Helping others is nothing new for Florence Baitio. What initially started as simply helping her mother and siblings from time to time has flourished into a deep-set passion for helping the community.
Florence, 17, a student at Greenwood College, is an avid volunteer for the Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS) where she works as a bi-cultural youth support service worker helping young people who have experienced significant stress and upheaval in their short lives.
Born and raised in a Ugandan refugee camp, Florence did not have the easiest start to life herself.
“I remember that we struggled a lot. My mum brought us up on her own and with six children in the house, she could sometimes only provide us with one meal a day,” she said.
“She was very strong though and knew the importance of education. She would often work two jobs so that we could stay in school, and for that I am thankful because it has provided me with so many opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
“I feel like I got a second chance in life when we moved to Perth in 2005 and I want others to feel the same way. I want them to know there is hope and that they too can live a happy and healthy life.”
ASeTTS is a not-for-profit organisation that recognises that young people can be affected by trauma and focusses on assisting and supporting young people and their families to improve their overall wellbeing.
As well as providing support and counselling services, its Youth Support program encourages young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds to participate in constructive school holiday activities, where they can learn new skills and make friends in a safe, positive and supportive environment.
“I am currently involved in organising the activity programs and schedules. We have such a range of age groups so each plan has to be specific and meaningful,” Florence said.
“In each activity we try to include the ‘Circle of Courage’ principles, which include generosity, belonging, mastery and independence. These elements help kids to feel like they can get involved and show them that they do add value."
Florence thinks the program has helped her in many ways too, not only to build relationships and networks but to recognise and help those who may need additional support.
“I remember meeting one girl who having lost her whole family moved to Perth and was suffering quite badly as a result," she said. "We connected straight away because she too was from Africa and we spoke the same language. I was able to share my own experiences and offer her personal advice and support, which is something I have learnt to do. She is doing well now and we are actually still in contact.”
In recognition of her contributions to the community, Florence was named as a finalist in the Participate Award category of the 2014 WA Youth Awards, which is sponsored by the Commissioner for Children and Young People.
“Being a part of the WA Youth Awards was an amazing experience! I was shaking and yelling on the train when I was told the good news! I just kept thinking that there are so many other inspiring and deserving young people with such great stories out there, why me?” she said.
In addition to promoting the work of ASeTTS, Florence is keeping busy by working on many other community development projects such as teaching traditional dancing to the Madi community from South Sudan, performing her own dramatic monologue at the 2015 Fringe Festival, and will soon also support the Commissioner’s work to consult children and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
“We live in an evolving society and things can change so quickly," she said. "Our youth is vulnerable to that. My dream is that we can all come together and strengthen one another.
“I think if we talk about how we feel and how we can fix things, we’ll be on the right track to making a difference.”