Meet our new Youth Reference Group members

The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO is delighted to announce the six new members of our Youth Reference Group: Shaymaaa Arif, Injy Johnstone, Peter McKenzie, Ashlee Peacock, Nola Smart and Charlotte Steel.

Our Youth Reference Group

“We received applications from 100 incredibly talented young people and it was a very difficult decision to narrow them down to six,” says Libby Frampton, an advisor in the National Commission’s Secretariat who is responsible for the youth portfolio.

The Youth Reference Group is chaired by the Special Advisor – Youth (currently Danielle Newton) and provides advice to the National Commission on how to engage young people in UNESCO’s work programmes.

Shaymaa Arif

Shaymaa (22) recently graduated with a Law and Social Sciences degree from Waikato University and is now a qualified barrister and solicitor. Her achievements include being selected for the Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institution Delegation for the World Heritage Committee 41st Session in Poland, representing Te Piringa Faculty of Law in the National International Humanitarian Law Mooting Competition in Wellington, and being selected for the Delegation of New Zealand for the prestigious Shop for World Youth Programme in 2016. She received the Waikato Student Unions Scholarship for Cultural Contribution 2016 and was a 2015 finalist in the Westpac New Zealand Women of Influence Awards in the ‘Young Leader’ Category. She is also a Trustee of the family-founded Charitable Trust ‘Tamariki Outreach’, which sponsors Syrian orphans and helps the local community through aiding vulnerable members as well as connecting the Muslim community with the non-Muslim community.

“I’m super grateful to be part of such an incredible and important kaupapa where I hope we, as youth, can contribute to the welfare of Aotearoa, the Pacific, and the world,” says Shaymaa. “My main vision and aim is to get youth more involved in embracing culture and heritage, increasing awareness and contribution on various human rights issues, as well as making education and access to knowledge available to everyone. Culture and education form parts of our identities that become our keys to creating real positive impacts within our own communities as well as societies near and far.”

Injy Johnstone

Injy (21) is a student of Law, Environmental Management, Economics and Public Policy, at both Otago and Massey University. She will be undertaking her LLB Honour’s dissertation in 2018 with an emphasis on international trade law and climate change. Injy has taken on numerous leadership roles. She has worked for many years with the Sir Peter Blake Trust, first as a Young Enviro-Leader, and now as a youth leadership mentor, fostering new talent. Through the Young Enviro-Leader’s Forum in 2012, she was selected to attend the United Nations Rio+20 conference. Since then, she has represented New Zealand youth at conferences in Malaysia, Armenia, Albania and more recently New York-as a coordinator of the Youth Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Injy is the founder of Envi, an online sustainability platform that aims to link science, the community and sustainability. Motivated by her personal experience as a foster child, Injy also founded the Foster Child Support Network NZ, which aims to ensure that Kiwi kids in care are well supported while in foster care and are empowered for the future of education and work. Alongside this, Injy is the national administrator of Generation Zero, committee member of Sustainable Dunedin City and the newest board member of the Endangered Species Foundation.

“Through the Youth Advisory Group I want to encourage a two way dialogue between UNESCO and youth,” says Injy. “I want to do this by bringing the fresh ideas and energy of young New Zealanders to the table, as well as articulating UNESCO’s project work and direction back to the youth community.”

Peter McKenzie

Peter (18) is an undergraduate student at Victoria University of Wellington, studying a conjoint LLB/BA in Law, Political Science and Mandarin. In 2016 he was captain of the New Zealand Schools Debating team and was ranked 12th Best Speaker in the World Schools Debating Championships, as well as the Best Speaker from New Zealand. He was also selected as the Youth MP for Hon Annette King and Head Prefect of Scots College. His numerous achievements include representing New Zealand at the 2017 Youth Assembly at the United Nations, being selected to attend Aotearoa Youth Declaration – New Zealand’s premier young leaders’ conference – four years running, and receiving the 2016 Embassy of China Scholarship to attend New Zealand Model United Nations. He has also played lead roles in many theatrical and film productions, including touring with Sir Ian McKellen in the West End production of ‘Waiting for Godot’. Peter is co-founder of Active Citizenship Aotearoa – a charity focused on engaging those young people who New Zealand’s political process often leaves out or alienates.

“I am passionate about community wellbeing, public law, and civic culture,” says Peter. “As part of the YRG, I hope to support young Kiwis in implementing innovative solutions to challenges in these areas, and help inform UNESCO work in these matters.”

Ashlee Peacock

Ashlee (22) is currently completing a double major in law and psychology at University of Waikato, and expects to graduate in December 2018. She has a keen interest in environmental sustainability, cultural dialogue, mental health, education and the eradication of poverty. She has received numerous scholarships for leadership including the Festival for the Future Scholarship, Maori Education Trust Scholarship, Ngai Tukairangi Trust Scholarship, Taumarere Scholarship, and the Northland Future Leader Scholarship. Voluntary work includes a placement whilst in high school with the He Iwi Kotahi Tatou Trust, which facilitates an alternative education programme, and acting as a support worker for Enrich Plus for a short term, to help empower youth with disabilities to reach their goals within a classroom and community setting.

Ashlee says that she wouldn’t be the person she is today or have had the capacity to achieve many of the things she has without the love and support of her whānau and friends. “Awareness needs to be raised around issues affecting the positive development of our Tai Tamariki,” says Ashlee. “I wish to provide a voice and a platform for youth within our most deprived communities and help rangatahi to be empowered to recognise that they are rangatira of their own future. I am hoping to learn, to engage and to develop myself so that I can serve in the interest of our future’s wellbeing.”

Nola Smart

Nola (18) is completing her first year in a Bachelor of Urban Planning at the University of Auckland, with the assistance of a University of Auckland Top Achiever Scholarship. Long term she hopes to use her degree to work with NGOs and encourage sustainability in cities. Nola used to host a weekly live chat radio show ‘Something Millenial’ on Canterbury Plains FM 96.9 and was nominated for the National Radio Awards in 2015. She has considerable public speaking and debating experience, including speaking about youth leadership for sustainability in schools at Festival for the Future, and a speaking slot at Limitless Conference. As a high school student she helped reduce Cashmere High school’s energy consumption by 10 percent through a behavioural change project and represented the school and New Zealand at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2016, partly in recognition of these efforts.

“I hope to help facilitate dialogue and engage youth in creating a more sustainable future,” says Nola.

Charlotte Steel

Charlotte (21) is a postgraduate student at the University of Otago, completing a Bachelor of Science with Honours in the Department of Physiology. In November 2016 she received a scholarship from the Otago Medical Research Foundation to conduct research into hippocampal dendritic spine density and sleep dysfunction in a mouse model of Batten disease. Awards she has received include the Rhys Brookbanks Prize in Writing in 2015, the Otago Daily Times Community Science Awards Student Award, University of Otago Prestige Scholarship in Science and Otago Medical Research Foundation Allan Wilkinson Scholarship in 2016, and the New Zealand Credit Union South Young Achiever Award and New Zealand Freemasons University Scholarship in 2017.

Charlotte has a strong interest in poetry and literature alongside her passion for science. She is a member of UNESCO City of Literature Collaboration Group in Dunedin and has interviewed and photographed local writers and innovators for the City of Literature newsletter. She has also volunteered as a panel judge for the One City One Book Initiative, and has acted as a judge of the Cadbury ‘Chocolate Bard Poetry Competition’ for two years. Charlotte’s poetry has been published in ReDraft and IKA, and she won the Youth category of the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition in 2013.

“I am passionate about both the sciences and the arts, and I am interested in science communication for the benefit of the community,” says Charlotte. “I hope that I can advocate for this cause as part of the YRG, and anticipate that my involvement will be a valuable learning experience.”

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