Growing up in St Albans, 19-year old Nyanjuma says that whilst she did see violence while growing up, that is not the full story of life in Melbourne’s western suburbs and is disheartened by the stereotypes.
“The media has a story to tell, but more often than not, they don’t have the full story and the language often used has to be changed. It’s the headlines that upset me the most, they are often negative and people make assumptions associating violence to African-Australians,” says Nyanjuma.
2020 has been a year of great challenge for Nyanjuma, she was deeply affected by the Black Lives Matter movement, whilst also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic that saw her in isolation.
“The Black Lives Matter movement started again it was really hard because you’re not allowed to leave home & get comfort from friends. You are seeing people who are dying and others being silenced on social media, it has been a really confusing time but a chance to wake up.”
“At the same time I contracted the virus, I couldn’t go outside even for the 4 essential reasons like everyone else could. And when one of my close friends passed away, I really struggled, but knew that I had to push on, so I used the time as an opportunity to reflect on the things that are really important in life,” says Nyanjuma.
Through her childhood, Nyanjuma and her siblings participated in many community activities, with them all playing or training in basketball. There are also fond memories of hip hop dance lessons at St Albans Heights hall, and she also started volunteering at a young age.
“I used to volunteer a lot and I had connections with the Brimbank City Council. In Year 10, I was part of a project working on a strategy for youth employment in the west.”
Little did she know that project would lead her to a role working on the Brimbank Youth Jobs Strategy with the Foundation for Young Australians.
Nyanjuma says her experience with the Les Twentyman Foundation’s EMBRACE program gave her the foundations she needed to become a leader.
“When I first joined the program, I was very excited but I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue, but the EMBRACE kids became a second family to me and I found that I could be vulnerable without judgment.”
“EMBRACE really helped me to discover myself, to express myself and to get support to grow as a person. It gave me the opportunity to be a leader,” says Nyanjuma.
This was particularly important given that as Nyanjuma got older she experienced increased responsibilities and expectations from her family.
“In the household females do all the chores, but often we don’t have time especially if we’re going to university and we are working. We want to be able to share the responsibilities and we don’t want to be disrespectful, but we’re treated differently to males,” she says.
“My brothers felt more pressure to get a sustainable job and essentials like a car. They are expected to be the breadwinner of their future families, but not everyone’s main object in life is to get married. We want to experience different things,” says Nyanjuma.
Last year, Nyanjuma had to make some difficult decisions about her university studies.
“I had started studying a Bachelor of Health Science, but then I decided I wanted to transition to nursing. There was a lot of pressure to stick with what I’d started and to be an example for the community.
“In my community it’s really common to worry about what other people will think,” she said.
Drawing on her own experience in her young life Nyanjuma believes that it is important for her to see women who look like her in leadership roles.
“We’re seeing more and more of that today, celebrities, movies, businesses… it’s really inspiring and it’s an affirmation that you can do that as well.”
When asked what would be the one piece of advice that Nyanjuma would tell her younger self, the answer was confidence.
“To be confident in myself, to not care about what other people have to say unless they are genuinely trying to help you. Focus on study, have fun and be safe!”