Ten Years of HYC: ‘A safe place to fail’ — Manisha Morar and Ali Moulvi
Nearly 10 years on from joining the Howick Youth Council, Manisha Morar and Ali Moulvi look back at how the group first came together, found its feet, and made a lasting impact on both of their lives.
When asked to describe the Howick Youth Council, Manisha Morar, one of the group's founding members, jokes that “it’s almost a council-mandated nerd club”.
As someone who has always been outspoken about issues in the community, the 26-year-old says meeting like-minded people in the "nerd club" was what mainly distinguished it from her other high school extra-curricular activities.
She also formed strong and long-lasting friendships with council members, like with Ali Moulvi. Nearly a decade from when the pair were in the youth council, they still keep in touch.
“It’s really hard to characterise the journey of the youth council because that journey has meant so many different things to different people,” 24-year-old Ali says.
“A lot of us came in with different backgrounds, different expectations, and at different stages of our lives.”
Manisha has been part of the youth council from the very beginning. She explains the youth council began to take shape after Auckland Council organised a conference in 2011. The event brought together young people from each of the secondary schools in the area.
“All these people came together and talked about how they would make the community better,” she says.
Manisha says a “handful” of people stayed on from the 2011 conference to form the inaugural youth council later that year, including herself.
But, after working ad hoc for its first two years, she says the group realised it needed some structure. As a result, Manisha was elected as chairperson in 2013. Auckland Council also appointed Lance Watene to facilitate the youth council’s meetings.
Lance handled a lot of the group’s work in its early years — everything from budgets to meeting agendas.
“I think there was a lot of faith in the people that were there. They were very competent people, but very time-poor. That was because schools, in the past, tended to send people they wanted to represent them — like head students and prefects,” Manisha says.
“Those people were already reasonably fulfilled with all the other stuff they had to do … so the youth council ended up being, still, an opportunity for people to come together and have conversations about how the neighbourhood was and how it could be better. But, there wasn’t much action.”
Ali, who joined the youth council in 2013 as its new structure was being put in place, says he remembered thinking: “We sort of had the cart before the horse.”
He says, at that point, the youth council was still figuring out what it meant to be a “voice” for young people and their interests.
The ball soon started rolling, though, and 2013 proved to be eventful. The youth council’s activities that year included supporting a youth health expo in Botany Town Centre and collating young people’s thoughts on the Auckland Plan 2050 in the inaugural Howick Youth Conference.
Manisha and Ali say it took some time for the youth council to figure out its purpose.
“I don’t think we seriously planned anything before 2013. Before that, we probably only had two or three meetings [in 2011 and 2012] and it was more a conversation about what the youth council could be,” Manisha says.
“I think it was effectively just building relationships and setting the foundation.”
Ali says the early youth council also had to figure out how it could represent the community's diverse population.
In the youth council's first few years, its membership consisted entirely of school seats. This saw each local secondary school select two young people, one each in Year 12 and 13, to represent them on the youth council.
“It’s funny because when we had the youth conference, we saw how diverse the group was. That made us think and reflect about how we could be a more open and inclusive council.
"We looked around the room, and we realised there wasn’t a lot of representation," he says.
Her studies led to a role in the mental health sector. It saw Manisha push for youth to become more involved in designing how health services are delivered.
Manisha says, after 2013, she reflected on the skills and knowledge she’d gained in the youth council. It helped her realise what she loved doing: working with, engaging with and helping young people.
“It's hard to imagine having found that path without the youth council,” she says. “I think it's just really important, particularly as a young person, to have a safe place to fail.
“The Howick Youth Council is a little bit like that. You learn, you grow, and you're surrounded by other intelligent, awesome people. It’s effectively an opportunity to try things.”
Ali, meanwhile, stepped down from his school seat role in 2014 to serve as the youth council's mentor for one year in 2015. He now works as a research assistant at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and as a project analyst for a technology incubator.
While Ali says his youth council experience hasn’t made a noticeable difference to his career path, he credits it for playing “a big, huge pivotal role in my mindset”.
Thus, the idea of recruiting for “open seats” was born in 2014. This was spearheaded by the youth council’s second chair Mackenzie Valgre. Open seats gave the youth council freedom to recruit any young person who lived in the local board area between the ages of 15 and 25. It's allowed the group to grow and include youth from more walks of life.
Today, open seats make up about half of the Howick Youth Council's membership. Manisha left the youth council in 2013. She went on to study public health at the University of Otago, then complete a masters at the University of Auckland.
“[Being on the youth council] was the first time I actually felt like I could do something about stuff I saw. I think the youth council gave me a lot of confidence to be able to sit in a room with adults and other people and have my own opinion.
“So, I think that's something that's really valuable. My hope is it continues to be for other young people.”
This article is part of the Howick Youth Council's ten year anniversary (HYC10) history book, which features interviews from past chairpeople of the group. Read the full book here and see more standalone feature articles on our website.