An Interview with our Youth Rep, Laura John
You’d have probably heard by now that this years Australian Youth Rep to the UN is the well-deserving Laura John. The 24-year-old Melbournite has an impressive history of leadership roles and initiatives with the likes of the Oaktree Foundation, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and most recently Human Rights First in New York City, all the while completing her Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Law at Monash University.
Even at her busiest, Laura was happy to take some time and chat with us about the year ahead, how she stays motivated and her plans for the future.
Laura John: I’ve been lucky to work with several organisations at home and abroad. I started volunteering with the Oaktree Foundation, a youth-run organization committed to ending extreme poverty, when I finished high school and from there became involved with the Multicultural Multifaith Youth Network and the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
I’ve also worked with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and represented Victorian young people as the 2011 Young Member for National Youth Week. More recently, I’ve interned with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Human Rights First in New York City.
What attracted you to the UN Youth Representative Position?
LJ: The Youth Representative role is completely unique; there’s nothing quite like it in the country and around the world and only a handful of other countries run a similar program. This unique opportunity to represent my peers on the international stage and influence the global political agenda was what attracted me to the role.
What are you most looking forward to as part of the role?
LJ: I’m looking forward to meeting lots of inspiring young Australians and sharing their stories. It’s always been clear to me that there are many young people working in their communities to create positive change. Part of my role this year is to make sure that those young people get the credit they’re due and by doing so, empower other young Australians to take action on the issues they care about.
How do you maintain your motivation and passion for humanitarian work?
LJ: I have a wonderful support network of family, friends and colleagues who encourage me to keep pursuing my goals. Whenever things seem too much to handle, I turn to these people for support and a reminder of why we are working so hard to improve our world.
My Sri Lankan heritage is also a reminder of how lucky I am to live and be educated in Australia. I’ve received many wonderful opportunities that my family in Sri Lanka can only imagine. I know that I have to keep fighting for their sake and for all other young people. We all deserve the same opportunities to reach our potential, regardless of our place of birth.
I also like having a few motivational songs up my sleeve to get me pumped and excited. At the moment I’m loving Happy by Pharrell Williams – you just can’t help but bop to that one!
What areas of humanitarian work are you most passionate about and attracted to?
LJ: I’m passionate about the rights of refugees and the importance of upholding the UN Refugees Convention, which provides the framework for the protection of those fleeing persecution. Australians are generous people, many of whom have ancestors who came to this country and found a new home, which embraced cultural diversity and promoted tolerance. That’s the kind of Australia we should strive to be – one in which the values of compassion and generosity are at the forefront.
I am also firmly committed to gender equality – in the workplace and at home. Only when every young woman has the same opportunities, as young men will we have a society ready and able to tackle the contemporary problems of our generation. No one is going to tell me I’m not worthy because I don’t have a Y chromosome!
What are you hoping to achieve during your time as Youth Rep?
LJ: I want to meet as many young people as I can and talk to lots of not-so-young people about the great things we are achieving. I also want to empower young Australians to believe in their own ability to create change. I hope that young women and migrants in particular, can look at me and see that they are just as worthy as every other Australian, and none of us should be limited by our gender or the colour of our skin.
What would you like to do in the future?
I have wanted to be a human rights lawyer since I was 12 years old and that remains my goal. Next year, I will start work as a lawyer at the law firm, Australian Government Solicitor, and from there I hope to stay involved in human rights law. I also intend to keep working to empower young people to achieve their dreams, even when I am not so young myself!