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Daughter of immigrants taking community leadership role

Cultural change: Margaret Tran has been named this year’s winner of the Newsboys Foundation’s new $5000 youth leadership award. Photo: Meredith O’SheaIt was five years ago at a school in Melbourne’s west that 16-year-old Margaret Tran saw the less-savoury side of multiculturalism.

“There was a lot of racist name-calling and bullying,” she says. “Especially to the darker-skinned kids.”

Tran, daughter of Vietnamese migrants, says Asian children copped it too. “I told a teacher but it didn’t stop,” she says.

However, it was a catalyst that has driven her to become a student and community leader at a precociously young age.

As one of 15 students on Victoria’s Student Representative Council executive, she has presented to teachers at workshops, organised regional conferences and consulted the state education minister on student matters. High on the list has been that same schoolyard problem, bullying, but maturity has opened her eyes to the fact that many community problems are hard to resolve. “It is difficult to tackle bullying on a state-wide basis,” she concedes. “Bullying happens with adults too.”

This week Tran was named this year’s winner of the Newsboys Foundation’s new $5000 youth leadership award, which is a happier example of cultural change. The foundation was formed 121 years ago in a largely Anglo-Saxon Australia to help impoverished young boys who sold newspapers. The foundation was financed by newspaper companies in their boom years but it is run now as a philanthropic organisation. Curiously, the foundation has ended up in a better financial shape in the digital age than many of the newspapers. Now it has given one of its first leadership awards to the daughter of Vietnamese migrants.

Tran’s grandparents, Tri and Hoang Le, came to Australia in 1983 with their four children. One of them, Quien Le, who cooks part-time for the church, is the mother of Tran. Her father Can Tran, a courier driver with 15 siblings, is a church leader proficient at public speaking. “That is probably where I learnt,” Margaret Tran says. “I do church readings in Vietnamese.”

She attends Vietnamese school for three hours each Saturday and a Vietnamese youth group on Sundays. Both are aimed at retaining some of the family’s homeland culture. “I think that is important but I know that it is slowly fading away,” she says. “Many of my cousins in Australia don’t want to go to Vietnamese school any more. A couple of them say that they were born in Australia and they are Australian, why should they speak Vietnamese?”

Tran, who aims for a career as a paediatrician, has Duke of Edinburgh gold and silver awards and is putting part of her prize money towards a three-week trip next year by MacRobertson Girls School students to Nepal, where they are repairing an orphanage. “Young people aren’t just the leaders of tomorrow, they are the leaders of today,” Tran says.    

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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