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Solway student stands up in face of discrimination

Sheryl Chand received joint first place at the Race Unity Speech Awards. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

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The winner of a race unity speech contest wants to turn her words into action.

Sheryl Chand, 17, was the joint winner of the Race Unity Speech Awards in Auckland over the weekend, alongside Kerikeri High School student Joe Howells.

The Solway College Year 12 student also won the lower North Island competition earlier this year.

In the competition, Chand gave a speech that answered two out of five questions regarding racism in New Zealand.

Chand began her speech by quoting national headlines over the last year:

“‘Streaming harms Māori education’, ‘Student attacked, and hijab ripped off’, ‘1 in 4 Asian students treated unfairly by teachers’, ‘Shouts, clenched fists, and threats; concerns of racism at a popular university’, ‘Kura students racially taunted for speaking te reo Māori’.

Chand called for institutional change in her speech with a whakatauki [proverb].

“Tungia te ururua, kia tupu wharitorito te tupu o te harakeke – burn off the undergrowth so that the new flax shoots may grow.”

She proposed suggestions to dismantle racism, including abolishing streaming in schools.

“Research last year found that the practice of academic streaming in schools was discriminating and racist.

“Streaming often increases racial segregation within schools, and it damages students’ acceptance of racial differences and general positive interactions between racial groups.

“We cannot just stop here. We must align our laws, policies, and institutions with the underlying oneness and interdependence of all human life.”

Chand said that before the competition, winning was the last thing on her mind.

“I had no expectations. I just wanted to have my views expressed.

“I still can’t believe it.

“Race unity gave me a platform to be an advocate, to let others know they’re not alone.”

The joint national champion was a well-seasoned speechmaker. She won her first speech competition in Year 8 and had been selected for the National Shakespeare Schools’ Production this year as a director.

This was the second year Chand had reached the Race Unity Speech Awards’ national final after winning the advocacy award last year.

She was inspired to compete after experiencing racism since childhood.

“As a young child, I was exposed to discrimination and hatred to both myself and my family.

“People mocked me for the colour of my skin; for the things I ate.

“I knew it wasn’t right. I had to press my voice.

“Racism behind closed doors is still racism.

“Children hear [racial slurs] from their parents and repeat them to their friends, which harms communities.

“It affects mental health. Their self-esteem drops, and it feels like they can’t do anything, but they will do their best to keep the facade of ‘I’m fine’.

After winning the award, Chand said it was time to turn her words into action.

“Even if I can’t do it all, I’ll do my part to eradicate racism.

“I want to put together a hui, to provide everyone a place where they feel safe, and can openly discuss racism.

“I have called on schools to celebrate Race Relations Day.

Chand had also contacted the Ministry for Ethnic Communities to ask for the implementation of a racism task force.

She won a cash prize for her school, which she hoped to put towards projects that addressed discrimination.

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