On cultivating self-esteem and self-expression for CALD young people

Roshini Balasooriya

When Roshini Balasooriya tries to explain to her friends why she chooses to volunteer – even whilst studying and keeping two jobs – she is reminded of primary school. It was back then that her motivation to volunteer with people from culturally diverse backgrounds was sparked.

“I wasn’t exposed [in primary school] to many people from culturally diverse backgrounds, and I think that impacted me in the sense that there weren’t more people like me. So, I was confused in terms of my cultural identity and I was scared to be different.”

It is doing volunteer activities outside of her studies and work that gives her a lot of fulfilment.

“They [my friends] used to say, ‘…you already have your job, your career; you don’t need this for your CV.’ The truth is that it has never been for my CV, I genuinely enjoy doing these [volunteer] activities because they bring me a lot of meaning and happiness. And that is why I try to balance them all.”

Roshini recently graduated from medicine at Monash University and started to work as a junior doctor in January of 2021. Alongside her main job, she also works part-time teaching medical ethics at Monash University.

However, it is outside her professional career that Roshini volunteers for CMY’s Envision Program. Incredibly, she has also recently joined the Positive Change Makers initiative in January of 2021.

“When I was at school, I hated the feeling of trying to fit in. It did not feel right because my cultural background is an aspect of my life that I am proud of. I feel that volunteering at Envision has given me more exposure to people from culturally diverse backgrounds, which I have found empowering and rewarding.” 

When Roshini talks about young people today, she describes them as passionate and talented. For her, having the opportunity to work with young people during the volunteering sessions at CMY has even helped her to build her own self-esteem and confidence. It has helped her trust in what people from CALD communities can achieve, even despite the many barriers they face.

“Something that I like about our CMY sessions is that we all rely on similar ideas. We have been able to support and empower each other. This has had a big impact on how we perceive ourselves.”

Regarding the issues facing youth today, Roshini reflects on how mental health has emerged as a dominant theme. She believes that one way to address the problem is through building self-esteem and changing self-perception. Roshini believes that this way, young people can feel comfortable to be who they are and express themselves.

“Reflecting on my experience growing up, I wish I had [spoken out] more at an earlier stage of my life. For example, in my primary school. Because I think unlearning perceptions and opinions can take a lot of time and reinforcement. So I think that planting that seed early is important.”