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Alexandra Long

Alexandra Long is the Executive Officer of the Multicultural Youth Affairs Network (MYAN) NSW. A passionate social justice advocate, her experience spans the youth, settlement and education sectors both in Australia and overseas, with a focus on young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds. This is her story.

When I was 14, the genocide in Rwanda happened. It was the first time I was really aware of immense human suffering and seeing it in the news – as it happened. It confused me and as a young woman I struggled to understand how people could slaughter one another – their neighbours and friends – simply because of some perceived difference. My 14 year old self concluded that those responsible must have been denied an education and that a good education would solve the ills of the world. I think it was at this time that I decided to be a teacher.

I have always been an idealist – even now, though I know the solution is far more complex than universal education.

Fast forward 12 years and I started working as a language teacher in a Western Sydney high school. Many of my students had arrived in Australia as refugees from South Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq. They had endured so much hardship and yet it had not broken their spirit. They were motivated to learn and looked to me to teach them, and yet I was the one who learned. I adored them. Teaching was the hardest job I’ve ever done and, in many ways, the most rewarding. It cemented for me that working with and for young people was my calling. I have never wavered from it.

Being an advocate is challenging. I see injustices around me and I want the world to change. But change is hard and it means people have to share things – mostly power and money, neither of which people want to give up once they’ve become accustomed to having them. This is one of the challenges about advocating for young people – sometimes it’s hard to convince others that young people are so capable and that they should be involved in decision making that affects them. But when we make it happen – when power is actually shared with young people – well, they tend not to disappoint! The young people I work with at MYAN are so passionate, knowledgeable and determined to make the world a better place.

When I read the paper and see the myriad ways we are killing each other and our planet, when I wonder where our humanity has gone – I need only look to the young people I work with and I’m reminded that the future is in good hands.

Running MYAN NSW takes up most of my headspace at the moment. We’re a small team (it’s just myself and my part-time colleague Hannah), but together we get a lot done. We’ve got some exciting projects up our sleeves for 2018 and I’m really focused on growing our organisation to do even more amazing work.

But when I’m not working, I love learning languages. I have been learning Arabic for the past 6 months and am planning a trip to Jordan and Palestine next year. It’s definitely time for a holiday!

My advice is to learn about yourself and your culture. I often hear people say (and by people I mean other Anglo-Australians like me) that they don’t have culture. That how we live is just ‘normal’. It’s the default. But our culture, our customs, our way of life is not normal for everyone else who is not Anglo-Australian. We mustn’t say we don’t have culture. We have a very distinct one.

Lastly, and perhaps this should have been first, treat people and the earth with kindness. This is the most important thing.