Overcoming obstacles for change

Written by Kerrie Alexander

Sara Diana Faraj is like a whirlwind of positive vibes, determined to bring about change for the community and Fraser Coast youth.

The 20-year-old is on the run, seven days a week, studying a Bachelor of Political Science online at UQ, she is a full time Electorate Officer for Adrian Tantari MP, a Hervey Bay Youth Parliamentarian for 2021, Youth Mayor of the Fraser Coast Youth Advisory Council, Founder and Facilitator of The Fraser Coast Youth Forum, and member of the Queensland Community Leaders Health Forum.

Above all this she was the youngest person world-wide to be appointed as President of Zonta Hervey Bay in 2021.

She was also awarded Young Citizen of the Year in the recent Fraser Coast Regional Council Australia Day Awards.

There’s not a second of the day that Sara’s not working but says she wouldn’t change a thing, and for good reason.

Her inspiration to be a high achiever lies with her parents and the decision they made to stand up and fight against the threat of war, violence, and human rights abuse.

Sara’s parents were refugees, with her mother having fled from war-torn Lebanon and her father from Kurdistan, before meeting and marrying in Germany.

The two then moved to Australia in 2000 to create a better life for their family.

Sara has a younger brother, 11 and two sisters, 14 and 25.

“It all goes back to my parents and them making a choice to move to Australia … they were refugees, and I was actually a detention centre baby,” Sara said.

“They made that choice to provide the best opportunities that they could for their growing family and that’s really heavily contributed to my identity.

“They’ve given me education and a home, and I see that there’s so much opportunity here in Queensland and Australia and I think that everyone should have equal access to that opportunity.

“I see that sometimes there’s gaps and maybe people haven’t been as fortunate as I have been, so I want to help them the same way my parents helped me.”

Through an initiative of the Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre, Sara was also the co-author of a booked called Making Hervey Bay Home, which tells the story of how her parents came to be proud Australian citizens.

Sara is also a passionate advocate for local youth and thrives in her role on the Fraser Coast Youth Advisory Council, which was formed in July 2021.

The Youth Advisory Council has two important functions: help train the leaders of tomorrow and give Council an insight into the views and aspirations of Fraser Coast Youths.

“Thus far we have done a youth allied project where we go out to community groups across the Fraser Coast and talk about what it means to be a good man, talking about consent and appropriate behaviour of youth.

“I was also Youth Parliamentarian for Hervey Bay in 2021, which means that I was able to take the work that we had done as a group to parliament in Brisbane to help form Youth Bill on criminalising coercive control.

“Going between to two roles was an amazing opportunity.”

Gaining a grant from the Neighbourhood Centre also allowed Sara to run an independent youth forum to help put more services and infrastructure in place for local youth.

“This means that we could tour with local representatives and have our voices heard about what it is we need or want and focus on the area that we are struggling or lacking in,” Sara said.

Sara is also very proud to lead the work of the local Zonta Club, which is open to both men and women who want to make change happen in a supportive community of like-minded professionals from diverse countries and cultures.

Zonta stands for women’s rights. They advocate for equality, education and an end to child marriage and gender-based violence – a cause that is forever close to Sara’s heart.

After being awarded the 2020 Zonta Young Women in Public Affairs Award, Sara became “infatuated” with the ideas and values of the club.

“Becoming the youngest President in the world is probably my biggest achievement so far,” she said.
“I’m just so grateful to the club for backing me in the presidency role. They are just an amazing group of women to work with.

“Women’s empowerment and advocacy is something that is extremely important to me, especially with consideration of where I come from, with people in my family getting married as young as 12 and 13.

“That should not be happening! I’m super proud to be part of an organisation that is committed to helping women out of situations like that.”

Some of the highlights of the past year have been putting together 200 birthing kits to send to third-world countries and the recent 16 days of activism with the ‘Zonta says no to domestic violence against women’ campaign.

“I think with the whole women’s equality movement is becoming so prevalent in society now that that’s a big statement, that we don’t want domestic violence to be a part of our community anymore!
“Especially during these covid times. It’s really important to take into consideration how much more visible it has been in our society.”

The next big event on the Zonta calendar of events is International Women’s Day.

“We shouldn’t need to have a day to celebrate women, but it is a day to celebrate all the great things that we can achieve,” Sara said.

“It’s honestly my favourite day.”

The club’s International Women’s Day annual breakfast will be held on Tuesday, March 8, with all members of the community invited to attend.

Sara encourages anyone interested to follow the Zonta Club of Hervey Bay Facebook page for more details.