Carmel Guerra OAM

The effect of Carmel Guerra's work has helped create communities offering young Victorians better opportunities and a greater sense of inclusion.

Honour Roll

One in seven young Australians speak a language other than English at home. An even larger number are born in Australia to parents who either migrated here or came as refugees. Twenty years ago, one of those young people was youth worker Carmel Guerra's first client.

"She was fifteen years old, a recently arrived migrant, with no mother, and she was pregnant. And what she still reminds me is that not only are women the strength behind migration, but that strength is part of our future." That experience helped fire her interest in finding better ways of designing and providing services for young people from multicultural backgrounds.

Carmel has led the development of innovative ways of meeting this challenge through her influence as an educator, her work in establishing the Ethnic Youth Issues Network, and her role in the creation of the Centre for Multicultural Youth Issues [CMYI]. CMYI is a state wide community-based organisation that aims to improve opportunities for young people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. Recognising their very specific needs, the Centre puts a priority on working with young people from refugee and newly-arrived communities. It is now recognised as a model of best practice nationally and internationally.

Over fifteen years, a recurring feature of Carmel's approach has been her ability to build and maintain partnerships between young people, support services and local communities across Victoria. She has encouraged young people, particularly young women, to question and challenge the types of institutional arrangements that exclude them from participation. She has developed new programs and activities that specifically give a voice to young women on issues that affect their lives, including transport, education, police and sport. But she is "looking forward to a time when the issues of young people, gender and migration aren't just the work of CMYI, but are considered by governments generally as a matter of course".