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My name is Sophie Harvey. I'm 21 years old. I live and work in Sydney and have just finished getting my Community Welfare Diploma at TAFE.
Since the end of 2004 I've been part of a program called Safe Summer Survival (SSS), run by WAYS Youth Services at Bondi. It's a peer education program run by young people for young people. Every year a team of young people are chosen and educated in sexual health, alcohol and other drugs, sexuality, communication skills, health promotion and peer education.
After the training and the selection process, we go to places where young people hang out and talk to them about all these things. Basically we give information and resources to young people around the topics we've been trained in, so young people can make their own decisions about what they want to do. SSS works with the harm minimisation approach which means giving people information so they can make the safest decisions possible.
While I was on the team, I joined my local youth advisory committee at Council, which was really interesting and helped me realise what i wanted to do with my live. I enjoyed voicing my opinion and representing young people in my area. It felt good to be heard and that my ideas were important. I wasn't the most academic girl in school but becoming a part of this made me realise that grades aren't everything, as long as you follow what you love. And what i love is people; I love meeting new people, talking to people and understanding all the different lives that surround me.
I joined SSS when i was still in high school, when all that interested me was parties and friends. So I really do think that if you've got something to say, or you are not happy with the way something is working, voice up, be heard, join the committee at school, or at council, or at an organisation that is important to you. Sometimes it feels like your not making a difference. Who knows if you are or not - at least you're learning something.
Working at SSS made me want to go to TAFE and get my Diploma. It made me want to run the program and become co-ordinator in 2006. I also became a facilitator for the Schools Programs that WAYS runs, where I go to schools in the area and run workshops on sexual health, sexuality, alcohol and other drugs, self esteem, body image, homophobia, tolerance, bullying and many other issues affecting young people at school. I also started working in the youth centre, running workshops during youth week and MCing the youth forums that WAYS runs. I've been involved in developing resources, pilot projects and web sites for Ways, the Inspire foundation, and with my area health service around sexual health for young people and backpackers.
I'll never forget the day I was at my local library trying to my homework, when one of my best friends came up to me and said; you have to apply for this job; its perfect for you. He had been doing it for a year and it sounded really cool. So I filled out the application form, did my first job interview which was really scary and actually became a peer educator. I was so surprised. I met people I would never normally talk to on the street and learnt a lot about life. Before that I was just a girl going to a private girls school in Sydney, who didn't know much about the outside world. The experience helped me find confidence in my self and my abilities.
Once i became a peer educator everyone at school would come to me for advice about drugs and sex. That's what made me realise how important it is to be educated, about what drugs can do to you, and how to have sex in the safest way possible - while still having fun! That is what peer education is all about: young people educating young people. Who really listens to an adult that says don't do this, don't do that! I listen, but i also question: why?? why can't I?? They may or may not have the answer, but your peers, they always have an answer, or some kind of random explanation. And they heard this from someone else, who heard it from someone else. Who was that someone else?? Maybe it was a peer educator... you'll never know.
Always remember to double-check everything you hear. Go to government websites, or ones like this, or pamphlets at your local government, youth centre, even the library. There are a lot of myths out there - even among people who should know better.