Ashleigh Smith leaves later this month for London where the Queen will present her with a Queen’s Young leaders Award for her work with ‘Sticks n Stones’.
Five years ago three of Ashleigh’s schoolmates at Maniototo Area School took their own lives within eight months of each other leaving her not knowing what to do with herself.
“It was a hideous time. I was 13, and trying to comprehend why someone would make that decision. I was angry and sad all at the same time.”
When government funding became available for an anti-bullying campaign Ashleight and student leaders from five other Central Otago schools grabbed the opportunity and founded ‘Sticks n Stones’. Under the scheme student ambassadors are trained and given the skills to help other young people, especially with online issues, or helping them find the right support network.
“There was such a generation gap between advice versus how youths were living their lives online.”
The group also plays an advocacy role as Ashleight points out a lot of decisions are made about youth without consulting youth.
“A lot of decisions are being made about youth without consulting them. She said the group was now being approached for its views on policies like the ‘Harmful Digital Communications Bill’.
The London trip is not Ashleigh’s first time on the national and international stage as she has spoken at a Dublin conference on bullying. As a Queen’s Young Leader she is one of 60 young people selected for the awards programme from around the Commonwealth. The programme offers a year-long package of training, mentoring and networking offered through Cambridge University including a one week residential programme at Cambridge and receiving their award personally from the Queen at a ceremony on June 29.