As a young girl who moved to Bendigo at the age of 4, Khayshie Tilak Ramesh has a fond connection with her home in rural Victoria. So, when our conversation in Melbourne’s CBD was coming to an end, I asked her: Bendigo or Melbourne?
Her response took me by surprise. She said, “I wish to bring knowledge from Melbourne to Bendigo.”
It made complete sense, given the conversation we had just had about her background, life experiences, achievements, public commitments and her goals. Khayshie has recently been appointed to the Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC) as its Youth Commissioner, and is also Mayor of the newly established Bendigo Youth Council.
On her agenda for Bendigo, is to tackle issues on graduate retention, building opportunities, supporting local businesses to hire employees and helping Bendigo attract people to the area. The causes in relation to youths that she is passionate about include refugees, unemployment, career development and advocacy.
“I believe it is imperative that those fortunate in society make the effort to do things which will improve the overall community,” she said with conviction.
Growing up in Bendigo has helped shape Khayshie become the woman she is today. She attributes much of her interest in social issues to her experiences living there. In 2015, Khayshie started the platform Young People for Refugees with a group of friends. She explained the group’s mission was to change the conversation in Australia about refugees.
“Many people questioned why I was supporting refugees,” she explained. “I would receive negative feedback on social media and in person, which made me wonder why people did not appreciate refugees. My vision was to make people less fearful of refugees. My solution was to educate people with reasons why their beliefs were inaccurate.”
From organising community events to starting a social enterprise, Khayshie helped the community value the inclusion of refugees. This experience taught her about the power of one’s voice.
She recounted her early experiences in Bendigo where, stereotyped on a regular basis, she struggled with her sense of identity and belonging. It was only her recent participation in the 2018 Joan Kirner Young and Emerging Leaders Program that helped her understand how people can make a difference in society no matter where they come from or what experiences they have.
“The program helped me to connect with others and understand the role that I want to fill in society,” she remarked.
“As Youth Commissioner at the VMC, I want to be a role-model for youths growing up in rural Victoria,” she declared. Khayshie explained how she wants to represent Bendigo, reassure the community that their voice can be heard and encourage other members from rural Victoria to take leadership positions.
“I am even encouraging the entire Commission to pay a visit to Bendigo and show its presence,” she added.
Her dedication to making things happen is remarkable. As an accredited mediator who understands the importance of achieving a win-win outcome, Khayshie takes part in social issues to help navigate people through the fears they have.
A theme which permeated throughout her story, was taking the initiative to teach people something they did not know. “Often, it is the fear someone has about a particular issue which hurts the community,” she explained. “Educating people on issues that makes them angry or upset, can change their view for the better.”
Whether it is helping the community understand more about refugees or reassuring her local community in Bendigo that the VMC is aware of the need to explore multicultural issues in rural Victoria, Khayshie helps ensure that people, especially the youth, have a space to voice their opinions and feel that they are seen as credible sources of information in society regardless of who they are.
“We need to stop worrying about failing or making mistakes. It might not be your job to fix something, but at least make the effort to do something positive,” she said.
In relation to the final question I asked Khayshie, she might not know what knowledge to bring back to Bendigo. She is, however, taking steps to position herself into roles that will help her make valuable change to the community.
It is clear she has practised what she now preaches: “Overcome your fears, learn something new, and be adaptable to differences.”