jordan for seven years for a visa until they came to Australia in 2007. Sally struggled deeply with her identity upon arrival in Australia because everything she knew had been a false barrier for protection. She was deeply inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. in primary school and decided to pursue public speaking as a hobby. Later in high school, this evolved into advocating and she proudly took on the role of representing her peers by joining the student leadership council. Sally is currently in year 11 and uses her voice because she believes the voice is the greatest weapon given to humankind.
Divya Kaliyaperumal is a passionate Law/Commerce student at Australian National University in Canberra. Upon commencing her studies she made a decision to dedicate her legal skills and education to fight for justice. She is passionate about children's rights in particular because she believes that every child deserves a childhood. She was lucky enough to have had a safe and enriching childhood in a beautiful country like Australia and says children should not be subject to the inhumane conditions seen in Australian detention centres. Given how important her childhood was to her and her own personal growth, she would like to contribute to the movement against children in immigration detention and help restore what is left of their childhood.
Heba Niem is a first generation Australian, born to Syrian migrant parents who are a part of a generation that, in the face of adversity, sacrificed everything to move to Australia for the benefit of their children. For this this reason, amongst many, she has grown to understand the reasons why people flee their homes to seek freedom and refuge. Heba is currently in her second year at UTS, studying Law and International Studies. Last year, she was elected as the 2016 UTS Students Association’s Women’s Officer and as a 2016 UTS Equity Ambassador. Heba believes we need to collectively strive for equality and wants to be a voice for children who are currently in detention. She says that children should be afforded the opportunity to experience the joys of childhood, which does not include being trapped behind a barbed wire fence.
ChilOut would like to thank the Planet Wheeler Foundation, Australian Communities Foundation and Mercy Foundation for their generous support of ChilOut's 2016 Youth Ambassador Program. The Ambassador Program will not be the same without your support!