Shirley’s story is a great example of how the Future Leaders programme supports young women to build better futures and make extraordinary things happen. At 14, Shirley Barakuta left behind her mother, friends and childhood home in Fiji to live in Auckland with her grandmother because her family wanted a “better education and better life for her”. But to Shirley, life didn’t feel better; it just felt lonely and confusing. While she was doing well in class, Shirley felt everything was beyond her control.
“I was really shy. I wasn’t confident; I didn’t know how to do things. I was struggling with friends, just the whole cultural difference and the way I spoke”.
Life began to change when Shirley joined the Future Leaders Programme, the free, four year transformative mentoring and leadership skills development programme. Setting her sights high, her mentors and YWCA Programme Facilitators did everything they could to support her, giving her everything from goal setting workshops to CV lessons that she would otherwise not have had the opportunity to do. Last year, Shirley graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce with a double major in accounting and commercial law at the University of Auckland. Now 24, she is in her “dream job” with the Royal New Zealand Air Force working in logistics and supply. She shared about her time in Future Leaders:
“The best thing I learned was trying everything and giving it 100%. They gave me extra opportunities while I was young so that when I was older I made more informed decisions about what I wanted to do. I think it would have taken me longer to realise that there was this many doors open for me if I hadn’t [joined the Programme]. If you’re not good at sports and just an okay student at school, you can fly under the radar. The YWCA Future Leaders programme just made me unique and different, and I was doing more stuff because they put me out there.”
Mele Maliepo (right), Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate Future Leader student from 2011 to 2015 with her mentor Yvonne Treen.
From Year 10, Mele was a part of YWCA Auckland Future Leaders programme. Future Leaders is solely dedicated to empowering young women aged 14 to 18, by helping them to maximise their potential in life, whilst at the same time valuing their diversity.
Young women in the programme are paired with mentors, who become trusted friends and guides. For Mele, this was a woman called Yvonne Treen.
While the idea of confiding in an adult may sound daunting at first, Mele says that it is all very casual. A typical session with Yvonne simply involved watching movies and hanging out together. Furthermore, her mentor’s presence has been invaluable when it comes to Mele’s education. Thanks to Yvonne’s encouragement, Mele says, she is now focused on school and planning study schedules to keep on track.
One of the most significant changes Mele has noticed since taking part in Future Leaders, is her level of confidence. Before joining the programme, she was a shy, quiet girl who was afraid to talk to strangers. That is completely different now and she says that she is able to greet people she has never met, even telling them jokes.
Future Leaders helped Mele in ways she never imagined. The most important lesson she learnt was “resilience,” she says. “Keep on trying and never, ever give up.”
“I’ve gained so many qualities that a leader should have. I’ve become more confident and more open. I’m
more open-minded towards people that are different to me,” says Ashlee, a graduate from the Future Leaders programme who attended Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate
Ashlee’s mentor Delilah supported Ashlee to take up leadership roles. “I see so much potential in Ashlee. She has a lot to give to her community,” she says.
Together, the two have forged a special bond and share many activities together. Delilah’s favourite thing about Future Leaders was having the opportunity to “give back” to her community. “There is so much potential in our youth, but it’s often thrown away. I love being part of something that creates opportunities for young women to make a difference.”