Otago Polytechnic Nursing student, Ashleigh Smith has received a ‘Queens Young Leaders Award’ from Queen Elizabeth II for her work with 'Sticks n Stones' a youth-led group devoted to empowering young people to recognise and stand up to bullying.
The Queens Young Leaders are 60 young people from around the Commonwealth. Recipients complete a year-long course through Cambridge University. Within that time, they are paired with an experienced mentor, receive an award from the Queen herself and attend a week of workshops at Cambridge University which saw them visit organisations like the BBC, Google and Facebook.
Ashleigh Smith is a vibrant, smiling, positive teenager. However, five years ago, when three of her schoolmates at Maniototo Area School took their own lives within eight months of each other, she didn’t know what to do with herself.
“It was a hideous time. I was 13, and trying to comprehend why someone would make that decision. I was angry and sad all at the same time.”
So, when government funding came through for an anti-bullying campaign, the local school students jumped at the chance to work from a youth perspective.
Ashleigh, along with other student leaders from five Central Otago Schools, started ‘Sticks n Stones’. Student ambassadors are trained and given the skills to help other young people, especially with online issues. It may be as simple as helping them find the right support network.
“There was such a generation gap between advice versus how youths were living their lives online.”
The group also plays an advocacy role, right up to government level.
“A lot of decisions are being made about youth without consulting them. We’re now being approached to have a say on policies like the ‘Harmful Digital Communications Bill’.”
Ashleigh has presented on the national and international stage including at a conference in Dublin titled “Bullies, Bullied and Bystanders”.
Read more about Nursing at Otago Polytechnic.
Read about Sticks n Stones.
Watch Seven Sharp article to see Ashleigh receive her award from the Queen.