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Finding the right words

Sheryl Chand. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Race Unity Speech Award: Sheryl makes her stand
Examining the biblical principle of “love thy neighbour as thyself” has helped Solway College student Sheryl Chand to stand up against racial discrimination. She has won the Race Unity Speech Award for Advocacy. JOHN LAZO-RON reports.

Sheryl Chand, 16, suffered from racial prejudice growing up.

A migrant whose family moved to New Zealand from Fiji 12 years ago, Sheryl quickly became a victim of racial discrimination during her primary school years.

She was constantly called derogatory terms such as a “curry muncher”.

Sheryl would often go home feeling emotionally shattered from the tirade of verbal abuse.

When she arrived home, she would have her parents, Rozleen and Albert Chand, always there to comfort her and encourage her to stand up against what was being said to her.

“Growing up in New Zealand and being a Fijian migrant, I was not spared from racial prejudice,” Sheryl said.

“I felt isolated from everyone else because I was somewhat different. It was like I couldn’t fit in.

“When I went home, my parents would always encourage me by telling me that I must stand up for myself and be strong so that’s what I decided to do.”

Sheryl said she then started to “change herself” by not allowing the verbal arrows shot at her to sink into her mind and heart by letting people know what they said was wrong.

“My parent’s encouragement slowly groomed me as a person to be able to say, ‘this is not right; what you’re doing is wrong’,” she said.

“I may have faced a lot of racial prejudice, but I have been able to fight it now.”

Sheryl Chand third from left standing next to Wallace Haumaha, deputy commissioner iwi and communities, New Zealand Police, with the other winners at the 2021 Race Unity Speech Awards. PHOTO/BENJAMIN BROOKING

She showed that strength on the big stage when she won the 2021 Race Unity Speech Award for Advocacy.

The award symbolises standing up for your rights and everyone else’s rights.

Sheryl started her voyage towards the award by winning the Wellington/Wairarapa regional competition.

She then went on to the semi-finals in Auckland, where she competed with 21 other students from around New Zealand.

She was then picked to go to the national finals in Auckland in April with six others, where she took out her award.

“I was pretty proud of myself and pretty amazed, but definitely not expected, considering it was my first time doing this,” Sheryl said of her win.

“My heart was always pounding before I spoke, but as soon as I was on the stage, I was focused on getting my voice heard and getting my message out.”

Her eight-minute speech was based on how she freed herself from racial prejudice and what she wanted the future of race relations in New Zealand to look like.

“I wanted to speak about what I went through and how I changed myself to block those comments,” she said.

A highlight of her speech was using the biblical quote to point out her ‘neighbours’ diversity – a Maori Kaiako who taught her the significance of hongi; an Indian friend who invited her to Diwali; a Chinese teacher who taught her how to cook Chinese cuisine; a Muslim friend who taught her about the hijab; and a European pastor who taught her humanity is one, and that race distinction is superficial.

Although Sheryl has spoken her message and won an award, she doesn’t intend to stop her quest to squash racial prejudice in New Zealand.

“Definitely not going to stop,” she said.

“Racism is a problem everywhere. [New Zealand is] not as bad, but there is still a lot of racism if you look deeper.

“Now I have more of an idea and clearer understanding of New Zealand and racial bias, I want to start a group where we can openly discuss the negative words and what’s affecting people’s emotions through racism.

“An open environment where the voices of different ethnic children can be heard and valued. I want New Zealand to be a nation where we’re all combined, and we share our differences.”

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