Izabela Barakovska is a co-editor of UWA’s other bird-themed publication
Izabela Barakovska: Tell me about yourself!
Lucy Stronach: My name is Lucy Stronach, I’m 24 years old, born in East Fremantle and currently living in Perth! I am a very proud graduate of Criminology and Security Terrorism / Counterterrorism studies. I’ve just finished off my Honours in Law and Society at UWA, and I am the current Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations.
I’m a very strong advocate for social justice, particularly youth-based justice and advocacy. I’ve dedicated my entire career to working with young people in different spaces internationally, and have spent a lot of time working in the Asian and Indo-Pacific region. I’ve spent time living in Vietnam, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand — working with young people specifically from very marginalised, diverse and under-represented backgrounds. I’ve worked with kids in prison, homeless street children, young victims of human trafficking, young sex workers, youth leaders et cetera; it’s a diverse spectrum of young people but that’s where my passion lies. I feel very privileged to be the Youth Rep.
IB: How’s the tour going so far?
LS: Amazing. I find it very inspiring, though slightly overwhelming at times because of the sheer number of stories and experiences that I’m collecting, hearing, and processing. That’s not to take away from the fact that it has been the most incredible of experiences. Travelling around our beautiful country is a phenomenal experience, and I am very privileged to do that. But to have the opportunity to work with young people who are so open and honest with you about their struggles and experiences — about the issues they’re facing and what they’re concerned about — and I’m very privileged to be able to do that.
IB: What’s different about your tour compared to others?
LS: For my tour I really tried to take a solution-focused approach. The program develops year to year and has a focus that changes annually, and I’m not sure that we’ve taken a really hard-line, solutions focus before and that’s where I wanted to go with this. A lot of that I’d attribute to my background in criminology, where policymakers wouldn’t listen to academics and our policy recommendations, unless they were really evidence-based and solutions-heavy. My aim is to work with young people across Australia to identify, explore and solve some of the biggest issues that we’re facing, from pollution in a community lake all the way up to global gender inequality. We’re working on issues from the micro to the macro level, and actually focusing on solutions with a very dedicated template so that we can go to policymakers as a group of young Australians and show that we’ve not only discussed the issues, but we’ve come up with solutions that are going to work too.
IB: What are you finding the biggest challenge/barriers to your tour are?
LS: Surprisingly, I’ve managed to dodge COVID in every state and territory — I was lucky enough to finish off the Queensland portion of my tour before they shut down. Touch wood, I imagine this will change throughout the year but so far so good.
It can sometimes be pretty difficult to come into a space with a group of young people you’ve never met before and be an adult in a position of authority and have them open up to you — to ask them to be vulnerable about very personal matters, in an hour, can be very challenging. Building rapport almost instantly becomes very important. I have been pleasantly surprised that most young people are really willing to trust me with their experiences — which is incredible — but that can be very difficult with certain groups and certain young people. I think a lot of this comes down to the fact that young people are exhausted, they’re sick of repeating themselves — talking about what they’re concerned about and their experiences to adults in positions of power who don’t listen. In turn, I have to really differentiate myself from previous adults they may have spoken to, or authority figures who haven’t followed through with their promises or with action. It is really important that I do follow through with that, and that young people feel that they are being listened to, but that there is also action being taken on what they’re telling me.
IB: What do you think the biggest problems facing Australian youth are?
LS: From what I have heard, a lot of it comes down to the education system. There are obvious issues that young people frequently discuss, including gender equality, climate change, sustainability, lack of political representation of young people in politics, lack of diversity, racism, discrimination et cetera. What I found when talking about solutions was that we kept going back to the education system and how flawed it is as a system designed decades and decades ago which hasn’t changed since. We have so many gaps in our knowledge with what we’re learning as young people, and we know it. They want to see those gaps filled by robust sex education, by civic and financial literacy; by discussions on how to change a tire, pay your taxes, do your washing, get health insurance and navigate the health system, open a bank account et cetera.
What was really interesting that a young person brought up in one of my consultations was this idea that our sense of community has changed. Perhaps 50 years ago we had a stronger sense of community in terms of faith groups, the family unit etc. and for better or for worse things have changed. Now, we need to rely more heavily on the schooling system and education to be teaching young people these skills and build that sense of community, because now so many young people aren’t getting that from home, church, scouts or wherever they used to go to. As our community changes, our education system needs to as well.
IB: Why do you think programs like this are important?
LS: Because young people have a voice. They are very good at using it but it’s not often they’re being heard; whether it’s intentional or unintentional, they are being ignored and left out of decisions that directly affect them in their daily lives. A lot of young people can feel that without the right to vote or have a real tangible say in the policy that is being developed in our country, that they then can’t contribute to the process at all. Programs like the Youth Representative and the Listening Tour remind them that they have a powerful role to play, and that when young people work together, they can literally achieve anything. On various occasions on this tour I’ve had young people remark that they have forgotten how powerful we are and that we can create change by working as a collective, talking about the changes we want to see and pushing for that. That is something special that this program does — it talks to young people in a face-to-face setting and reminds them of the authority of their voices.
IB: What advice would you give to a young person looking to where you are and wanting to go into experiences like this?
LS: Go pursue what you’re passionate about. Most people assume as a Youth Rep that I have a background in international relations, politics or law — not criminology and counter terrorism studies. I have spent my life working with victims of human trafficking and poverty — years of doing what I’m passionate about and what I love doing. Loving my work and dedicating all my energy to it allowed me to achieve the goals I had set for myself in my career, and to develop an array of widely applicable skills accordingly. Instead of concerning myself with how much money I was going to make, how good my office would be or how quickly I could move up the ranks of a company — I concern myself with doing what makes me feel happy, passionate, and inspired. By doing that, indirectly, I developed the skills that have been instrumental to undertake a task like the Listening Tour and all the other work I do. When you do something you love and are passionate about, the energy you commit to a project is more sustainable, and the skills you develop come naturally.
IB: Who have you met that has had the most memorable impact on you on this tour?
LS: Definitely the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina J. Mohammed.
IB: How do people get involved?
LS: Anyone 25 and under from any background — as long as you’re a young person — can get in touch with me at [email protected] or via an expression of interest form on the UN Youth Australia website. Any specialty group, high school, youth council, bunch of friends that hang out together and skateboard and have opinions that you want heard — truly, we’re open to anyone and everyone.
More broadly, you can also get involved with UN Youth itself. It’s an amazing organisation that facilitates this entire program and I would absolutely recommend getting involved as a facilitator or delegate.
Image courtesy of UN Youth