ChilOut's 2015 Youth Ambassadors
Mohammad Ali Baqiri
Mohammad Ali Baqiri fled Afghanistan to come to Australia by boat as a 10-year-old unaccompanied child in 2001. He spent nearly three years of his life in a detention centre on Nauru under the Howard government. He now volunteers his time to raise awareness about refugee issues by speaking at universities, rallies, schools and forums. He challenges government immigration policies in the hope that all asylum seekers are allowed to live in the community while their claims are being processed. Mohammad Ali is in his final year at Victoria University completing a double degree in Law and Business.
Sarah Yahya was born in Iraq belonging to a minority religion, Mandaeanism. Due to the intensified persecution of minorities, Sarah fled Iraq in 2000 with her young sister and mother. She was only 5 when she arrived in Jordan and lived there for almost 7 years awaiting a visa from the United Nations to Australia. Sarah and her family arrived in Australia in 2007 and she is now a student at University of Technology Sydney studying Journalism and International Studies. Among other achievements, she was recently selected for the 2015 Multicultural Youth Premier’s Youth Medal and was also the winner of the Rotary International Annual Youth Awards and 2015 Young Citizen of the Year. She is currently a youth councillor, a headspace youth member, Mandaean community youth member and part of Multicultural Youth NSW’s Steering Committee.
Leith Firas Naji
Leith Firas Naji is studying a combined Law and Communications degree at the University of Technology Sydney in an effort to get into a career in international affairs specialising in human rights. Leith was born in Australia, along with his older brother, but his parents and elder sister were born in Iraq and came to Australia seeking asylum in 1994. After his parents came to Australia, Leith was inspired by their community activism and support for asylum seekers to do more to help people seeking asylum, particularly children.
Zoe Grant grew up in Indonesia where she fell in love with different cultures and people. This led her to study a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Applied Psychology at a university in Sydney. She became aware and very passionate about refugee issues in Australia in 2012 and since then has been advocating for their rights. She has been involved in #LoveMakesAWay, letter writing and organising large events to educate Australians on the issue and to get our politicians to see that change needs to happen. Especially through her studies, she understands how holding children in detention is psychologically damaging and inhumane and is determined to fight for change.
Wathnak Vy arrived in Australia in late 2012 from Cambodia. While he was in year 11, in 2014, two of his close friends were removed from community detention and transferred to Inverbrackie Detention Centre in Adelaide. A team of immigration officers and federal police came to take his friends away just after school had finished and, at 3am the next day, Serco security guards took them to Wickham Point Detention Centre in Darwin. Wathnak was really upset by this and became one of the team '#TwoTooMany’ who organised online petitions and national rallies which gathered media attention including on mainstream television and local radio. Wathnak was recently elected as a Multicultural Youth Leader in South Australia and is the first Cambodian in Australian history to win the Governor's Multicultural Award in the youth individual category.
Sahana Balachandar was born in Sydney to Sri Lankan immigrants who fled persecution to come to Australia in 1989 seeking a better and safer life for their family. Her parents were victims of the 40-year Sri Lankan civil war and faced discrimination and violence in Sri Lanka. Now in Sydney they actively fight for human rights in Sri Lanka. Growing up with this example, Sahana became passionate about human rights and justice for marginalised groups. She has participated in many protests, campaigns, charity events and fundraisers over the years. She recently screened a war crimes documentary called “No Fire Zone” at UNSW and worked with the director Callum Macrae, a UN former spokesperson and Amnesty International chairperson. Sahana now tutors children who have been released from detention and have missed years of proper schooling and are struggling at school.
Salvatore Aljaidi is a year 11 student at Mosman High School. He recently moved back to Sydney from Bali where he was involved in TEDxUbud, handling participant experience and communications. Prior to that, in 2013, Salvatore was working for APEC, at their leaders’ meeting, as an advisor’s assistant. In 2011, he started volunteering for the Sumatran Orangutan Society and has since become a junior ambassador. Salvatore hopes to be a social entrepreneur and is interested in studying international relations/law after high school. Salvatore is passionate about the issue of children in immigration detention and believes that children seeking asylum deserve a childhood just like every other child – filled with hopes and dreams, laughs and good times.
Barbara David, from Waterloo, is an engineering student at the University of NSW. Her work with refugees and children started back in 2011 as a volunteer and she has since continued organising weekend activities with refugee children and homework help classes. Barbara's strong passion for refugee and asylum seeker children comes from travelling and seeing the poverty and discrimination faced by minority groups. She hopes to convey the message to other Australians that these children are innocent and deserve a proper childhood and opportunities which all other Australians have, and hopes that they will all soon be released from immigration detention.
ChilOut Youth Ambassador Alumni
Bashir was only 15 when he fled Afghanistan and travelled to Pakistan alone. After spending six months in Pakistan he flew to Thailand from where he began the dangerous journey by boat to Australia. After barely surviving the journey Bashir was taken to Christmas Island where he was detained for three months.
Najeeba arrived in Australia from Afghanistan by boat and was detained as a child in the Curtin Detention Centre in 2000. Since being a ChilOut Youth Ambassador she has also been an ambassador for Amnesty International and Welcome to Australia. She heads up the Hazara Women's Association and in 2010 was a finalist of the Young Human Rights Medal Award. She went on to study a Bachelor of Medical Science.
Over the years we have had many fantastic Youth Ambassadors work with us. They include Mohsin, Ahmed, Hussain, Mujtaba, Azeena, Bonne, Nooria, Fabienne, Hannah, Joan, Krystal, Reza, Zahra.