As is the case for many young people in Australia, I came to know about World Vision because of the 40 Hour Famine. For those who had the opportunity to attend this year’s Youth Conference as their first introduction to World Vision’s work they were certainly in for a treat.
Over the past few years as a World Vision employee I have heard many positive things about the Youth Conferences. With the new focus of this year’s 40 Hour Famine – the global displacement crisis, I was keen to experience the event firsthand and decided to attend World Vision Youth Conference being hosted in Melbourne at the start of June.
After a crash course in what it means to be a leader, the students were taken on a journey to better understand why 65.1 million people around the world are now displaced. It was hard not to feel a sense of despair watching poignant videos of children directly affected by the crisis. Learning that on average a refugee spends 17 years in exile was particularly shocking; especially considering that most students attending the conference haven’t yet had their 17th birthday.
The students were challenged to reflect on how our value structures are largely shaped by where we place our attention. By seeing the world through this lens, we can more easily understand how our choices are not always unbiased and can often be pre-determined by society’s view of what’s important. Equipped with this new level of understanding the students were asked how they see the world and in response, what they choose to do about it.
Over the course of the day we heard from five keynote speakers from difference walks of life who share a common drive to make the world a better place. Each of the speakers had a different perspective to offer based on their own personal experience.
Following an elaborate introduction to the conference from presenters Tim and Nash we heard Thenu Herath’s story about how a trip to India changed her life. During her Youth Ambassador trip, she met a young girl who had been unable to attend school for many months. By being exposed to one girl’s story she came to realise that each of the 60 million girls who can’t go to school around the world each have their own unique story. Still a teenager herself, I could tell that Thenu’s words resonated with the young crowd. Her entrepreneurship to launch her own feminine hygiene brand, Taboo was inspiring. The revenue from these products will be used to help girls in the developing World receive an education.
Our second speaker Abe Nouk had the audience in good spirits with his quick wit and good humour. He shared with us his definition of freedom – The ability to do whatever you want within a 24-hour period. His positive demeanour motivated the students to reflect on how they can make the most of the time and resources available to each of us here in Australia.
Co-founder of Thankyou Water Justine Flynn dared us to look not at our problems but at our possibilities. She touched on how having anchors such as friends, family and a purpose has helped her to navigate life’s obstacles and create a thriving not-for-profit company.
Lastly we heard from Saad Al-Kasaab, a Syrian Refugee who escaped a warzone to have a chance at a new life in Australia. Hearing his personal account of how his school was turned into an army base for snipers brought home the loss of liberty that all refugees face. Concluding in a panel the students had the opportunity to ask questions before they broke off into huddles to discuss their school’s plan of attack for the 40 Hour Famine Backpack Challenge.
Each of the students were gifted a copy of Daniel Flynn’s new book ‘You Have the Power to Change Stuff’ before being encouraged to return to their schools and use their voice to inspire others to join the challenge this August. My last memory of the Youth Conference was being cheered out of the auditorium by enthusiastic World Vision youth representatives. It was the perfect way to end an inspiring start to this year’s 40 Hour Famine journey.