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UOW student and former refugee honoured for advocacy work

Narayan Khanal named a finalist in 2018 Young Person's Human Rights Medal

University of Wollongong (UOW) student Narayan Khanal has been named a finalist in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2018 Young Person’s Human Rights Medal.

An undergraduate studying a Bachelor of Medical and Health Sciences, Narayan was recognised for his advocacy on behalf of refugees and for his work in establishing the Multicultural Society at UOW.

Born in a refugee camp in Nepal, Narayan spent his formative years in a confronting environment marred by inadequate healthcare and primitive conditions.

It was this experience that inspired Narayan to pursue a future in health, with the aim of influencing policy around public health.

“There were so many diseases and deaths in the refugee camps that were caused by poor hygiene and poor health infrastructure. People died from really minor conditions that could have been prevented with better policies and healthcare,” Narayan said.

Narayan came to Australia at the age of 12, with his family, and said the experience of growing up in a refugee camp and resettling in a new country has shaped his way of looking at the world.

His compassion and empathy for others has led to his passion for ensuring refugees are given the opportunities and support they need.

He is a youth ambassador for MYAN (Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network) Australia, the peak body for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds.

“I’ve had the opportunity to provide a young person’s perspective on different issues relating to refugees and migrants,” Narayan said. “Often young people are portrayed really negatively, so I am trying to change that.”

As the NSW representative for MYAN, Narayan was provided a scholarship by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) to attend a global summit of refugees in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The summit brought together refugee leaders from all over the world,” he said. “Refugees have lived through these experiences, so they can understand the problems facing refugees and displaced people more than anyone else.

“Mental health is one issue that I am really passionate about. Refugees go through really traumatic experiences in their lives, and often mental health can be brushed off as not being important, or it’s not discussed, but support is needed. If there is no support available, then it needs to be created.”

Narayan also was able to attend the 38th Session of the Human Rights Council as a Refugee Council of Australia delegrate, an experience that opened his eyes to public health advocacy at the highest levels.

His work has also been on a local level, and during his time studying at UOW, Narayan has helped to break down barriers among the student body.

He formed the Multicultural Society of UOW, with the aim of encouraging students to meet with others from different cultures, and share their food and backgrounds.

“UOW has people from all over the world,” Narayan said. “My idea was to bring these people together to facilitate sharing of stories and creating friendships. It is also great for students who want to study overseas, because they get to meet someone who is from that country or who has lived there, and it provides them with an insight into the culture.”

Narayan was thrilled to be recognised by the Australian Human Rights Commission, with the winners of the 2018 Young Person’s Human Rights Medal to be announced at a ceremony in December. However, it is clear that his work is not motivated by accolades.

“The ability to influence decision around young people’s lives is very rewarding,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from meeting different people and I’ve learnt the value of leadership. All of these experiences have made me into the person I am today.”