November 29, 2013

Guest contributions

Soaring across the flying fox, tackling rope courses and propelling across the giant swing is all within a weekend’s work for Fertunata Weldamariam. But life hasn’t always been fun and games for this bubbly 21 year old.

15 years ago, she left her home in war- entrenched Sudan with her family in search for greater opportunities in Melbourne. Fertunata pensively regarded her surrounds as she reflected upon her loss of cultural identity, as a result of leaving her home country. In order to fit in with those around her, she revealed, “our family had to adapt to become more Western”.

She further recalled her struggle with bullying in her early teens and losing her mother at the tender age of 13. “It was a really testing time for me,” she recounted. “My whole world kept on changing.”

Despite this, a real energy radiates from Fertunata, her bursting hand gestures and warm, inviting smile transcends the adversities she had faced in her childhood and early teenage years. Persuaded by the desire to enrich the lives of other adolescents who grew up “on the edge” and fringes of society, in February, Fertunata was selected as one of 14 young Victorians to be a part of the youth leadership program, Young Lions.

Established by the not- for- profit organisation Whitelion, the program was developed with a view to enrich the lives of vulnerable and socially marginalised young people across the state through camps and mentoring. “I desperately wanted to be involved so I could show [disadvantaged young people] that someone cares for them, even when it feels like there isn’t.”

Further, her involvement in Young Lions was also cause to help young people build upon life-skills and help find their own unique sense of self. “In our last Young Lions Camp, we organised activities like the flying fox and giant swing so that everyone could experience team work, support and friendship,” Fertunata described proudly.

Orchestrated by Fertunata and the 13 other Young Lions, a total of 45 young people attended the camp, across various regions and backgrounds in Victoria.

However, for Fertunata, being involved in Young Lions doesn’t only mean organising activities in camps. As her high cheekbones raised to reveal a small smile, Fertunata detailed the importance of her volunteering being entrenched in demonstrating leadership. “I’ve had amazing role models who have shaped me,” Fertunata described. It was through this that she saw it as a personal mission to share the same leadership to other young people who are not raised with the same benefits.

Relaxing back into her chair, she grinned as she recounted the day she saw one young person who attended one of the camps on the street. “Matt saw me, ran up to me and gave me a huge hug… it meant so much to me to hear that I helped him come out of his shell”.

Raising her hands to her heart, she further beamed as she described the rewards of volunteering among disadvantaged youth. “I love to see everyone get out of their comfort zone”.

To add to her achievements, earlier this month, Fertunata was further selected to assist at the Tasmanian National White Lions Camp, where staff and Young Lions nationwide collaborate in bringing young people together. “I am so lucky to have been selected,” Fertunata delightedly stated. “I volunteer alongside so many amazing leaders.”

In December, Fertunata will be graduating as a Young Lion from the year long program. “I have grown up with such amazing support and feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunities that I have…I want to share that with others.”

– Laura Lynch

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