From health and disability advocacy to artists and directors, this year’s YWCA Y25 are serving their communities, addressing injustices and inspiring activism every day.
You would be forgiven for taking things slow over the last two years. For so many of us, 2020, 2021 and the first half of this year haven’t been particularly productive – for reasons that probably don’t need stating. But while a lot of us have sat back and hoped for the pandemic to end, a group of inspiring young people have been working hard towards equity, justice, education and entertainment.
Of this huge pool of talented young New Zealanders, the YWCA has chosen 25 that represent the best of what Gen Z are capable of – all of whom are tearing down the misconceptions about their generation by putting their passion into helping others, and helping the planet.
Now in its third year, the Y25 has evolved to become more diverse than ever. Y25 programme manager Rachel Cleary says the transition from a wāhine space into one that celebrates women and non-binary people was an important but natural extension to be an inclusive organisation.
“2022 has been harsh for women & non-binary people in every global issue, always being the statistic who will be the most affected, often the last to be considered – especially when intersecting with being part of other minority groups. It’s time to celebrate wāhine toa and irarere and what they’re doing for themselves, their communities, their environment and all our futures.”
The panel of judges for this year’s Y25 had a hard task narrowing down the pool of over 100 nominees. One of the judges, Dr Huhana Hickey (Ngāti Tāhinga, Whakatōhea) said the talent of the 2022 Y25 gave her “so much hope for our future.”
Meet the incredible Y25 for 2022:
Adibah Khan, 23, Te Whanganui-a-tara, Wellington, (she/her)
Passionate about addressing racism and discrimination at a systematic level, Adibah Khan works to improve access to healthcare in Aotearoa, and address inequities in child health outcomes. A New Zealand-born Bangladeshi Muslim, Khan was involved in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the March 15 terrorist attach, is a co-founder of the National Islamic Youth association and a leadership member for the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
Words of wisdom: “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something – and together, we can change the world.”
Amber Clyde, 25, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
Each week, Amber Clyde teaches groups of girls to skateboard in a safe, friendly environment – boosting their confidence, mental toughness and physical health. Her organisation Girls Skate NZ teaches skatepark etiquette and safety, and gets more girls excited to participate in a traditionally male-dominated sport. Clyde also created a female-only skate competition – the first to provide more than one event for wāhine skaters – opening up more opportunities for women in the sport.
Words of wisdom: “Be fearless! And never take criticism to heart from somebody you wouldn’t go to for advice.”
Cha’nel Kaa-Luke, 21, Ōtautahi, Christchurch, (she/they)
As a member of the Māori and Deaf communities, Cha’nel Kaa-Luke (Ngāti Porou, Ngā Ruahine, Ngāti Ruanui) advocates for more accessibility for the 23,000 people across Aotearoa who use sign language to communicate. A proud queer wāhine Māori turi, she has fought for accessibility at the NZ Youth Parliament General Debate Assembly in 2019 and interpreted for well-known performers like drag queen Anita Wigl’it.
Words of wisdom: “There will always be people there who judge you and look down on you, but their type of judgement has no place in your life!”
Emilly Fan, 21, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
Emilly Fan wants everyone to be equipped with knowledge and methods of decarbonisation. She has worked with the United Nations Development Programme, and New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment and recently attended the United Nations COP26 conference in Glasgow as part of the Harvard delegation. Her long-term goal is to combine private and public sector expertise to tackle climate change at the New Zealand and international legislative level.
Words of wisdom: “Walk your own path, because everyone has a different background and their own obstacles to overcome.”
Hawwa Niyaz, 17, Ōtautahi, Christchurch, (she/her)
Passionate about all diversity, climate change and mental health, Hawwa Niyaz believes representation of young women is crucial to create an inclusive and fair world. Niyaz is a proud New Zealand Muslim, and loves to share knowledge of her culture and religion. Her passion for the environment stems from seeing the real-time effects of climate change in her home country, the Maldives.
Words of wisdom: “Take the leap. If you never try, you’ll never know, and living a life of ‘what if?’ is something that can potentially hold you back from developing into the person that you want to be.”
Hetal Patel, 20, Ōtepoti, Dunedin, (she/her)
Hetal Patel grew up in sunny Ōtaki, where she helped to create a nurturing queer community. At high school, she championed mental wellbeing initiatives, representation in the arts and the introduction of rainbow policies like gender-neutral uniforms and toilets. With whakapapa to Gujarat, India, Patel is an advocate for decolonisation of legal and academic spaces, and is heavily involved in the Otago Asian Law Students’ Association.
Words of wisdom: “There is no shame in reclaiming your identity. Decolonising ourselves is a process and some days it’s hard. But it is time to let go of the internalised racism that has built up.”
Jaskiran Kaur Rahi, 15, Te Whanganui-a-tara, Wellington, (she/her)
Jaskiran Kaur Rahi founded Spirit & Soul four years ago with the aim of encouraging young women and schools across New Zealand to cherish and foster passion. Through Spirit & Soul, young students are encouraged to learn from inspirational women sharing empowering stories, boost wellbeing and mental health, and gain exposure to a world of different career options.
Words of wisdom: “Own your voice; it is one of the most powerful things you have, no matter your background. Use it to speak up for yourself, for your peers and your community.”
Jess Collins, 24, Ōtautahi, Christchurch, (wāhine/ia)
Jess Collins (Te Tairawhiti, Taranaki) is a multimedia ringatoi, matakite and rongoā practitioner, specialising in romiromi. Known by her artist name Miss Tino, Collins has worked alongside various communities to share mātauranga Māori, and is a founding kaitiaki/trustee of Te Pahī o Āio Nuku Charitable Trust. Currently, Collins is working on a kaupapa called Pūrākau ki te Ao, creating large murals in mainstream schools, and is curating the touring exhibition: Waitangi, Whytangi, Whywetangi.
Words of wisdom: “Tūpuna got backs.”
Katja Phutaraksa Neef, 21, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
Amplifying Indigenous Pacific voices and acknowledging Indigenous knowledge systems is the driving force behind artist Katja Neef’s work. Selected as an ARTivist in residence by the International Center for Advocates Against Discrimination (ICAAD), she aims to use that residence to create pieces exploring human rights themes. She believes lasting change will be created by laws and policies informed by indigenous values.
Words of wisdom: “Do not doubt your worth, place, and space you take up. Everyone deserves to be involved in the conversation, to own or create space and to use our voices.”
Lily Holloway, 23, Te Whanganui-a-tara, Wellington, (they/her)
A queer writer and editor, Lily Holloway’s mahi is in the area of arts accessibility and amplification of queer voices. Their work can be found in local and international publications, such as Peach Mag, Landfall, Starling and Best New Zealand Poetry. Holloway is a founding editor of eel mag, assistant editor for Fine Line and on the boards of the New Zealand Poetry Society and Same Same But Different queer literary festival. They are an advocate for fair compensation in the arts, and will be starting an MFA in Creative Writing at Syracuse University later this year.
Words of wisdom: “Aspiring to make the world better is important, but forgive yourself for taking breaks and breathers… Take your time and be kind to yourself.”
Lushomo Thebe, 22, Kirikiriroa, Hamilton, (she/her)
A proud Zambian wāhine, Lushomo Thebe now calls Kirikiriroa her home away from home. She’s the 2022 president of the Waikato Students’ Union where she represents over 12,000 students. Thebe is passionate about migrant rights among the African community in Aotearoa – she helped to organise the Kirikiriroa Black Lives Matter solidarity march and is an honorary member of the Golden Key Honours Society. Her goal is to create inclusive and equitable spaces for her communities to flourish.
Words of wisdom: “Be clear of your mission and vision. Set a strong ‘why’. Surround yourself with people who back your vision. Finally, remember that rest is not the enemy of change. Rather it is critical to ensure you show up as your best self.”
Mardiya Abdulaziz, 24, Te Whanganui-a-tara, Wellington, (she/her)
Mardiya Abdulaziz is a New Zealand born Somali whose family resettled here in 1997 via a Kenyan refugee camp. Abdulaziz has a passion for community development, which she has channelled into leadership roles on the Executive of the New Zealand Refugee Association, the Board of ChangeMakers Resettlement Forum and as the former President of Vic Without Barriers at Victoria University of Wellington. She uses her intercultural communication skills to inspire change in all the communities she is a part of.
Words of wisdom: “Don’t compare yourself to others. Just because they seem to have it all, it doesn’t necessarily mean they do. Most people want you to see their great work before you see their other layers. You got this and your time is coming.”
Menorah Coombe, 23, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
Growing up on Niue Island, Menorah Coombe has always been passionate about the welfare of Pacific people. Her work in Auckland’s health sector has been varied; from leading a project that responds to delays in delivering complex care in General medicine, to trialling an app for people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Community, kaitiakitanga, and love are at the core of all the work Coombe does in her professional and personal life.
Words of wisdom: “Dream big, believe that you can, and on the days when you feel as though you can’t — lean into those who can believe in you on your behalf.”
Michelle Prasad, 19, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
Michelle Prasad couldn’t speak for the first five years of her life, but is now trailblazing through her organisation the Good Start Foundation, which gives scholarships to students who serve their communities while maintaining academic success. Prasad’s involvement in her community includes being vice president of the Auckland Student Volunteer Army, United Nations youth high schools ambassador in New Zealand and delegate of the UN model parliament in 2019. Her ultimate goal is to be the first Fijian-Indian prime minister of New Zealand.
Words of wisdom: “Do good without the expectation of something in return.”
Molly Doyle, 20, Te Whanganui-a-tara, Wellington, (she/her)
At age 14, Molly Doyle wrote and directed a short film called A Fishy Tale. Her film won an award in Wellington’s Roxy5 film competition, which sparked her love and passion for content and filmmaking. More recently, Doyle’s short film Comic, about a comic book club challenging gender stereotypes was screened in several international film festivals and is being developed into a television series. She hopes to create a community of young filmmakers and increase diversity in the industry, with her group Wellington Young Women and Non-Binary Filmmakers.
Words of wisdom: “Listen to everyone’s opinions. It’s easy to become caught up in your own echo chambers, but understanding why someone holds the views they do will allow open conversations and collaboration for a better future.”
Nele Kalolo, 20, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
Achieving equitable opportunities and outcomes for Māori and Pasifika in Aotearoa is the change Nele Kalolo (Savai’i, Upolu, Tongatapu) wants to see. She advocates for and guides Māori and Pasifika youth to define their own success as an organiser for the 2020 Empowerment Festival, an ADHB rangatahi cadet and a Pasifika representative for Pharmac, and is currently setting up a social enterprise called WaiLagi Ltd, to ensure indigenous knowledge is nurtured to support social issues and mental health support for Pasifika people.
Words of wisdom: “If you want to change something, change it. Only let those who see what you are trying to build, build with you.”
Nikki Singh, 24, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
With a background in public health, ethnic identity and intersectionality, Nikki Singh wants to make change through her passions of academia, the pursuit of equity for vulnerable populations and young ethnic people, particularly women. Her autoimmune disease has also made her an advocate for unseen disability. She has previously worked in Sexual Violence Prevention, creating cultures of consent and healthy relationships.
Words of wisdom: “Take up space in a world that wants women to be quiet. Be loud, be proud and keep in mind that humility (in the right contexts, and with the right people) will serve you as well.”
Rana Arif, 20, Kirikiriroa, Hamilton, (she/her)
Rana Arif’s work on multiple projects including Te Tiriti in our Language pilot, the Waikato Rangatahi Opportunity and ongoing work with the Refugee Orientation Centre is inspired by her interest in people. Arif, who lived in the United Arab Emirates for 14 years before moving home to complete high school and university, has a double major in human development and human resources. She is passionate about community and youth development, especially for ethnic rangatahi.
Words of wisdom: “No matter how much you prepare for life there will always be changes that are unexpected. Trusting the process and being present in the moment will always take the pressure of being ‘in control’ off, and instead help you adapt when things don’t go as planned.”
Reihana Dougherty, 25, Ōtautahi/Christchurch, (she/her)
A passion for the revitalisation of te ao Māori and improving outcomes for all tamariki and rangatahi drives Reihana Dougherty (Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Maniapoto, Ngāti Hāua) in her mahi and her life. Dougherty is the Board Secretary & Leadership PA of Beckenham Te Kura o Pūroto. A Māmā of a 7-year-old son, she also works with Leadership Lab on the Puāwai programme as the Care Experienced Tuakana which seeks to promote the strengths & leadership of young people. She sits on the Oranga Tamariki Youth Advisory Group, and advocates for young people to be at the table in all aspects of decision-making, including through the creation of Te Rōpū Pūmanawa. Dougherty was part of the steering group that helped to develop the Te Waipounamu Regional Youth Council for VOYCE Whakarongo Mai.
Words of wisdom:“Keep asking for better; from yourself, from the people, spaces, systems and communities around you.”
Sala McCarthy-Stonex, 24, Te Whanganui-a-tara, Wellington, (she/her)
Sala McCarthy-Stonex (Ngāti Whitikaupeka, Ngāti Tamakōpiri, Ngāti Pikiao, Whakaue, Hawaiʻi, Samoa, Tonga) was raised among indigenous populations in Tuba City, Arizona (Navajo Nation) and Lāʻie, Hawaiʻi (Kānaka Maoli). She has a passion for languages, indigeneity and intercultural understanding and currently works with an organisation that provides Te Ao Māori advice on policy, engagement, strategy and leadership. McCarthy-Stonex works hard to create and hold space as a multicultural woman; to break stereotypes, and aspires to inspire.
Words of wisdom: “Trust yourself, believe in you. Be your own biggest fan and happiness. Have the confidence of a mediocre white man and you will go far in life.”
Sherry Zhang, 23, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
Sherry Zhang 章雪莉 (Fujian, China), is a second-generation Chinese New Zealander who tells stories across many different forms – through theatre, poetry and journalism. Zhang relishes opportunities to chat with amazing creative artists around their dreams for Aotearoa’s queer communities and ways of decolonising creative structures and upholding her role as tauiwi. Using her work as a writer, she pushes for more intersectional, culturally specific, and rainbow affirming content.
Words of wisdom: “Sometimes activism mahi is about pausing, being kind to yourself, and just having fun.”
Te Ao Mārama Nepia, 17, Wairau, Blenheim (she/her)
Te Ao Mārama Nepia (Ngāti Apa ki te rā tō, Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne, Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Rongowhakaata and Te Aitanga-a-Māhaki) launched her business The World of Light with the mission to inspire people to use their strengths, skills and passions to create their dream life. Nepia was raised on her marae – the daughter of a chief, she was at every meeting, event and celebration. Now actively contributing to the revitalisation of te ao Māori, she is dedicated to supporting rangatahi like herself, to become the best versions of themselves. She teaches mātauranga Māori, including mau rākau and mihimihi, and believes the biggest lesson she can teach rangatahi is to hold their head high.
Words of wisdom: “The change I want to see for the next generation is being unapologetically the best versions of themselves. Supporting each other to grow and reach their full potential.”
Te Rina West, 23, Tamaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
From a young age, Te Rina West (Te Arawa) represented her hometown of Rotorua, and then Aotearoa, playing basketball. West was also an active member of her community through Manu Korero, Kapa Haka, and as the “Face of Rotorua”. She has volunteered with many charities including Plunket, Women’s Refuge, KidsCan, FoodBank, Heart Foundation and Sunset Breakfast Club and is a past senior ambassador of the Rotorua Lakes Youth Council and the Rotorua Youth Voice. West believes that giving back to her people is about paying back to the communities who raised and continue to support her.
Words of wisdom: “Knowing where, and whom you descend from is foundational in truly knowing who you are, and what you are destined for. If you know these elements, you will come to know yourself so wholly that no storm can sway your values or your confidence in yourself.”
Tiana Mihaere, 24, Ōtautahi, Christchurch, (wāhine/ia)
Tiana Mihaere (Waitaha, Kāti Mamoe, Kāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu ki te Wairoa, Rangitāne) is passionate about the hauora of takata whenua. She is currently in her fourth year in the Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBChB) and has a Diploma in Rongoā Māori. Mihaere is a founding kaitiaki of Te Pahī o Āio Nuku Charitable Trust, leading the kaupapa Mana Rakatahi ki Moeraki, and an elected Whānau Representative on Te Rūnanga o Moeraki – with a goal to uplift the next generation of leaders in Moeraki and provide space so that our young people stand strong on their tūrakawaewae.
Words of wisdom: “Whaowhia te kete mātauranga. When you stop learning, you will stop growing.”
Wednesday Davis, 24, Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, (she/her)
Wednesday Davis loves being in, on and around the ocean. An avid scuba diver, snorkel guide and lover of all things marine, she believes the greatest environmental challenge facing Aotearoa is the disconnect between science, politics, and the public. Wednesday is an educator at Experiencing Marine Reserves, working with rangatahi and community groups to teach them about the issues our marine and freshwater ecosystems face. She hopes to educate others on the value beneath the ocean’s surface, inspiring rangatahi to become ocean kaitiaki.
Words of wisdom: “By being your true self you can build strong, authentic and meaningful connections with others and help create positive changes to the communities we connect with and the environments we exist in.”
The Y25 is supported by AUT, Kiwibank, The Warehouse Group, Bell Gully and Joyce Fisher Trust. Thank you to Tayla Hartemink for the wonderful illustrations.