Meet Our Panelist Aza

Year 12 was supposed to be the best year of Aza’s life, a year of hard work and study, mixed in with time for having fun and enjoying the ‘rites of passage’ that come at the end of your high school education.

For Aza, as for so many young Australians commencing their final year of school, the year 2020 has turned the world upside down as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

“Year 12 has been a very stressful year, everyone says it should be the best year of your life, yet there’s not as much interaction and engagement with online learning which is really impacting my motivation and I get sick of it,” says Aza.

Despite the challenges of doing VCE during a pandemic, Aza has stayed focused on her goal to study criminal law. She is inspired to become a force of change, especially when it comes to the way the media portrays the issues with African youth in Melbourne.

“Most of the media coverage focuses on young Sudanese gangs on the streets, but they never share the positive things that the Sudanese community is doing to address violence.”

“These stereotypes impact our whole community. It’s an unfair justice system that needs positive change,” says Aza.

An area of great passion for Aza is the barriers facing young Sudanese women and the role that they play in the community.

“Often girls are the first to graduate in the family so there is increased expectations that they will do well, pressure to get a high ATAR and be a role model for their siblings.”

“Girls also take on more responsibility in the family, cleaning the house, looking after the siblings,” says Aza.

Despite these challenges, Aza says that women in her community are truly inspirational and she looks up to her mum, respecting the strength and courage that it took for her to flee war-torn Sudan and build a new life in Australia.

Aza is also inspired by stories of Muslim women like Ilhan Omar – one of the youngest members and the first woman to wear a hijab in the US Congress.

“There are lots of stereotypes about Muslims in America. It’s great to see women like Ilhan Omar in Congress.”

Aza was selected to join the Les Twentyman Foundation’s EMBRACE program last year, after being introduced to the program through playing for the Foundation’s basketball team and described the EMBRACE program as opening her eyes to challenges faced by kids living in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

“The EMBRACE program has taught me about leadership, how to be a good leader,” she says. EMBRACE has also helped Aza to navigate some of the issues that are experienced by young people today.

“Social media plays a big role in setting standards about how women should look. Influencers and rappers are creating these expectations about body image and appearance.”

An advocate to end violence against women, Aza says that schools need to teach young people about respectful relationships in an engaging way.

When asked, what would be the one piece of advice she would give to her younger self? Aza answer was to “Enjoy life and don’t stress about school because you’re going to make it. You’ll make it to Year 12!”