Young social activist fights for marginalised groups in society
Neha Salahuddin of Mount Waverley Secondary College is a committed social activist, using her community service efforts to drive awareness and amplify the voices of others.
In 2015 Neha attended Cystic Fibrosis Community Care’s (CFCC) inaugural Leadership Development Camp, where she impressed the staff with her leadership qualities. Following the camp Neha contacted CFCC and offered her assistance. Since then she has been an ambassador for CFCC in her community, raising awareness about the condition at her school and fundraising over $1500.
For three years, Neha has organised and hosted Oxfam’s National Close the Gap Day at her school to raise awareness about indigenous health, employment and education. With her fellow senior level students she has spoken at assemblies, created posters, promoted the event on social media and organised challenges for students. Neha and her team have collected over 1100 pledges from students in support of the initiative.
Empowering others to speak up is important to Neha, who is creating an authentic student voice at her school. She has been a key driver of the Teach the Teacher program, delivering professional learning for staff based on student feedback, attitudes to school survey data and current educational research. In 2016 she was invited by the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC) to facilitate a session for Teach the Teacher at Dandenong High School.
Neha’s leadership has been widely recognised. In 2016 she was awarded the Sir John Monash Award for Outstanding Leadership, nominated for VicSRC’s Newsboys Foundation Youth Leadership Award and received the Pinewood Community Bank Leadership Award.
The VCAA caught up with Neha to learn more about her accomplishments.
How have you worked to raise awareness for Cystic Fibrosis?
After attending CFCC’s leadership camp I formed a sub-committee, which worked on organising a Cystic Fibrosis event at my school. I organised weekly meetings, communication within the group and wrote a plan for the event. To promote the event I spoke at every single year level assembly to make sure that the whole senior school got involved.
The following year, CFCC asked me to facilitate their leadership camp, where I got the chance to mentor a group of Year 10 students from my school. They went on to organise and run another successful Cystic Fibrosis event and it was a pleasure for me to support and guide them on their fundraising strategies.
Tell us more about your involvement in the Teach the Teacher Program and why is it important.
The Teach the Teacher program has allowed me to make a contribution across the college and get involved with students from other year levels. I worked with other student leaders to specify our goals for the program and plan a Professional Development Day. We hosted the day in August 2016 and it was an exhilarating experience to observe how students and teachers engaged in discussions about how they could work together to empower students through positive education practices.
I have also presented the outcomes of the Teach the Teacher Program as part of the Youth Leading Change undergraduate subject at the University of Melbourne, presenting to pre-service teachers about the importance of student leadership.
This year I am working with the Year 10s and Year 11s to improve classroom practice and student-teacher relationships. We are currently working towards our second Professional Development session of the year for staff, where they reflect on results from a student survey.
I believe the program is important because it empowers students to give feedback to teachers and it opens a dialogue between the two groups. Ultimately this can lead to a better learning environment that benefits both students and teachers.
What has inspired you to lead change and stand up for marginalised groups?
My grandfather has truly inspired me to be who I am today. In 2009 when I was 10 years old, I accompanied him to the district of Khulna, Bangladesh, where he was a Member of Parliament. We travelled there to work with the locals and assist Red Cross after Cyclone Aila had caused extensive damage to the community. We helped supply water purifying tablets and food and allocated a relief fund for the district.
Witnessing my grandfather working with the locals changed my life. He possessed an abundance of knowledge and passion for the welfare of society and people in need. Since then, I have aspired to effect and help people in the same manner as my grandfather.
What are your plans for the future?
This Summer I’m travelling to Dhaka, Bangladesh to visit my family. My Grandfather and I will revisit Khulna where I will meet with students at their largest public school. I’m keen on learning about their school experience and thoughts on student voice as I’m planning to implement a student voice initiative in Khulna.
Next year I’m planning on studying a Bachelor of Biomedicine and I will also be working at my high school as a mentor for younger students, helping them set goals for their learning.