The Order of Australia Association (NSW) Branch has awarded Luiza Knijnik, a youth leader at Gymea Community Aid and Information Service (GCAIS), a Youth Community Service Award due to her extensive community work and social justice advocacy.
She was one of 25 students who participated in an investiture presentation conducted by Zoom with Her Excellency, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC, Governor of New South Wales, on September 23. Award recipients also received a trophy and certificate of commendation from the Governor.
Students across the state were nominated by their school principal as being exemplary community role models before a selection panel determined the final award recipients.
The impact of Ms Knijnik’s community work had previously been recognised by major awards, in particular the 2020 NSW Premier’s Harmony Youth Medal by Multicultural NSW, the 2019 Sutherland Shire Council “Award for Excellence” and the 2019 Zonta Community Service Award.
The Youth Community Service Award is further acknowledgement of her extensive advocacy in high school and in her community.
Ms Knijnik, a mentor for emerging youth leaders, was the coordinator and MC for the School’s Refugee Forum (SRF) with GCAIS, run across three local government areas in 2018 and 2019. The youth-led initiative to raise awareness of the discrimination people seeking asylum face when arriving in Australia engaged over 500 students.
Ms Knijnik also played an important role in the Sutherland Shire Council's Youth Reference Group and in 2020 helped initiate “Meals and Memos”, a group effort between Sutherland Food Services, Sutherland Shire Council and the Youth and Senior Reference Group.
The fortnightly newsletter was aimed at supporting and connecting Meals on Wheels' 600-person customer base to help reduce social isolation during the COVID-19 lockdown.
In 2019 Ms Knijnik, alongside her sisters, Marina and Juliana, won a grant from Georges River Council, Rotary Hurstville and 3Bridges Youth Zone to launch an online youth magazine Woke that focuses on social justice issues, celebrates young change-makers from across the world and has created a community of over 19,000 readers from across the world.
In 2020 they also secured a grant from Multicultural NSW to run the “Me, My Culture and NSW Competition” to combat racism. The competition had over 300 entrants from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in 35 NSW schools.
The entries of several individuals have been used to inform the NSW Department of Education’s antiracism policy.
Ms Knijnik also appeared on an Anti-Racism Education Panel, hosted by journalist Stan Grant, to provide a student perspective on the way education can combat racism. Joining her on the panel were university students, a high school Anti-Racism Contact Officer, and Murat Dizdar PSM, the Deputy Secretary, School Operations and Performance with the NSW Department of Education.
A recording will be used in professional learning to support the implementation of the revised NSW Department of Education Anti-Racism Policy.
Gymea Community Aid and Information Service, a member of the NSW Settlement Partnership, provides information and associated support services to the general community, ageing community members and people from culturally diverse backgrounds in the Sutherland Shire.