Introduction by Croakey: Showcasing an example of co-design and empowerment in practice, VicHealth’s CEO Dr Sandro Demaio shared the stage with Future Healthy champion Zahra Sufeeya at last month’s Giant Steps conference.
Demaio began their discussion by saying “health promotion is not about doing things ‘to’ people, but ‘with’ people” and then invited Sufeeya to discuss experiences of young Victorians during the previous two years in the pandemic.
Below, Sufeeya, a media student, elaborates on her experiences, the value of connecting with other young people and discusses her role as a VicHealth Future Healthy champion.
Zahra Sufeeya writes:
I’m proud to be a Future Healthy champion. It’s a chance for me to share my story and experiences across the community.
VicHealth’s Future Healthy program listens to – and works with – people who come up against more barriers to good health.
As a young Muslim girl, I want young people to know that their background, race, religion or gender should be represented, and their voice matters. I want them to know they are not alone, no matter where they are or what situation they are in.
I was super excited to move to Melbourne, Australia, six years ago when I was 15, but didn’t understand how big this change would be.
I found the art room at school to be a comfort zone where I could express myself and create meaningful relationships. This provided inspiration later in life to pursue media studies at university.
Last month, I joined VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio at the Safer Care Victoria’s Giant Steps conference.
Together we discussed what the past two years have taught us and broke down the benefits from putting young people in the driver’s seat.
Pandemic lessons learnt
The chaos of the last few years taught me that navigating a lot of changes on my own isn’t an isolated experience. While shifting from childhood to adulthood is terrifyingly messy and confusing, it’s all just a part of growing up!
The one thing that gave me comfort over this period was connecting with other young people . Especially those who migrated to Australia like I did a few years ago, those who often felt lost without much support.
I now realise just how powerful it is to exchange experiences and share beliefs with those around you.
I saw the power in reminding each other about our passions and hanging on to that desire to make a difference. Doing this meant we could overcome a lot, from disconnection and isolation to unstable environments. All the things the pandemic threw at us!
Encouraging other young people to get involved in conversations and engaging in these very discussions has shown me just how important and fulfilling communities can be.
Creating a healthier future for young people
There is no reason why we can’t apply these learnings in our community. I want to see more of a focus on community-based programs and initiatives – ones that work together with young people and their passions.
Why? Because it sends a message that every person living in their community is valued and heard. When governments and organisations sit down with young community members, we are given the chance to actually understand what they want and learn what resources or support they need.
That’s actually why I applied to be a Future Healthy Community Champion! Being a youth activist myself, I found Future Healthy’s vision aligns with my ambitions.
I couldn’t be happier being a part of diverse team of 13 other Community Champions across the state who are all united to ensure no young person is denied a future that is healthy.
To me, the Future Healthy vision is a declaration that every young person growing up is able to navigate their life in a safe and conducive environment. It’s about having the right resources and support to pursue their passions. It’s about making environments and experiences accessible for all .
Future Healthy is working with organisations right across Victoria to make a difference in local communities. And young people are involved at every step of the way, co-designing health promotion initiatives, speaking publicly (like I did at Giant Steps), and sharing their ideas for creating a healthier future.
It is investing in grassroots community organisations – like your local community garden, arts or sports club. This could be in a geographic area or for groups of people with similar challenges around being connected, active, or accessing food that’s good for you and the planet.
What can we do to achieve this vision together?
- Allow young people to be a part of the conversation. Remember, young people are not ignorant of the issues and crises that plague our society worldwide. Every young person, given the chance, would stand up for what they believe in and be part of the solution. By having open conversations with young people, we can build from this substantial scope of experiences and knowledge of what the community needs. We can tell you what moral ethics should be reflected. What concerning issues need to be addressed.
- Prioritise efforts that enrich the mind, body and soul. My friends and I agree that these programs work well in preventing a cycle that feeds into a negative overall wellbeing. Self-improvement, growth and discovery is the way to go!
About the author
Zahra Sufeeya is a young student navigating through her transitional period into adulthood. Pursuing her interests in media and advocacy, Zahra intends to use her talents to advocate on matters that are important to her such as mental health, climate crisis and health.
Watch Zahra’s Future Healthy Community Champion video.