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By Selma Cook

 
mayor,jasmine and ambassedorEighteen-year-old Jasmine Ouaida has achieved more than many others have done in a life time. She is engaged in a myriad of activities despite currently studying a Bachelor of Social Science majoring in youth work. Ouaida is known for her strong passion for engaging women in health and fitness as she encourages them to keep physically active and lead a healthy balanced lifestyle. Seeking to inspire people, mainly from refugee and migrant backgrounds, Ouaida is constantly busy in the activities that finally helped her to be named Citizen of the Year in Melbourne, Australia.

 

Being in close contact with Muslim women and youth from many cultural backgrounds, Ouaida seeks to express issues of concern to them. She does this through writing and the performing arts. Ouaida was touched by the words of her mentor that ‘art speaks the unspoken’ and in response she produced a series of theatrical performances.

 

She enjoys public speaking and has participated in a project called Himaya! (Arabic for protection) This introduced her and other young Arabic-speaking people to work in the emergency services where they obtained first aid certificates and surf lifesaving training. They also attended workshops with the Victorian Police, Metropolitan ambulance and Fire Brigade services. This project, along with unfortunate circumstances in her life, led to her decision to obtain her lifeguard qualification. Two years before, her eight-year-old cousin died a hero trying to save his sister at a beach in Melbourne. Ouaida said, “Life guarding is a rewarding job, and being the first Lebanese Muslim teenager lifeguard who wears hijab has proven very rewarding.”

 

Public Speeches

at workOuaida was invited to the Youth Dialogue Forum designed for migrant, refugee, and Australian-born youth aged fourteen to twenty-five. The day consisted of interactive workshops and role play sessions, and she took part in a panel of youth from diverse backgrounds giving advice on how to be involved in the community. She also spoke to migrant and refugee youth about how to deal with racism.

 

A short time ago, Life Saving Victoria asked her to co-present a ten-minute speech on her experiences as the first young female Muslim Lebanese Lifeguard in Melbourne. She spoke about the confrontations she dealt with and the positive outcomes she had experienced.

 

Ouaida found working with the Victorian Arabic Social Services (VASS) an amazing experience. She helped to organise, facilitate and be a part of a program called “What other people think?” This program sought to deconstruct some of the issues facing young Arabic-speaking women on a daily basis. Using the stories of the young women, key scenes were produced to a diverse audience and they saw a series of theatrical performances. Then members of the audience replaced the actors and demonstrated an alternative ending that they felt would achieve better outcomes.

 

Ouaida commented, “Some of the issues presented to the audience were both controversial and confronting, and the young women had the courage to raise these important issues in a safe, non-judgmental environment.” This program was designed to help young Arabic-speaking women to gain self-confidence and sought to examine the issue of body image in young women. Ouaida commented that as the young women’s lives revolve around “what other people think”, the forum was necessary.

She was selected to participate in a project initiated by the Australian Multicultural Foundation called “Leadership Australia – A New Generation”. This intensive three-day national program in Melbourne, aimed to assist young Australian Muslims to develop and strengthen their ability to play an active role in the community. The training involved leaders and experts from various sectors including corporate, community, government and charity work. The program incorporated a variety of learning methods including discussions, workshops, presentations, role plays and group work. Following the training program, the participants were asked to consult with steering committee members to initiate and undertake a public presentation at one or more public forums. This involved speaking at a function/meeting/broader community forum about issues on Islam in the hope that it would educate and engage participants to increase their understanding.

Young Citizen of the Year Award

geting the award

Ouaida recalled that being selected as the 2009 Moreland Young Citizen of the Year was the most inspiring and amazing experience of her life. She remembered, “The ceremony was held on Australia Day and the atmosphere was magical. The venue was filled with a spectacular range of different people from all around the world who were there to become Australian citizens. I saw it as a symbol of hope.”

Ouaida was chosen for this award because of her involvement in a number of public speaking programs, leadership courses, environmental projects, and her work with Victorian Youth Parliament which included an intensive training weekend where she and the other participants debated issues of importance to them in Parliament House. The participants were required to outline an issue and to provide solutions. Ouaida spoke on the inhumane treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, using the examples of Australians, David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib. Another reason behind her receiving the award was her participation in the annual Lion’s Youth of the Year Quest where she was interviewed by a panel of judges and presented two speeches to an audience. Ouaida won the Best Speaker of the Night award. Moreover, her determination to qualify herself as a gym instructor, along with her desire to use her education and skills to develop her community, strengthened her nomination for Young Citizen of the Year. Furthermore, her initiation of the Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign which she started on her Face Book, encouraging participants to wear pink hijab on October 29 to show solidarity with women suffering from this disease world-wide, helped convince judges that she was worthy of this award.

 

Thoughts on the Australian Muslim Community

Ouaida  said, “The Muslim community in Australia comes from a wide range of nationalities and cultures but this is often a weakness as certain communities tend to stick together. Also, cultural traditions are often confused for Islamic practises. Australian-born Muslim youth are steering away from disunity and are the strength of the Muslim community as they are more educated, more Islamically aware and are steering away from unIslamic cultural practices and expectations.”

She also noted that despite September 11, the Bali bombings, and other terrorist attacks that are said to have been done in the name of Almighty Allah, more and more young people around the world are taking a greater interest in Islam. “Islam is a beautiful religion that promotes peace and harmony and it has nothing to do with oppression, and fundamentalism.  Muslims need to fully commit to learning the true meaning of Islam and not rely on what they have been taught by their families, as this can lead to integration with their cultural values and beliefs, rather than Islam,” said Ouaida.

Final Thoughts

Ouaida believes that being a Muslim is something to be proud of and she advises Muslim youth to explore their Islamic identity. She said, “It may feel as though you are struggling and leading a double life in terms of trying to fit in with your peers and life at home with your family, but persevere. This is our struggle in the West. Have dreams and aspirations to better yourself and do whatever it takes to attain them by working hard. You are only ever given one life on this earth. Live a full life but never lose sight of Paradise.  Be strong and surround yourself with good people who love and respect you and remember that whenever you feel lonely and misunderstood, all you need to do is remember that Almighty Allah is always there and all you need to do is ask for help.”

Moreland Citizens of the Year 2009


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