Hello! My name is Agnes Wong, I’m 27 years old from Auckland, New Zealand, but have also lived and worked in London, United Kingdom, and travelled to 35 countries (and counting!). I am a youth development, community engagement and public health practitioner, who is passionate about creating meaningful experiences for people, and by doing so, enriching and making a difference to their lives (especially in health and wellbeing).
I love working with young people; helping ensure that their voices and opinions are heard; promoting active citizenship and making the world a better place for tomorrow. I have a strong belief that young people have a lot of untapped potential and talent, their thoughts and opinions are just as valid as yours and mine, and it is important that this is recognised by others.
My passion for working with and developing young people started at a young age. I have had a long standing involvement with St John [Ambulance] in New Zealand. I started as a cadet at aged 14, and slowly progressed through the ranks, before becoming a volunteer at 18 years old; giving back my skills, knowledge and experiences to the new generation of cadets. I have been the Divisional Manager of Epsom Youth Division, leading a strong management team of six youth leaders and a number of young leaders, and also an Area Youth Manager, overseeing three cadet divisions, and managing a large number of volunteers and cadets. I have watched young people find their niche, develop a sense of belonging, grow, and thrive- so much so that they too turn 18, and choose to become leaders and lead the next generation of cadets.
seWhile at the University of Auckland studying for a Bachelor of Health Sciences and Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Sociology) conjoint degree, I successfully managed to apply my passion for young people into academia and research. My research project focused on Asian youth health, and how to best engage young people who identify as Asian into health research. I interviewed young people who identified as “Asian” – one of the many ethnicities from the Asia subcontinent, and these questions all had an underlying focus on identity, and cultural responsiveness. In doing so, I also gained a new appreciation for my own identity – a second generation Chinese New Zealander – and I realised the privileged position I was in to be able to act as a bridge for other young people whose voices may not yet have been heard, and my ability to make change.
I was a member of Auckland Council’s Youth Advisory Panel between 2013-2015, advising Council on matters of relevance to young people, and helping ensure the youth voice was heard in the creation of policies that shape Auckland. As Chair of the Health and Well-being subcommittee, I led a large youth focused consultation on the impact of smoking, alcohol, and healthy play and open spaces for young people across Auckland – pertaining to the goal of creating and enabling opportunities for young people. This ensured that the youth voice was heard in the discussions and helped contribute towards the creation of policies that shape Auckland.
I also founded the Albert-Eden Youth Board with support from Auckland Council staff to provide a more localised youth voice for the Local Board. We planned, developed and delivered on local community projects that benefitted people of all ages, including the painting of a mural in a park, family fun event, and collaborated with schools and other organisations on their community projects.
I have been lucky to work for two organisations who value the place of young people in society, provide them with training opportunities and pave out a potential career path for them.
At St John in New Zealand, I worked at their National Headquarters leading, designing and facilitating child and youth initiatives which improve community health outcomes. I was able to capture the experiences of St John cadets, and include them in the development of key strategic pieces for the cadet program.
Late 2016, I embarked on my own adventure (fueled by my love of travel), and moved to London. I landed a job with the London Fire Brigade with their Fire Cadets program; working in youth engagement and volunteer management. I worked with young people from diverse backgrounds across London in socially economically challenged borough and over 20 volunteers, guiding them in youth development practices and program delivery. The young people were provided with the opportunity to achieve an alternative qualification in Fire and Emergency Services; and I incorporated into the program lessons in life skills, health and personal development.
The role was extremely rewarding – throughout the school year, I got to see young teenagers who were often shy (or the opposite!) learn new skills, find their passions and develop into active, caring citizens who are wanting to give back to their communities; and instill my passion for young people into my volunteers who all wanted to connect with young people in the same manner as I.
One of my career highlights was last year during the Football World Cup hype. My graduate cadet was walking home after cadets and encountered a man and his mates, who had been having a fun time, and fell off a lamppost. She immediately rushed to his aid, providing him first aid – applying all the skills she had learnt at cadets. She stayed with him, managed the scene (and all the rowdiness around her) until the ambulance came and took him to hospital. To receive an email from her father letting me know what had happened made my heart melt – I was so so unbelievably proud of her actions and to know that I had contributed towards her ability to respond in such situation was truly humbling.
Now back in New Zealand, I am working in the public health sector, and hoping to continue making a difference to people’s lives health and well-being. Young people will always have a place in my hearts, and although I am no longer working directly with them, I will still try to ensure their voices, opinions and futures are encapsulated in my work. I am always open to new opportunities, and would welcome suggestions on how we can further impact young people’s livelihoods – as they are the leaders of now and tomorrow.
International Women’s Day is a day worthwhile of celebrating. There are many women across all nations who are true change makers, and have paved the way for other women, like myself, to aspire to be a fraction of who they are. Some of the women I look up to include: Helen Clark, the first elected female Prime Minister in New Zealand and former UNDP Administrator, who has shown women that there is no such thing as a glass-ceiling; Malala Yousafzai, who has defied adversity, and shown how resilience, passion and education can help you achieve great things; and, Michelle Obama, with her can- do attitude and thought and considerations for youth and the future. My mum has also played a key role in my beliefs- to not be afraid to speak up, to work hard, and to be humble regardless of what life throws at you.
For more information you can find Agnes Wong at:
- Twitter: agneshy_w