Inspiration for youth

Dunedin nursing student and co-founder of Sticks’n Stones anti-bullying campaigner Ashleigh Smith...
Dunedin nursing student and co-founder of Sticks’n Stones anti-bullying campaigner Ashleigh Smith speaks to young people in Dunedin yesterday. Photos: Gerard O'Brien
Ashleigh Smith’s dream is that everyone will be accepted and respected for what they are.

"It’s probably a goal I’ll never see in my lifetime," the 20-year-old co-founder of anti-bullying charity Sticks’n Stones acknowledged to a group of young people in Dunedin yesterday.

But that was no reason for them not to try, Ms Smith told those participating in a Youthline CocaCola Good2Great youth development workshop, the second in the city since the  Youthline-designed programme was launched nationwide last year.

In her  address, the final year nursing student and 2017 Queen’s Young Leaders Award winner emphasised the importance of young people being able to "accept yourselves and others for what you are".

She had a very happy and positive childhood in Naseby, the small rural town where she grew up. But at high school she felt incredibly lonely and socially isolated. And, when three schoolmates took their own lives, she felt "angry and sad and hopeless". It was the first time "something happened and I couldn’t fix it", Ms Smith said.

She had been taught by her parents to stand up for what she believed in, not to  complain about things she disagreed with but to do something to try to change them — "or shut up". And the importance of young people doing something  themselves about the things which affected them led to her co-founding the charitable organisation Sticks’n Stones with Karla Sanders, "a woman who came to our school talking about a stopping bullying campaign she had funding for".

"I found myself thinking ‘what if it came from us, not an adult, if young people were driving it’," she said.

Sticks’n Stones began with 30 young people around Central Otago and now had more than 500 around New Zealand in what, unexpectedly, had turned into a youth advocacy programme. Young people did not see themselves as experts.

"But you’re the only ones who know what it’s like being a young person growing up in 2018, so you’re the experts at being your age."

Her advocacy work took Ms Smith to London where she was one of 60 young people from around the world presented with a Queen’s Young Leaders Award by Queen Elizabeth. Meeting the Queen was something she never dreamed of at 15, when she was feeling "so sad and with nothing of value to add".

For her, "Sticks’n Stones" had connected her with the realities of life, Ms Smith said after address.

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