Meet Zahra, our Youth Ambassador Network (YAN) representative from Western Australia!


1. Who is Zahra Al Hilaly? I am a 19-year-old from Perth, and the proud daughter of refugees and immigrants from Iraq and Palestine. I am currently studying a double degree in Law and Journalism, with aspirations to one day work in the refugee law sector, to bring justice to the issues and struggles my parents endured.

2. What sparks a fire in you, and why? One of the first things I will do every morning is greet my parents with the Arabic salutation ‘Salam Alaykum’ – which translates to ‘peace be upon you.’ It’s that moment that I get my daily reminder that it was only years ago that my parents were fighting for peace. In essence, the word ‘Salam’ drives a fire in me. It is a perpetual reminder that there are over 60 million forcibly displaced people in this world, who are fighting for not only peace but for their lives. My religion, Islam, has taught me that everyone is my brother and sister, so it’s no longer the fight for the hardships my parents endured, but for my brothers and sisters that are still fighting today.

3. What do you consider your greatest achievement to date? Making my parents proud!

4. Who is your hero and why? My hero is my mum. She immigrated to Australia with no family and with ten dollars in her pocket, however, she simultaneously had a pocket full of dreams. I’ve watched my mother exponentially grow into the leader she is today. Her kindness and desire to help disadvantaged minorities is a reinforcement that you should never let your struggles and barriers define you and your ability to make a change.

5. What is your most treasured possession? My most treasured possession is my tertiary education. I attended one of the lowest socio-economic schools in Western Australia, where the expectation was that I wouldn’t be able to get into my dream course. However, being accepted to study Law and Journalism is definitely a reminder that hard work leads to great outcomes.

6. Why did you apply to be the MYAN YAN representative for WA? Earlier this year, I attended the FUSE Summit as part of the WA delegation. Here, I met some of the most incredible people I have ever met – from the previous YANs and the Australian delegation to the staff at MYAN. I don’t think I’ve ever felt a stronger sense of belonging working with an organisation than I had with MYAN Australia. So when this opportunity came up, I knew it was meant to be!

7. What skills and talents are you bringing to the YAN 2020? Apart from being a brilliant cook, I’d like to think that I am a creative person who loves to take unique approaches when showcasing the work of young people. With my Journalism degree, I have found my hidden love for writing, especially speeches, stories and poetry. Further, I love public speaking, particularly about topics that I am passionate about. If I get any chance to fight for my brothers and sisters across the globe, I’ll take it!

8. What are you hoping to achieve in 2020 as YAN’s WA representative? I’ve lived by the quote “Youth are not the future, we are the present” for a while now. I hope to help mobilise more young people, especially people of colour, to become the leaders that they are destined to become. I also hope to take an intersectional approach when shining the light on youth voices. It’s time to stop narrowing young people into one box and start recognising that there are SO many voices that aren’t being given the platform they deserve.

9. What advice do you have for young people wanting to make a difference in the world? Another quote I love: “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. We tend to think that changing the world is synonymous with tackling some of the world’s biggest issues, but making a difference can simply be helping someone smile. This quote reinforces that whilst we may not be able to change some of the biggest issues in the world, the process of fighting for change in itself can change so many people’s lives and perspectives.

10. How can young people get involved in the work you do? It all starts with finding your passion, whether that be gender equality, climate change or human rights. There are so many opportunities available to young people that we don’t hear about, so join a local youth group and, I promise you, if your passion is strong enough, your journey to change the world has already begun.