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Frustrated at the perception that young people don’t care about social issues such as poverty, a 17 year old student from Dunedin, New Zealand has used a skill for public speaking to instil passion amongst her peers for global development issues.

Katya Curran, whose public speaking work formed part of the Skills section of her Silver Award, is driven by the belief that young people need more exposure to social challenges to awaken their innate compassion and sense of fairness. Seeing ignorance rather than apathy as the reason for her peers’ lack of engagement in poverty, she believed education and awareness raising was the solution.

A global challenge

Katya is clear that poverty is one of the biggest challenges facing the international community. Writing in her local paper, the Otago Daily Times, she explains: “The shocking reality is that more than 20,000 people die of starvation every day. Yet this news gets pushed aside.” Moreover, she believes the youth of New Zealand is able and willing to effect change on a global level. “Although the hunger problem is complex, it would be incorrect to infer there is nothing we can do to break the cycle.”

Delivering speeches

She set about her task by organising and leading several social action groups as well as being part of national forums and events in this arena. She has also been researching, writing and delivering her own speeches on poverty and social action.

So far, she has delivered 25 speeches to audiences including Rotary International, the Lions Club, the Dunedin Community House and St Hilda’s Collegiate School, and has reached an estimated 700-900 people directly. The number of people she has reached indirectly through the spread of awareness as a result of events, activities, speeches and articles is immeasurable .

She has also promoted fair trade (which culminated in her school qualifying as a fairtrade school), meeting Harriet Lamb (the visiting executive director of the UK Fairtrade Foundation), and organised and led her school in the 40 Hour Famine, raising more for charity than her school has ever done before.

National recognition

Katya’s evident leadership skills have been recognised through national and international organisations, who have been keen to encourage her talent. She was selected as a Youth MP by the Ministry of Youth Development in New Zealand, and attended the Youth Parliament, where she had the opportunity to deliver a speech in the Debating Chamber of the House.

In July last year, Katya was one of 50 New Zealand senior high school students who took part in the UNICEF Youth Congress in Auckland, where the theme was ‘Poverty in the Pacific’. Speaking about this achievement to her local paper, she commented that, “The issues of today are as much our responsibility as anyone else's and I think global awareness is really important from a young age. Everyone deserves respect and the right to be heard.”

Spreading awareness

Recognised in December by her school, St Hilda’s Collegiate School, through a prize for public speaking, Katya dreams of spreading poverty awareness to other local high schools, the University of Otago, and the Dunedin City Council (she has already been invited to be part of the council's Youth Action Committee). Her aim is not to create followers, but to inspire leaders and inspire action.

Taking up public speaking for her Award has certainly launched Katya on an incredible journey, which promises to shape her future career. “I have definitely gained new skills and it has most certainly affected my life course. It has consolidated the fact that I want my career to be focused on social action and global change.”

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