Conversations with Daniel: Voices from Brisbane

Interview by Daniel (he/him), 26 QLD

A reflection on my time speaking to young leaders in India – in the final part of my journey to amplify voices in the Asia-Pacific region.

I started this series by saying that of all the places I thought I might sometime go, India was not one of them. It has never been on my personal bingo card. But when the opportunity presented itself, I had to try.

And I did it! It happened, and I survived. I’m now home – exhausted but fulfilled.

I would be lying if I said there wasn’t some culture shock. I had expectations going in, of course – I knew it wouldn’t be easy. This is a very different country, after all – different customs, a different language. But even still, you can’t truly grasp the complexity of a culture until you really get to experience it first-hand.

It feels like a whole different world. My upbringing in regional Queensland did not prepare me for this – the energy, the chaos. This isn’t a bad thing, of course – it’s important to be challenged. And now, having confronted it, I can honestly say I feel more confident and relaxed.

I’ve emerged from this opportunity with a deeper and more sincere appreciation for ‘global citizenship’ – an increasingly prevalent way of thinking amongst young people. There is immense value in seeing this firsthand – overcoming the cultural barrier and seeing the commonality between us.

The truth is, there are ideas, concepts, and sensations that all young people experience – which unite us not only as regional neighbours, but as residents of the same generation.

I’d like to finish by drawing connections between our interviews, and talking more about the concept of ‘voice’. I’ve used the word numerous times to describe a perspective or an opinion – but the idea goes deeper than that.

‘Voice’, in the way I understand it, can be used as a noun and a verb. To ‘voice’ is to say something – to provide value. To have a voice is to feel valued and respected – as a person. To provide space for a voice is to recognise the absence of a voice – which requires some social and cultural awareness.

Additionally, a voice is more than just the words that are said. Rarely does a voice carry just one opinion or perspective – it is coloured by a person’s history, community, culture – and yes, their generation.

Voices from Bharat have described a terrible job market for young people, where they feel unsupported.

Voices from Binondo have described the continued stigmatisation of mental health issues in young people – which is now an epidemic.

Voices from Bogura have described the loss of traditional viewpoints and values – leading to a generation loss in self-worth.

Voices from Surkhet have described a lack of quality education, and no faith from their government.

Voices from Manila have described the huge hurdles to accessing education, and the lofty sustainability goals their country must reach.

Voices from Penang have described a cost-of-living crisis, and the lack of opportunities.

And voices from India have described an inability for young people to find meaning and passion in their work.

These issues are not isolated to one young person or one country – they are generational, as you might expect in an increasingly interconnected and globalised world. Young leaders everywhere, not just in the Asia-Pacific region, are struggling to be valued and heard equally.

But despite the many problems and barriers – education, cost-of-living pressures, declining mental health – every one of these young leaders still has unbridled optimism for the future. They have every reason to doubt, but they still try – and we see the impressive results every day.

Young leaders across the region have proven themselves already. Take Mags and Mahima, for example – who have both battled stereotypes and are now spearheading solutions in their communities.

Above all, the voices of young people in the Asia-Pacific are saying – we want to be trusted, and we want to take ownership of our own future. For what its worth, this voice from Brisbane agrees.

My assignment was to represent Australia at an international conference – make connections, share ideas. But really, this event was not about where we came from – it was about our shared experiences and values as young people. I reiterate what most young people told me – which is that the most interesting conversations happened outside of the conference hall, away from the domineering adults. Wouldn’t it be better if the best conversations were the ones we had together? Across generations? Where everyone is equally heard and respected? Where young people are true partners in decision-making and solving shared problems?

As it stands, this won’t happen on its own. It requires active participation from non-youth/adult leaders – who are willing to make room or stand aside when the time is right.

It’s a powerful thing to have a voice, but it means a lot more to be heard. And it is here where we continue to fail. The voices of young people must be valued and held to the same standard.

Young leaders must be respected – not as part of an exercise in potential leadership, but as current leaders, today. And finally, when young people come together and tell you their doubts, share their ideas and prepare their vision for the future – it is time to shut up and listen.

Illustration by Aileen. You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenngstudio

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