Eight from region attend UNICEF Youth Summit on Living with Drought

YOUTH SPEAK UP: Canowindra's Meg Austin will be one of our region's attendees at the UNICEF NSW Youth Summit on Living with Drought.

YOUTH SPEAK UP: Canowindra's Meg Austin will be one of our region's attendees at the UNICEF NSW Youth Summit on Living with Drought.

They're on the frontline in the worst drought in living memory.

They're battling to keep their family farms alive, they're dealing with circumstances nobody should ever have to face and they're watching their beloved local towns struggle to survive.

They are our youth and they are eager to share their lessons and solutions to the ongoing drought crisis.

Their voices have largely gone unheard in the drought debate, but that is about to change.

Seven women and one man from our region are among the 100 young people who will contribute to an historic summit hosted by the United Nations' children's charity UNICEF this week at Lake Macquarie's Point Wolstoncroft Sport and Recreation Centre.

Between Wednesday, October 9, and Friday, October 11, participants aged between 14 and 24, from all over NSW, will have the opportunity to voice their ideas on improving the lives of young people and their communities during drought.

Year 10 Trundle Central School student Hamish Sanderson and Forbes farmer and drought coordinator Sally Downie are also two of 11 on the steering committee, who selected the 100 participants, designed the summit and will present recommendations from discussions to bureaucrats, politicians and other decision-makers on the gathering's final day.

Lake Macquarie, boasting the Southern Hemisphere's largest coastal saltwater lake, is one of the few areas in the state that is not in drought. And that's the point, UNICEF Australia's head of policy and advocacy Amy Lamoin says.

"Young people on our steering committee gave really clear advice that the participants would benefit from being out of drought-affected areas. We've heard from the participants themselves they are eager to spend some time close by water," she said.

Lamoin says UNICEF organised the summit because young voices are missing from the national conversation on drought.

"We really want to better understand what is happening for young people, and for politicians to take that into account when they make decisions about policy and investment. The summit is an independent and safe connector to leaders in NSW," she said.

The summit's program will include a panel discussion on what is working well in participants' communities, smaller group conversations about well-being and available supports, leadership and storytelling workshops, as well as activities like canoeing. The group will release a list of recommendations to the public.

The UNICEF summit participants and steering committee members have been selected to represent the experiences of young people living at home and away from families' farms, as well as the experiences of youth living in towns that have suffered economically and socially from the extensive drought.

Here are some of the stories of those from our area in their own words:

William Thomas

15 years old, from Tullamore. Redheart which is a total of 12,500 thousand acres is predominantly a sheep and cattle farm with around 700 acres of that cropped. The crops are barely out of the ground and look like they are going to die very soon. We have been feeding there, now on and off for nearly 18 months. We have been buying hay and using up the last of the grain that we have grown. We have had to move the cattle to the Cudal property to graze the failing crops, as there is not enough feed at Redheart. We have had to destock over the past 12 months, selling half of our ewes and we are just about to sell all of our cattle. This drought is one of the worst droughts that we have experienced. The affect is not only on the animals and the crops but has had a huge impact on our family. It has also affected us financially, with us having to buy feed and miss out on things that we usually would be able to do, like go on holidays. I am at boarding school and I feel at times guilty for being here, knowing the costs for my parents and not being at home to help. It would be an amazing opportunity [to attend the summit], to meet new friends and talk to people who are experiencing the same thing and sharing stories. Meeting other young people will help put it into perspective how bad things are and that what I might be going through is nowhere near as bad as what someone else might be experiencing. It will be a great time to discuss issues associated with the drought and ways that we might be able to help or even fix some issues. To be able to talk to people about ways to cope with the drought.

Olivia Twyford

16 years old, from Bumbaldry. All I seem to hear about these days is the weather. This is the reality for my siblings and I who are growing up in the epitome of drought. I live, work and breathe on my family farm. I am the eldest of four children and have two extremely hard-working parents, who are both very active in the agricultural industry. As a Year 11 student, school work, although valued, is not a priority to survival. This is a direct result of the diabolical drought which in my opinion is only just beginning. Similar to many other teenagers across the state I am about to enter the HSC period. Contrasting to my friends in Sydney, there are not enough hours in the day to complete homework and study, let alone recreational activities. There is little down time and there is no separation between work and home. Dad has now been forced to look for an off-farm income and been to countless job interviews in which I have had to prepare resumes and statement of claims just to assist him in finding a job to put food on the table. I spend my holidays fencing and rounding up distraught stock rotating them from paddock to paddock and raising helpless poddy lambs. Businesses are forced to lay off staff and people don't go to the club for dinner anymore. They just don't have the time or money, before you know it you've missed one, then two social gatherings, then a birthday and you begin to feel isolated. It is important for the young people affected by the drought to speak up and stand together.

Kate Lucy Price

17 years old, from Cowra. I moved to Cowra almost nine years ago from the NSW South Coast. As first-generation farmers, we were very excited and full of enthusiasm. My parents, three sisters and brother, had a dream of owning our farm. Within two years, we faced two disastrous floods and experienced many years of travelling to Westmead Children's Hospital when my older sister needed emergency surgery for a rare brain condition and my older brother's sudden illness, needing emergency surgery on his right hip for an aggressive chondroblastoma tumour. Then the drought hit like a ton of bricks, igniting the beginning of a dire phase that my parents thought was not going to be anywhere near as distressing as having two immensely sick children. Due to the abrupt arrival of the drought, dams were low, feeding stock took all day, and the toll on my parents financially, physically and mentally was very noticeable. I aspire to contribute to the Summit by being a voice for children who are feeling the effects of drought, either in their community or on their farm, such as I have. I want to make sure that young people living in rural areas are encouraged to continue to be involved in the agricultural industry, despite the challenges and hardships they face.

YOUNG LEADER: Sally Downie from Forbes has been appointed a steering committee member for UNICEF's NSW Youth Summit on Living With Drought.

YOUNG LEADER: Sally Downie from Forbes has been appointed a steering committee member for UNICEF's NSW Youth Summit on Living With Drought.

Emma Chalker

17 years old, From Darbys Falls. Starved, hollow animals, dry river beds and dust. This is what I see everyday. The impact of the drought on my farm, my home and my family, has hit. Drought places stress on all, I've witnessed it first hand. My dad is a person who's never opened up about his issues or show emotions. But lately, there have been many days I've watched my dad stare out the kitchen window, praying for rain. It's heart wrenching to watch a man who puts on such a brave face constantly, in such grief. The scariest part of a drought is not knowing how long it's going to last or what the future may or may not hold. Higher water and utility bills, fewer jobs, shrinking communities and a weakened economy. It makes me fear for my future. I would love to attend the summit to meet people going through the same struggle. I think it is extremely important to hear other people's stories and share yours so they realise they aren't alone. I also hope to make some new friends with similar interests and ways of thinking. I would love to help contribute ideas and strategies to help those going through it. After all rain cannot be made, but strategies can be put in place to help the situation.

Mikala McLean

18 years old, from Tullamore. The drought means that we see no green, that we see our own animals die, our parents argue about how we can pay for things we need. The drought has affected everyone, we barely have any feed left, and we are running out of money to pay. We only have a bit of water left. It takes all our happiness as it's all we can talk about, because we see it everywhere. It would be great to be able to communicate with other people who are experiencing the same as me and different techniques to cope and also different sides to people's stories.

Meg Austin

21 years old, from Canowindra. Australia is the land of harsh droughts and flooding rains. As farmers working the land, I think we need to become more accustomed to the reality that there is no such thing as a "normal year" or "average rainfall". As rural communities, we need to build businesses that can handle the financial impacts of drought or floods, to withstand the hard times and come out the other side. This drought has a firm grip, but we need to be thinking and planning ahead to ensure businesses are not this vulnerable in the years to come. I am super excited to attend the summit. Ultimately I'd love to see all attendees build a greater understanding of the impact the drought is having not only on our properties and in our communities, but also the impact nationally. I think it's also a great opportunity to build public awareness of this climatic condition. What I find most exciting is the energy and enthusiasm that youth have; and their ability to think outside the box [and] suggest some new [or crazy ideas]. It's a unique opportunity. It gives rural youth the opportunity to hold the mic, have their voice heard and suggest changes.

Lily Wright

23 years old, from Cowra. Over the last year and a half I have seen my father fall apart and try to repair himself while working on a farm going nowhere, I have felt worry and sadness, and anger in ways I never thought I would, I have seen my mum continue to work as a dedicated local music teacher even though she felt as if she was losing her husband, I have seen small steps being taken to take care of our farm for the future and I have seen how communities rally together and help those in need. [I would like to attend the Summit] to connect and interact with other young people across NSW that have been in similar circumstances to me. But to also have my voice heard as part of the next generation of regional community members and to ensure, moving forward that not only are the farmers getting the right support, but the family members and friends are as well.

Anastasia Hunter

From Yeoval. My family and I are fifth generation farmers in Yeoval. My grandfather, dad and older brother work on our farm of 4500 acres and work mainly with livestock, primarily merino. The drought as of now is starting to take its toll on us, both as a business and as a family. I try to come home from uni most weekends now and try to help my mum with the stress of living and caring for two very stressed and anxious men. My mum is seen as the concrete that holds the family together and as I've been coming home, I am seeing her start to crumble. It has been the first time since 1982 that we have had to buy grain in order to feed our stock to the quality we desire. It has been the first time that I have seen my 82-year-old grandfather genuinely hopeless for the future as he has never seen it this bad in his lifetime. The drought is having a detrimental impact on the state of men and women's health and mental health, and I believe that this is what needs to be discussed. My mum keeps saying that she knows this drought will pass because it has to, but mental health doesn't pass unless it is acknowledged, addressed and dragged out from shadows. I know there are many worse areas and worse-off families compared to mine. I want to learn about the resilience these families have in far west areas so I might be able to somehow help my own. I want to listen and be able to talk to others who understand the severity of the situation around us and try to help in anyway I can.