The VicSRC (also known as the Victorian Student Representative Council, or by their lesser known title Excellent Young Human Beings) hosted their annual congress in early July. Held at the Hogwarts-esque Ormond College at the University of Melbourne, and attended by the Minister for Education Hon. James Merlino with more than 200 of Victoria’s most effervescent kids, the congress is a big deal.
Every year, students engage in interactive workshops and parliamentary style debate to determine their agenda for the next year. This year’s congress was abuzz with student voice in action.
On the last day, students looked towards ‘taking action’ by participating in a Q&A with three young social justice shakers. Oxfam’s own Schools Program Coordinator Annalise De Mel, CEO and co-founder of One Girl Chantelle Baxter, and Kevin Hawkins from Oaktree were quizzed on everything from how to organise a campaign, the challenges they’ve faced, and what to do about the naysayers.
Here’s the top take-home tips from the Q&A, complete with inspirational quotes for you to post up:
On the value of being young
“Young people are the forefront of this incredible change that’s happening in this world. They are more connected to the world than any generation before them.” — Annalise De Mel, Oxfam.
“Remember that there is real value in being young.” – Kevin Hawkins, Oaktree.
All of the panellists agreed that young people are in a unique position. They know what’s up, they’re more connected to issues than ever, and can take risks outside of the strains of an organisation. Here’s to tossing the deficit discourse around young people in the bin.
On how to take action
“Play to your strengths. Keep it simple. Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel.” — Chantelle Baxter, One Girl.
“Find yourself. Ask where do I sit? What is my power? Then work out from there how you can use your place to create change. If every student in Australia agreed to only buy fair-trade chocolate, the supply chain would literally collapse. A small action from every person can do as much or even more than big-action stuff like talking to politicians in Canberra.” – Annalise De Mel, Oxfam.
“Be your own volunteer. Organisations are great support structures, but don’t be afraid to go out yourself and make real change.” – Annalise De Mel, Oxfam.
Use what you’ve got – if you’re a good writer, a snappy public speaker, a flourishing artrist, or the sporty type, use that talent. While organisations are obviously stellar, young people can make real change by ‘being their own volunteer’. That might mean organising a creative campaign, lobbying decision makers through letter writing or social media, or making every day changes like buying fair trade and ethical fashion.
Tips for staying sane
“Ask for help. Otherwise, you will end up curled on the living room floor in the fetal position.” — Chantelle Baxter, One Girl.
“Don’t forget why you are doing it.” — Kevin Hawkins, Oaktree.
“Make a roadmap, write everything down, and assign tasks. But don’t be afraid if things change. They will!” — Annalise De Mel, Oxfam
Taking action – whether that means working on a campaign, creating a fundraiser, whatever it is – can be stressful! It can be tempting to be a control freak, but you need to ask others for help. And trust us, it will be even bigger, better and more effective with more involved – remember it’s after the power of people against poverty, not the power of person! The best laid plans will sometimes go awry, but as long as you are open to change and remember the why of what you are doing, you can’t go wrong.
On setbacks and challenges
“What you are going to come up against is yourself. We all have these thoughts and doubts, but ignore them. Face the fear and just do it anyway.” — Chantelle Baxter, One Girl.
“Be humble and keep learning. The challenges I experienced were when I thought I knew everything.” — Kevin Hawkins, Oaktree.
“At school you are taught not to make mistakes, but you need to give yourself permission to fail.” — Chantelle Baxter, One Girl.
Everyone had experienced professional setbacks, whether it was a failed campaign or a wrong career choice. But sometimes that’s where the magic happens – more learning! The biggest barrier can be yourself, whether it’s doubting your capabilities or becoming too comfortable. Challenges and mistakes are like growing pains – you might feel a temporary sting, but they’re part of flourishing into a better version of yourself.
On the ‘naysayers’
“It’s not your job to save them. They have stuff going on that you can’t fix.” — Chantelle Baxter, One Girl.
“The feeling you get when you hit the $1000 mark on your fundraiser beats a negative FB comment.” — Kevin Hawkins, Oaktree.
“Indifferent people usually don’t understand how they fit into the big picture, or are overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems, or they simply have other stuff to focus on. This is where your attention should be. Focus on the people whose minds can be changed. ” — Annalise De Mel, Oxfam.
People who mock yours or other people’s efforts simply aren’t worth your time. Someone calls you a social justice warrior? Just make like Taylor and shake it off. Some people won’t be swayed by your efforts, but others invariably will, and that’s where you can do good.
A special thanks to student representative hosts Marine Chu and Qais Sadat.
Oxfam’s Term Projects and Classroom Resources are full of active learning experiences for students – and they support them in making a positive difference in our communities and world. Access Oxfam’s resources for teachers online.