Words By William Ryan Year 11 Student at St Helena Secondary College
Pauline Toner Prize: Pictured left to right: Kate Thwaites Member for Jagajaga, Isobel Vertigan, Scarlett Harrison, Martina Charalambous (winner), Lois Pokun, Evey Hunter, Vicki Ward Member for Eltham. Photo supplied by Vicki Ward’s Office
Martina Charalambous is a Year 11 student at St Helena Secondary College and known for her passion for the environment, social justice, leadership, and volunteering within her local community for many events.
Martina has done a lot of work across the Nillumbik Shire with her involvement in the youth council. The youth council gives young people aged 15-25 who live, study or work in the Nillumbik Shire, a chance to have their voice represented on various issues. Martina has been a member of the Youth Council since 2022. For Martina, the experience of being on the youth council “has been inspiring” and “quite cool” as she is able to be at the table with the Councillors listening but also contributing her voice on issues. Martina appreciates that the Councilors can recognise the importance of the youth council that gives young people a chance to work alongside them. One of her big accomplishments whilst on Youth Council was organising the Youth Summit. The Youth Summit brought young people across Nillumbik together and gave them a chance to voice concerns or issues about their everyday lives. Important issues were raised, such as phone addiction, physical health and social media. One of the big concerns was the environmental issues that need to be solved.
Duke of Ed
One of the other programs Martina is involved in is the Silver award for the Duke of Edinburgh Program. The program offers young people the ability to gain a wide variety of skills, such as voluntary service to the community as well as going on adventures and excursions. For Martina, being a part of the Duke of Edinburgh program is really rewarding for her as she is able to work with other students “who have similar interests” to her.
The Duke of Edinburgh program has also assisted in the implementation of projects for the community, including a Queen Jubilee Garden at St Helena Secondary College. Martina assisted in the designing of a garden, to commemorate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Martina has also been involved in the organisation and implementation of an Indigenous Mural at her school. Jodie Williams, who has worked with Martina during the Duke of Edinburgh award, said Martina is a “strong and independent leader” in leading the program of 19 students and has a strong “positive influence on others.”
Martina has been involved in Scouts, where she has been able to expand her leadership skills, such as mentoring. Martina leads the 1st Eltham Scout group, the Venturers, which is a youth-led and adult supported scout group. As leader she is responsible for organising events such as hikes, but she is also heavily involved in the planning of events like writing up risk assessments. Martina also mentors new people who join the Scouts. When Martina first became leader of the 1st Unit in 2021, there were only 10 people in it, but under her leadership, the Unit has grown to around 45 people.
The Pauline Toner Award
In March, Martina was nominated and won the Pauline Toner Award and was up against tough competition with other young inspiring women across Eltham. The award honours Pauline Toner’s fearless leadership for female representation in Victorian State Parliament. (Toner was elected to Victoria’s Legislative Assembly in 1977 and was the first woman to hold a Ministerial position). The award recognises young women who have done work within the community and shown examples of social justice, environmental and gender equality.
Martina was presented with the award by Vicki Ward, State Member for Eltham and was joined at the ceremony by Kate Thwaites, Federal MP for Jagajaga. She received it for her work on the Youth Council, the Duke of Edinburgh program and for organising input to Clean Up Australia day and for being a volunteer at the Australian Native Plants Expo.
Martina said winning the award was a “massive honour”. Martina was grateful that her Scouts team, friends and family have been a huge support for her and that she “would’ve not have done anything if it wasn’t for them.” Martina hopes that young peoples’ voices get heard at all levels, including at state, federal and school. Martina said that through her work and experience, she’s grown in confidence and has developed leadership and problem-solving skills. Congratulations Martina, your community is so proud of your achievements.