21st of March, 2016
By Tania Kanaan
Have you ever wondered why there is so much violence amongst teenagers? Is enough being done in our schools to educate the youth? Claudia McEwen, 22, is a bright blue eyed and ambitious Australian female with a mission. She is the founder of Wake Up, a not-for-profit organisation which aims to educate and inform teenagers about a variety of issues which they are likely to encounter throughout their adolescent years.
The Wake Up Foundation was established as a result of her brother, Michael McEwen, being attacked with a one king punch in Sydney’s notorious Bondi beach, in December 2013. “It was a harrowing experience which my family and I never expected to endure” recalls Claudia. “When my brother was assaulted this caused me to reflect on the general issue of people wanting to go out and have a good night and be safe, but then noticed that people were not having a good night due to alcohol, drug problems or violence, so I realised that more needed to be done”. Thankfully in the nation’s favour, she audaciously decided to address this problem.
Claudia McEwen speaking to high-school students
She is currently working with a team of young adults, known as the Wake Up team. This team is made up of people who have either experienced similar issues in their lives or are passionate about raising awareness and informing others about an array of issues. Issues such as violence, alcohol misuse, drugs, sexual assault, knowing when to seek help and peer pressure. “When we go to school presentations we try to give them tips and strategies about how to go out and have a good night out”. The team informs students about the negative effects associated with making the wrong decisions and thus challenges them to contemplate the ways in which they go out.
High school teacher, Jen Poulik says, “it’s fantastic to see organisations such as these come and speak to our students, it is much more effective than a teacher simply telling students how to be safe”.
The clever play on words in the name ‘Wake Up’ was thought of by co-director Georgina Prior, as it encourages people to become more informed about what is going on in Australia and about how essential it is to “wake-up” to having a good night out whilst being safe. Claudia reminisces, “I guess when it happened to my family, it was a big wake-up call”.
The Wake Up Foundation ensures that students feel comfortable and know that they are still allowed to go out. It’s about going out in an informed manner and being aware of the negative consequences which may arise when making the wrong decisions. Claudia says, “we teach students what to do in an emergency situation, knowing that if your friend is really drunk it’s ok to call an ambulance”. The team’s presentations, effectively reduce the fear of having an open conversation about issues, which teenagers are highly susceptible to be experiencing. “We try and be relatable by saying, we’ve made plenty of mistakes ourselves when we were 17 and 18 so we don’t want you to make the same mistakes. Speaking at a peer to peer level”.
Students are engaged and responding well to the Wake Up team’s presentations, as seen in their feedback forms. Many of the feedback forms say “thank you for being so relatable and thank you for not judging us and giving us solutions. Therefore these comments drive us to continue”, says Claudia.
The Wake Up team
The team aims to be more involved in Australian discussions, such as the recent and controversial “lockout” laws, introduced by the state government.
Claudia states, “I think that we need to change the culture on a long-term level, I don’t see that imposing a blanket ban on people is actually going to stop the real issue, which is violence”. Fortunately, brother Michael McEwen is recovering daily, since his horrific ordeal in 2013. Claudia McEwen along with her team of inspirational young adults, are clearly paving the way for a positive cultural change.
Hopefully, Australian adolescence accept their invitation and indeed wake up.
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