Recommended Resources – The Stringer – Independent News, Investigative Journalism

Lewis Abdullah, Young Person of the Year

April 16th, 2013

Lewis Abdullah with Bev East, General Manager Communities - Woodside, and the Hon Tony Simpson, Youth Minister.

Lewis Abdullah with Bev East, General Manager Communities – Woodside, and the Hon Tony Simpson, Youth Minister.

Lewis Abdullah with Bev East, General Manager Communities – Woodside, and the Hon Tony Simpson, Youth Minister.

Noongar Lewis Abdullah has changed for the better the many lives he has touched – hundreds. Mr Abdullah is only 19 years old but he has overcome difficulties and disadvantage from the beginning of his life to find himself mentoring others disadvantaged and troubled. Last week he won the WA Young Person of the Year at the State Government’s Youth Awards.

Mr Abdullah overcame the challenges of living with the impacts of Foetal Alcohol Syndrome to become an inspiring individual who is giving back to community after he himself had been helped by others, in particular by Lee-Anne Smith, the founder and director of Perth’s Halo program. Mr Lewis is so beholden to Halo that he hopes one day to become the CEO of Halo.

Two years ago Mr Abdullah entered the Halo Leadership development agency program and was soon recognised for his leadership abilities and soon found himself a youth mentor. Mr Abdullah is now the lead facilitator for the Coaching Young People for Success program at Banksia Hill Detention Centre. He is the youngest ever facilitator to lead a rehabilitation program with the Department of Corrective Services detention system.

“I just try to show them a good example and try to keep them out of detention centres.”

“It is humbling to help people, to help them get back on their feet,” said Mr Abdullah.

State Youth Minister Tony Simpson said Mr Abdullah “continues to give back to others” after overcoming his own challenges. Mr Simpson said that Mr Abdullah is empowering young people “with the life skills and knowledge to help them find economic freedom and independence.”

Ms Smith is proud of Mr Abdullah’s achievements and indeed this is what the Halo program is about – changing and bettering lives by not giving up on people who would otherwise be lost. The Halo programs have helped hundreds, many who would have finished up in or back in juvenile detention and onwards into adult prisons. Ms Smith sold her home to found Halo.

Ms Smith nominated Mr Abdullah for the Young Person of the Year.

Lewis Abdullah

“At a very young age Lewis’ mother phoned the Department for Child Protection asking if her children could be taken into State care. As a chronic alcoholic that drank through both her pregnancies she decided alternate care was a better option for her children… Her new partner was abusive and violent,” said Ms Smith.

Lewis and his sister Nicole were separated. She was eventually brought up by an aunt who would only be a suburb away from Lewis.

“During their primary school years Lewis and his sister Nicole were diagnosed with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Both Nicole and Lewis displayed the facial features described as symptoms of the syndrome… They struggled with neurological impairment, hearing loss, bad vision and lack of coordination.”

Many children with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome develop various anti-social behaviours and often struggle through life. Mr Abdullah’s sister has endured a difficult life but Lewis with the help of Halo has overwhelmed the challenges.

“Lewis has grown into a caring young man determined to make a positive contribution to the world and a better place for others,” said Ms Smith.

“Lewis entered the Halo program two years after being told by his school while in year ten there was no program they could offer him. He did not like being placed in the Special Needs class with other kids with disabilities so he transitioned to the Halo program.”

Ms Smith has known Lewis for 13 years.

“It was not long before all the staff at Halo recognised the leadership qualities and strengths Lewis possessed and quickly elevated him into a traineeship role as a Youth Mentor.”

Last year Mr Abdullah completed a nationally recognised qualification in Youth Work and then completed his Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award. “He proudly wears the pin on his uniform every day,” said Ms Smith.

“Lewis’ role at Halo also involves coordinating all Noongar dance performances and workshops. Taking part in a Halo workshop not only provides a unique and truly inspiring experience for those attending, it also contributes to strengthening the resilience and personal capacity of the young men delivering the workshops.”

Mr Abdullah leads workshops delivered to both remand and sentenced detainees that provide an opportunity for participants to take charge of their lives. “(We) provide an opportunity for young people in detention to identify the areas of their lives that need working on and the supports that are needed and a plan to get there.”

“Lewis is testimony to the program that anyone can achieve their dreams and inspire others along the way,” said Ms Smith.

“He is known by our local members of Parliament, local Councillors, including the Lord Mayor who he is on a first name basis with,” said Ms Smith.

“While we are all born under the same stars we don’t all have the same horizon.”

When Mr Abdullah is asked about Halo, he said it is what makes him happy.

“I love being at Halo, greeting the new boys and making them feel welcome,” said Mr Abdullah.

“Halo is my world.”

“My culture also keeps me strong, it makes me proud and I love passing on knowledge to others I am learning from my Elders.”

Ms Smith said he is someone “who expects nothing in return for his kindness.”

“In nominating Lewis, he was unanimously voted by everyone at Halo for this award.”

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