This is a transcript of YACVic’s podcast, ‘Locked Down, Speaking Up!’, part of the ‘Learning from COVID-19’ series. Listen below or wherever you get your podcasts.
This episode of Locked Down, Speaking Up was recorded on the Lands of the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation. Youth Affairs Council Victoria pays our respects to Elders past and present.
♫ Upbeat intro track plays – ‘Far Away’ by MK2 ♫
What do you think it takes to start and run a non-profit organisation? If you’re a young person, could you imagine yourself running one for your local community?
This is YACVic’s podcast Locked Down, Speaking Up. I’m Katia, I use she/her pronouns, and together we meet different young people sharing how they’ve been doing advocacy, activism and making change during the pandemic.
Speaking up today is Ashvina, who uses she/her pronouns. Ashvina grew up in Melbourne’s south-east, an area that has a thriving culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) community. She kind of just assumed that because of the diversity of the area, the supports available would be tailored to the people living there. As she got older she realised this wasn’t quite the case, so when the pandemic started she knew she wanted to come through for her community. Ashvina got her friends together and started cooking meals to deliver to CALD folks in the area, which has since turned into her volunteer organisation COOK4CALD.
The pandemic has been disheartening and stressful. For a lot of young people, that’s meant we don’t have the same energy that we did pre-pandemic to speak up or take action on things that matter to us. But that’s also turned our ideas of what real and valid action can look like inside out; a lot of young people have gotten creative about what activism can mean for our needs and our communities.
Today, Ashvina’s going to share how she went from having no formal experience in the social sector to running her own non-profit, what it means to support your own community, and how you can do it too!
My name is Ashvina, I go by she/her pronouns and currently reside on Wurundjeri Land. I'm also the founder of COOK4CALD. I graduated from my Bachelor of Health Science last year in 2020. I took an interest towards social health and making an impact. One of my assignments was towards being able to bring about social change to a group of people, like you choose your demographic, and you choose the council area that you want to focus on. So I chose the City of Casey and I chose the CALD community because I figured that due to the City of Casey being so multicultural, that that would be an easy one. Because I've grown up there, and it's so multicultural.
And to my surprise, there was like none; there was no prominent CALD figures in City of Casey. And if they were, they were severely underfunded, so you wouldn't find them if you were just looking for support on a general daily basis. Obviously, being a research task, I did find some but it was bare minimum. It just really surprised me, especially how multicultural City of Casey is, for people who come there to have a better life from so many countries of the world to have no support put in place whatsoever.
It definitely planted a seed in my head. And then when it came to COVID, and I had a lot of time on my hands, I wasn't working, I'd finished uni... I was like, what do I do with myself? And I remembered this whole project that I'd thought of in the back of my head, like it's always been there. And so I started doing some research on like, what actually are the numbers? Like, how many people migrate here every year? Because yeah, I could say that it's super multicultural. But maybe it's not; maybe that's just my perspective, because I'm from a different background.
Turns out we are very multicultural, and we're growing so rapidly that even just mainstream supports are starting to get a bit unstable. So if the mainstream supports are becoming unstable, imagine the CALD-specific support.
With the different types of funding that the government were giving - like Job Keeper, Job Seeker - those are things that people with a citizenship or had a permanent visa, et cetera, were entitled to. But not those such as international students, migrants, asylum seeker - anyone that's not considered 'Australian' as such on a legal and technical basis.
And to see a lot of the international students that I know suffer through dropping off from jobs because they're the cheapest, they're just 'disposable'... Whenever it comes to minorities, it's like, whenever the majority is suffering, the minority is suffering by tenfold. I don't know anyone that didn't suffer through the pandemic, but there's someone doing it a lot worse. And feeling that I was in a position where I could help, that kind of catalysed it for me.
You know, I don't have the experience or power, to be honest, to be able to make a massive thing of social change. But to be able to start somewhere, I think that was what really pushed me to make this a bigger thing. I was like, I can do something, like I can do research, I can figure out what I can do. Start from contemplation stage and move forward. It was really just knowing that I'm in a position of power and to know that I can, and I have the time to help others. I was like, what's stopping me, really? What's stopping me? And knowing that people were just losing jobs left, right and centre, including not just CALD people, but youth as well. And if they don't have that income, how are they surviving?
I just got a group of friends, I was like, hey, I had this idea, what do you think? And they were all on board to support me in making that a reality. We did some recruitment through Instagram. I was just like, 'oh, like if anyone wants to help out,' nothing super formal. Ended up having 55 volunteers over summer from December to February. And so it was a weekly thing, and we were averaging at over 80 meals per Sunday that we ran. It grew so fast and it became something that I never thought it would.
The way I pictured it in my head initially was, we'll just meet up in a kitchen that we can be COVID-safe and we'll just go around to like different places around the area that's super populated, and just hand out food. But then it became really hard because I was like, people who need support might not be out and about. They might be at home. So we had volunteers to cook and volunteers to drive and it was all free. Everything was free, and everyone was doing it out of the willingness of their heart.
It was super cool to see how much my friends and also external strangers at the time, were willing to just pick up anything and do what they could to help their community. Because I feel also like, youth get such a bad rap when it comes to that stuff. Everyone was under 25 and just there because they could be.
It’s really cool how Ashvina saw a problem, then found something in her power to do about it, using the resources accessible to her. Ashvina’s been super open to learning as she goes – doing her own research, speaking to people in community, and reflecting on her own experiences. Let’s hear what skills she thinks have been important to making COOK4CALD a success.
I think just in general, I'm a massive talker. Like, I love to have a chat. I love to learn about people's lives, and I love to help in any way I can. And that's just kind of how I've been brought up.
And then networking has been like the biggest thing in being able to make this thing a success. Talking to so many people and learning so many things about the community that I had no idea about because I generally don't have a background in council or other not-for-profits, et cetera.
But also social media. I gained all this traction for COOK4CALD off social media. I have been someone that's been online for, let's say most of my teenage life. Those are skills that you just pick up without even realising the skills. That's how I did my recruitment - through Instagram. That's how I did my orders - through Instagram. Those in vulnerable communities do have social media; it could be a lifeline. I really want to emphasise the use of social media in a good way because I feel like it's always been put in a really, really bad light. But when used correctly, it can really change lives.
Other than that, I would say coordination. And then having to also be able to be in line with COVID restrictions on making sure the number of people who are in the kitchen and within the space are at the capped amount and making sure social distancing. We had a really small kitchen as well, because obviously, I didn't know where to look or what to do. I just took the first option I could find and that was available for us for the whole time. So it was really small; we struggled with that a little bit.
But I would say it was a great success based on the fact that none of us had any kitchen experience in the terms of like cooking full on meals. It was like butter chicken, roti, Hokkien noodles, we had Thai red curry, we had paella. And they were all based on a nutrition analysis done by my two friends who study Nutrition Dietetics in uni.
We did everything as properly as we could. But the biggest issue was trying to figure out what that meant, like, what are we allowed to do legally? What are we not allowed to do legally? Because no one tells you this stuff; there's no book on how to do a not-for-profit! It's definitely proven to be a challenge, but super interesting to learn from experience. It's so different to learn something off a textbook or have someone teach you, but to learn literally every single day - I've just been picking up on skills that I haven't even realised that I'm picking up on. And being able to take those life experiences into actions and making action based on the things that you read and see and hear.
I really love that point about turning life experiences into actions – it’s one thing that makes young people so powerful! We’re experts in our own experiences, and also in our own environments. We live our communities every day – maybe never more so than in the last two years – and they’re ours to speak up and take action in.
You don't do things for the feeling of reward. But it definitely feels different when you're helping out the community that you've grown up in. Like I made this so specific to be a home. Everyone who helps out has familiarity with the area, whether you went to school, whether you just go to Fountain Gate on the weekends!
You know the area, you know how multicultural it is, you know how that pride is there for everyone. Some people have started their lives here from different countries, they've made a life for themselves here. They've brought their families; a lot of my friends are first or second gen Australians. It's so nice to have that togetherness and that community sense of, we're doing something before the people who raised us. It hits different when it's your home.
And I think that's something that a lot of people can identify with, like you're having a really bad day? A good plate of food is going to change your mood completely. But not only that, like food is so important for you. It's the fuel to keep you going. So I think that's probably the best way that I could think of to start off as trying to focus on community care.
I want food to always be the main thing because you know, you could have the worst day in the world, but you have a nice home cooked meal at home, it will make everything better!
We can learn so much from Ashvina’s experience: she used her knowledge from her studies and her life experience to bring together support for her community where it was missing. While COVID continues to be challenging, it’s amazing to see young people getting each other through it.
If Ashvina’s story has you inspired to speak up or take action on something important to you – whether it’s a simple idea to explore or you’ve drafted the in-detail blueprint - YACVic is here to support you. This podcast is part of our ‘Learning from COVID-19’ series, our resource full of materials to help you learn from the most clever COVID adaptions for young people. You can check out the activism category for heaps of info, from a social justice glossary to guides to meeting with your MP, and much more.
You can also become a YACVic member – which is free for young people! – for exclusive opportunities, supports and resources.
The links to all of this, as well as COOK4CALD’s website, are in this episode’s transcript and show notes.
♫ Upbeat outro track plays – ‘Far Away’ by MK2 ♫
This is the final episode of Locked Down, Speaking Up, which has covered diverse ways that young people are stepping up and proving that making the changes we want to see can be accessible to us – you don’t have to take big actions to make a big difference.
Mentioned in this episode
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