YMCA Youth Parliament training camp

Ascham girls are involved in wide array of leadership opportunities every year that extend and challenge them. Youth Parliament is for young people in Years 8 to 12, and they are given the opportunity to create solutions to the problems facing NSW and debate those ideas in NSW Parliament House in front of real MPs. YMCA Youth Parliament nurtures the potential of young people to lead, learn and connect to their community and be advocates for causes about which they are passionate. Being chosen to participate in two camps and Parliment House sitting days is a significant achievement.

Year 8 Ascham student Ava Commander reports on her incredible experience at the YMCA Youth Parliament training camp experience in the winter 2017 school break.

‘Last holidays I attended the YMCA Youth Parliament training camp at the Baden Powell Scout Centre in Pennant Hills, with roughly 100 youths in attendance.

The YMCA Youth Parliament is when local MPs select a student to attend a camp where they can develop and propose bills to change society, which at the end of the camp are handed up to the MPs with the intention of becoming real laws. When I arrived I was quite nervous, as everyone seemed to know each other, but I quickly met a few girls from my cabin and we were all first years there. We hesitantly joined the large game of minion ball and were quite surprised when many girls and boys from older years came up to introduce themselves and make us feel more at ease. As the day progressed and I met the rest of my cabin I learnt that there was a strong sense of camaraderie among all attendees, young and old, and by the end of that day I felt completely comfortable in my surroundings, despite being far from home.

It was an inspiring experience being surrounded with like-minded, community-aware individuals in an environment where we were encouraged to be vocal and share our opinions. I have found that my confidence to share my thoughts and ideas was built to such a degree during the camp that since returning to School I have been speaking up in public situations in a way I never had before. During the camp, even surrounded by people far older than you are or with conflicting opinions, you are able to express your thoughts without fear of judgment or dismissal. I made many friends, particularly in the Women’s Affairs committee to which I was assigned, led by an past attendee of the camp. Together we developed a bill that, upon its completion will propose a commission with the capability to tackle sexual abuse, domestic violence, gender discrimination and rape culture simultaneously through implementing a state-wide education system that will run for three days per semester.

There were several highlights of the camp, the first and largest being the mock debates. Each day, sometimes more than once a day we would arrange the chairs in the main hall so that there were two sides of chairs facing each other and then a topic would be read out by the speaker, that usually ran along the lines of ‘We should invade New Zealand and make it the eighth state’ or ‘Putting pineapple on pizza should be legally recognised as the crime against humanity it is’. We would then develop our parliament etiquette and argument skills by engaging a fast-paced debate where we would deliver passionate, often quite humorous declarations of why New Zealand is basically Australia anyway and if we invaded them then they couldn’t beat us at rugby anymore. I also highly enjoyed developing the bill with my committee, hanging out with the girls in my dorm and engaging with various organisations to promote youth advocacy. Though by the conclusion of the camp I was extraordinarily tired, as our first class commenced at 7am and our last concluded at 9pm, it was without a doubt a highlight of my year.

I would like to thank The Hon. Gabrielle Upton immensely for the opportunity.’

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