Stories

Mentorship Advances Jean Uwesi’s Youth Crime Prevention Knowledge

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Australia Awards scholar and Solomon Islands youth advocate Jean Uwesi is being mentored by Michelle Hopkins, the General Manager of Community Youth Justice at the South Australian Department of Human Services, through the Women’s Leadership Initiative.

Currently in her final year of a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Adelaide, Jean is working with Michelle to advance her career and community development goals – which include driving solutions to youth crime in the Solomon Islands.

The WLI Leadership & Mentoring pair share a passion for youth advocacy, the law, and seeing women’s leadership continue to flourish.  

WLI mentor Michelle Hopkins (left) with participant Jean Uwesi (right)

[Michelle Hopkins (left) with Jean Uwesi (right)]

Michelle brings almost two decades’ experience in youth law, advocacy and policy development

Michelle is a Kamilaroi woman and strong advocate for Aboriginal children and young people.

Over her almost 20 year career, Michelle has taken up youth work and advocacy for Aboriginal youth and victims of family violence, legal representation, and advised on First Nations policy development.

She joined the Department of Human Services as the Community Youth Justice General Manager in 2020 with a particular interest in fairness and justice.

As someone who has faced barriers of her own, Michelle says she was drawn to pay forward the guidance and leadership that has enabled her to progress her own career goals.

“I am always looking for opportunities to give back to the community, particularly to young women from diverse backgrounds such as my own,” Michelle says.

“My own journey has been one where I have faced hurdles due to my own gender and diversity and it has been the guidance and leadership of other strong women that have assisted me to overcome these so that I could progress in achieving my own career goals.”

Michelle hopes to not only support Jean in her leadership and career goals, but also through the challenges of being on-Award and far from home during the pandemic.  

“Not only do I hope to support Jean through practical advice on how to negotiate the systems and structures that dominate education and the workforce in our society, but I also hope to support her through periods where she may feel isolated from her community or challenged by the demands placed on her as a representative of her family,” Michelle adds.

Jean is a passionate youth advocate seeking Michelle’s guidance on crime prevention

Michelle was matched with Jean, who aspires to work in the youth sector, and is passionate about youth development and leadership, and solutions to youth crime.

Because Jean was completing her high-school studies prior to taking up her Australia Awards scholarship and joining the WLI, she is well-placed to understand first-hand the complex challenges faced by young people in the Solomon Islands.

“Youth in this period are more aware of what is going on around them and many are very vocal about issues affecting their communities … [such as] climate change, injustice and violence,” Jean says.

But Jean believes that while young people in the Solomon Islands are passionate about change, “our systems tend to make decisions that affect [us] rather than involving us as part of figuring out the solution”.

In terms of youth crime, Jean believes closer attention on prevention efforts, including the provision of education and support for young people, are needed to decrease offending.

“We should make more initiatives to support youth in their communities that might be struggling from various life hardships that lead them to commit a crime … more often, the system tends to focus on the offence rather than initiating practical ways to help prevent it,” Jean says.

To do this effectively, Jean says it is crucial to engage young people in decision making at the community level.

“I hope to learn from Michelle’s experience working with youth … especially those who are involved in criminal activities [then] integrated back into the community,” Jean says, “In addition, I want to learn different approaches that were taken in Australia to help address youth crime and the challenges that come with it.”

“The approaches in Australia might not be the same as in the Solomon Islands, but it is educative for me to have this opportunity to learn and work with the knowledge in the future,” Jean adds.

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Jean and Michelle are participants of the Women’s Leadership Initiative 2021 Leadership & Mentoring Program. For more information on the program and to learn more about other thriving partnerships, visit: https://womensleadershipinitiative.org.au/leadership-and-mentoring/