Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network’s (MYAN) latest project ‘Codebreakers’ launched in July 2021 with their inaugural workshop ‘The Social Contract’. The social contract explored the relationship between mindfulness of self and connecting with our personal and social narratives. Codebreakers engages Western Sydney youth in conversations about race, identity and belonging in the world of social media, creating spaces for skill and network building across western Sydney, colloquially known as The Area. MYAN’s decade and half long impact across Australia as a non-profit advocacy body has seen them establish government policies and practises that promote the rights and interests of migrant and refugee youth.
The workshop prepared western Sydney youth for mindful storytelling, enabling them to connect with themselves through guiding them to engage with their core values and expressions of self. In the ‘International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health’ (2020), public health researchers William Mude and Lillian Mwanri, who notably write about the experience of African youths in Australia, state that that those who are immigrating to Australia can obtain similar rights to citizens and access to services, many “experience difficulties in connecting with Australian culture due to experiences of exclusion and cultural difference” and their experience is that of being ‘guests’ in a foreign country. They further explain how understanding and expressing one’s identity is an important process for migrant and refugee youths to “construct realistic ambitions and reasonable ideals for themselves, develop a sense of free will and self-efficacy, and form a secure perception of self.”
The workshop touched on these ideals by engaging participants in self-expression activities, such as sharing the origin story of their names and listing the turning points in their lives. It was facilitated by Codebreakers Officers Naz Sharifi, Cosmin Luca and Bayan Sohailee, with the second half delivered by award-winning Afro-Australian filmmaker, Hawanatu Bangura. Her collaborative web series, ‘Afro Sistahs’, a short form dramedy exploring the intersections of hair, culture, race, gender and love won her best direct at 2018’s Made in the West Film Festival.
The workshop topics sparked deep conversations about self and belonging, asking attendees to reflect on what self-acceptance and good storytelling entailed. The 20 attendees, including myself, were provided with a values workbook that listed key messages about discovering our core values and examples of turning points in our lives.
Harpreet Kaur Dhillon, one of MYAN’s Youth Ambassadors, described the Codebreakers workshop as a reflective safe space, where no one was talking down and there were opportunities for vulnerable conversations.“We delved into what creates a safe space, not just on the surface but getting into the depth of it.”
Harpreet, who is of Indian Punjabi background, has long been engaged in youth activism, particularly as a staunch advocate for gender equality, racial justice and mental health. She was the recipient of the 2020 NSW Young Volunteer of the Year and at 17, was selected as the United Nation’s youngest Australian civil society delegate to attend the UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York. She is also the Director at the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights.
It reminded me of when we were doing our personal statement toward the end, the story of your name, the journey and values of what led to the most extreme point in your life. I agreed with Dhillon when she said, “Turning that into a personal mission was powerful.”
Codebreakers, which is funded to run for 12 months, also provides an avenue for young artists and writers to submit their work to be showcased at the end of the project. It is open to anyone aged 16 – 29 who aren’t engaged in existing services. You can access more information about the project and get involved via their website, and see submitted work on their instagram.
Codebreakers is supported by the Western Sydney Community Forum, Multicultural Youth Affairs Network (MYAN NSW), Blacktown Youth Services Association (BYSA), and funded by Multicultural NSW.