WINTHROP resident and aspiring humanitarian lawyer Helena Trang is on a mission to make difference.
The 19-year-old UWA arts student has just completed a three-month internship with Western Australia’s new Museum of Freedom and Tolerance, an innovative initiative designed to promote social cohesiveness free of racial and religious discrimination.
It is a cause close to Miss Trang’s heart; her parents are Vietnamese refugees whose efforts to immerse themselves in Australian society have not always been easy.
“Not a lot has changed in the decades since they moved here,” Miss Trang said.
“There are still a lot of barriers confronting refugees who come here and a lot of negative public perceptions about their motivations, which is a shame.”
Miss Trang is an optimist who believes if you want something to change, you have to play an active role.
The opportunity to volunteer at the Museum of Freedom and Tolerance was provided by UWA’s McCusker Centre for Citizenship, which links students with not-for-profit organisations for three-month internships.
“It’s not actually a physical museum at this stage but rather a series of programs that use art, research, storytelling and other tools to promote cohesiveness and combat some of the negative public perceptions that exist mostly due to prejudice,” Miss Trang said.
“It’s basically a different setting for the debates and stories we mostly now see via the news.”
Miss Trang’s work with the museum was diverse, encompassing social media planning, extensive research and working with key stakeholders.
“Skills wise, I was on a steep learning curve but it’s a different kind of learning to what you do at uni,” she said.
“There’s no rubric, no set tasks. It’s not about ticking boxes; it’s about being effective and finding the best ways to do that.
“It’s been such a terrific experience and it’s helped shape my perspective about what I’d like to do in my career beyond uni.
“I’m very focused on becoming a humanitarian lawyer and working to defend people’s human rights.”
McCusker Centre for Citizenship director Michelle Scott said the overwhelmingly positive response to the internships program was proof of a genuine appetite for direct contributions among both students and not-for-profit organisations.
“The idea is to place students frontline, working on social challenges such as homelessness, mental health, disadvantage and advocacy in all forms, providing them with greater insight and not-for-profit organisations with new skills and viewpoints,” she says.
“Young people do want to step forward to help tackle complex social issues.
“These internships, spread across the community, help make that possible.”