Many young Aussies from diverse backgrounds are doing some amazing stuff in their lives. In celebration, Cocktail Revolution™ is going to share activities in the life of one of you each month. This month, we celebrate 26 year old anti-nuclear weapons activist Catriona Standfield, from Jamestown, a small farming town in Mid-North South Australia. An honours graduate, Catriona studied French, Indonesian and Development Studies at the University of Adelaide. Apart from English, Frensh and Indonesian, Catriona speaks rusty German and Italian sign language: (waving her hands about when using her poor Italian language skills! ) Now living in Adelaide, Catriona plans to undertake a PhD in Peace Studies and Political Science.
In the meantime, when this little lady is not organising some international nuclear weapons awareness campaign, or giving a speech on a similar theme, she’s flat out volunteering, tutoring in international relations at UniSA and working as a chiropractic assistant.
We’re going to let Catriona tell it in her own words:
When I recount a lot of the things I have done in my life, I realise that it might seem like I have some special skills or talent, or that I must have a really fancy education. Neither of these is the case. What I do have that might set me apart is an over-sized sense of responsibility for making the world a bit better. I think this comes from the fact that I’m actually from a pretty disadvantaged background. People don’t believe it because I look and speak so middle class. I think they expect me to have missing teeth or something! But i’ve had my share of living in public housing, a dysfunctional family, not being able to afford very basic things, paying my own way from a young age and even leaving home for good at 16. I used to wish that it were different, but I now think that these things have helped me be a better person. To be honest, a lot of kids in my situation have ended up worse off than me, so I thank whatever it is that kept me in school and out of any serious trouble. I figure that the least I can do is make sure that I use my luck, priviledge and the good people around me to make things better for others.
I actually got off to a very nerdy start as a campaigner – I won an essay competition! In the summer of 07/08, I was a little bit bored waiting for uni to go back and I got an email that there was this competition. All you had to do was write an essay about what students could do to encourage governments to eliminate nuclear weapons. I knew nothing about the subject, but I figured it would be interesting. Also, the prize was a trip to the UN in Geneva, so that was quite an incentive!! As i started researching the topic, I couldn’t believe what I was reading – that there were a handful of countries with thousands of these awful weapons with enough to destroy the world seven times over! I found it and still find it utterly ridiculous and appalling. As it happened, I won the competition and got to go to Geneva, where I had the chance to hear from some great guest speakers and meet other winners, who were from all over the world.
Mexico: asking delegates at the conference on the humanitarian impact of nukes to ‘act now’ for nuclear disarmament (Feb 2014).
When I came back home, I was so fired up about nukes that I got involved with UN Youth SA (a youth-led organisation that educates other young people about the UN and international issues) and ran my first education campaign in SA. It kind of snowballed from there.
In 2010 I organised a lecture series on nuclear weapons and through that linked up with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. ICAN Australia asked me to join the board in late 2010 and since then I have been involved in all kinds of work – formulating strategy, conducting education and awareness activities, holding public actions, lobbying politicians, speaking at conferences and workshops, plus other governance responsibilities that come with sitting on a board. It has been wonderful and I still pinch myself sometimes. My fellow board members are not only eminent community members, but also very decent human beings and it is a priviledge to work along side them. What’s more, ICAN has gone from strength to strength since 2010 – it now has hundreds of partner organisations in 90 countries.
I worked with UN Youth both at a national and state level until mid 2011. I did a lot of different things and held a lot of different roles! At one point, I was President of UN Youth SA, which was a fantastic learning experience. I had to oversee all of our committees and operations, and liaise with government and community partners. I continue to use all of these skills today. The best thing though, was being part of a youth-run organisation. It was amazing to work with other young people, some of whom hadn’t event finished high school yet, on organising conferences, workshops, school visits and advocacy campaigns. It also gave me a lot of faith in the peer-to-peer education model – UN Youth works by getting young people to educate other young people about the UN and international issues. We also trained each other in the skills needed to run the organisation and our activities. It’s a different dynamic to a teacher-student relationship and I think that it makes young people sit up and take more notice when one of their peers is talking about the Security Council or human rights issues.
Part of being involved in the UN Youth Australia also meant participating in and organising Model UN debates. “MUN” as it is fondly known, pretty much had it’s own sub-culture. It entails students representing a country (usually assigned, not chosen, so you can end up with a country whose policies you absolutely abhor) in a debate on a particular issue in a mock committee of the UN. For instance, I represented Sweden in the UN committee on disarmament and international security, and our committee debated nuclear disarmament. It is a really fun way of becoming familiar with international relations and organisations, learning debate and public speaking skills, and meeting other people.
I’ve also had some involvement in the UN through an internship I did with the Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Cyprus, Hon. Alexander Downer. Mr. Downer’s role is to act as the head of the UN-sponsored peace process between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, who have been in conflict since the 1960’s. As an intern, I did research on the lack of women’s involvement in the peace process. I made several recommendations in a report to Mr. Downer, who subsequently invited me to present my findings in Cyprus. It was a very eye-opening experience! I got to meet with lots of different people involved in the process – negotiators, US staff and civil society peace workers. It helped me appreciate fully how difficult it would be to acheive peace in Cyprus and for women to be meaningfully involved in the talks. It sparked in me an interest in studying peace processes, how they could be redesigned, and how they could be made more inclusive. This is what i’d like to study as a postgraduate student.
2013 and 2014 have already both been very exciting years. I represented ICAN at two conferences on their humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. One of these conferences was in Oslow, Norway, and the other, from which I have just got back from, was in Nayarit, Mexico, where I was involved in training 13 young campaigners from all around the world. Then, we carried out three public actions during the conference. The most dramatic was a huge banner and parasail over the beach outside the conference venue!
Mexico: handing out roses at the conference on the humanitarian impact of nukes, to say “thank you for caring” (Feb 2014).
These meetings allowed us to shift the focus away from concepts like “deterrence” and “mutually assured destruction” and to look at what nukes do to health, the climate and the economy. As a result, many countries are now calling for a ban on nuclear weapons. Incredibly, nukes are the only kind of weapon of mass destruction not subject to an explicit ban!
We asked Catorina what advice she’d offer to others. Here’s her reply:
“I think that it is really helpful if you can find something that you like to do (a sport, a hobby, or even just reading or listening to music) because it gives you an outlet. Talk to other people about what you’re going through and ask for help, especially if you’re suffering from abuse of any kind. Don’t carry your burden alone. Find people who will mentor you, who are positive role models and who believe in you when you may not believe in yourself. The last thing is that, no matter how hard it seems at times, there is a future ahead of you. Figure out what you value most, and let those things guide you.”