Sydney youth connect with life
Sheikh Wesam Charkawi holds down a challenging, yet rewarding, day job as the chaplain at Granville Boys High School, in Sydney’s West. In his spare time, after school hours and on weekends, he and his dedicated team of ‘community enablers’ are working hard to ensure local youth remain engaged, resilient, in control of their destinies and inspired to deliver positive change for society.
The brainchild of Sheikh Charkawi and his organisation Sydney Youth Connect, the Sydney 2020 Youth Challenge is pushing high-school aged kids from Western Sydney to realise their potential and give back to their community.
The project has established multiple ‘youth councils’ across Western Sydney. Youth council members are encouraged to challenge themselves and muster resources within the local area to address what they see as priority issues at the local or global level.
“Youth must be given the opportunity to affect change. Connectedness with others is essential to social well-being, and giving back to community and others creates and gives rise to many essential traits of life, one of them being of humility,” Sheikh Charkawi told The Point Magazine.
One of the project’s youth councils designed a summer program over the recent December and January summer break. The program engaged young people through a combination of physical challenges and life skills workshops.
Bassim (surname withheld), a youth participant in the program, said the Sydney 2020 Youth Challenge has been a life changing experience.
“Hiking was the first activity, it was a ten kilometre walk through rough mountains. It was very hard and was something I had never done. It pushed me and I didn’t think I would be able to do that. It changed my life completely, you get to do life skills workshops and get confidence to meet new young people and work in a team. I encourage everyone to do it.”
"It changed my life completely, you get to do life skills workshops and get confidence to meet new young people and work in a team. I encourage everyone to do it.”
Sheikh Charkawi said the youth-led programs encourage community advocacy and active citizenship, and they open new channels for community engagement which increase the capacity of community enablers, activators, and change makers.
“The most notable part of the program is seeing the change and confirming such change from parents, team members, supervisors and community,” Sheikh Charkawi said.
He acknowledges there are some challenges when working with young people.
“The most challenging part of the project is the constant engagement that Sydney Youth Connect members must give. Instilling attributes of empathy, for example, or allowing others to see different perspectives, is not something an organisation can do - if one is not willing to listen or is disinterested. The challenge at this juncture becomes - creating rapport first and foremost before one would even consider giving you the time to listen. This is no easy task and requires good experience.”
Despite the challenges, Sheikh Charkawi firmly believes that the young people in his community can be motivated to forge a positive future.
“Communities can solve their own problems, by directing youth to self-governance,” he said.
Sydney youth connect through hiking and camping.
Image: Pauline (Creative commons)