Student and former refugee named Wollongong’s Young Citizen of the Year

UOW undergraduate Narayan Khanal honoured by city for his work on behalf of young refugees

University of Wollongong undergraduate Narayan Khanal was last night named Wollongong’s Young Citizen of the Year in the city’s annual Australia Day honours.

Narayan, who is studying a Bachelor of Medical and Health Sciences, was recognised for his advocacy on behalf of young refugees.

Wollongong City Council also cited Narayan’s work in founding the Multicultural Society of UOW, a club that promotes social inclusion and provides a space for students from all backgrounds to meet and share their experiences.

Narayan joined Dr Justin Yerbury, UOW researcher and motor neurone disease advocate, who was named Citizen of the Year during the ceremony.

While accepting his award on Tuesday evening (22 January), Narayan said he was humbled by the honour.

“For me, the past two years have truly been incredible,” he told the crowd at the ceremony. “I’ve been very lucky to have great people around me who have supported me in my pursuit for advocacy, particularly the rights of young people from diverse backgrounds.”

It is the second prestigious accolade for Narayan in the space of just a few months after he was also a finalist in the 2018 Australian Human Rights Commission’s Young Person’s Human Rights Medal in November.

He was also named a New Colombo Plan Scholar that same month, which will see him spend six months in Japan later this year as part of the Australian Government initiative to boost engagement with the Asia-Pacific region.

Born in a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal, Narayan spent the first 12 years of his life in a confined, primitive environment. It was a confronting and, at times, devastating experience that shaped the way he sees the world and the path he has chosen to take in life.

“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,” he said.

Narayan is now hoping to be forge a future in health, with the aim of influencing policy decisions. He is well on his way to changing the world.

“Inspired by the challenges of the camp, I’ve been able to provide feedback in policies and practices that influences young people’s lives in many occasions,” he said.

Naryan Khanal Australia Day CeremonyNarayan Khanal with Wollongong Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery OAM. Photo supplied.

He is the NSW Ambassador for MYAN (Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network) Australia, the peak body for young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds, a role that has seen him attend a global summit of refugees in Switzerland.

Narayan is also the chairperson of the Youth Advisory Group for Refugee Youth Peer Mentoring Project, which works to support youth within the Wollongong community, as well as a volunteer for Headspace.

But he told the Australia Day ceremony that there is much more he wants to do to help the community, and he encourages others to do the same.

“There’s yet so much more that we all need do collectively,” he said. “Seeing everyone contribute to make our community a better place has provided me with the extra motivation to continue in my pursuit for better representation, advocacy and volunteering and I am truly honoured and humbled to be recognised as Young Citizen of the Year.”

In its annual Australia Day Awards, Wollongong City Council also honoured UOW alumni Alfred Chidembo, the CEO and Founder of Aussie Books for Zim. The not-for-profit organisation distributes books from Australia to Zimbabwe to benefit children who do not have access to books.

Alfred, who was nominated for Citizen of the Year, received the Lord Mayor’s Special Award during the ceremony.

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