By Nigel Tapp
University student Laura Sykes (pictured) says she simply wants to make a difference for the world’s poor. A lofty aim, but one the 20-year-old pursues every day with a zeal which would put most people to shame.
Laura is currently the State Director of VGen, World Vision’s youth movement; the Hobart chapter president of Carpets for Communities, a social enterprise initiative based in Cambodia; Chief Executive Officer of Go Fair, an organisation she founded to encourage communities to consider only purchasing goods which conform to ethical practices; and a volunteer for Heart of Chocolate, which markets Fair Trade certified chocolate to retailers.
On top of that she has a fulltime study load and works part-time.
Late last year Laura – who worships at Pilgrim Uniting Church, in Launceston – was named as the joint winner of the Human Rights Commission’s youth award for Tasmania. Laura grew up in a socially aware family but her interest in social justice was truly pricked by attending a World Vision youth leadership forum in her final year of high school.
“We discussed things like child labour and slavery and it made me think: ‘Why did some children as young as five have to deal with that when I didn’t’?” she said.
“I did not think I could sit back and do nothing while they were being exploited.”
Laura’s first ‘big’ win came when she successfully campaigned for the Launceston City Council to become a certified Fair Trade council. She has since replicated the campaign in Hobart, with the capital city council now taking steps to achieve similar accreditation. Laura said she was encouraged by the growing support from her contemporaries for Fair Trade initiatives.
“People will tell me when they have bought a product which has been certified as Fair Trade and it is very empowering to know that what I am doing is making a difference in people’s lives.
“I do not see it as work. It is just what I do.”
Laura concedes she will need to begin thinking about reducing her volunteer load.
“Throughout this year I have been trying to build other people up so they can move into leadership positions.
“I believe it is important to support and nurture young people in their journey as volunteers and empower them to realise their potential as change makers.
“Sometimes I get caught up in the excitement of my volunteer work. But I think it’s important to maintain balance and give others opportunities to reach their full potential.”