Born in Hyderabad and growing up in a middle-class family, Elvis Martin, 23, nursed dreams of becoming a cardiologist. Although that dream quite didn’t materialise, he came to Australia in 2013 to study IT. Soon, he realised that living in Australia had its fair share of challenges. He was lonely, depressed, suicidal and experienced a great deal of hardship.

One night, a nurse from the Royal Melbourne Hospital talked him through his personal ordeal. For a moment, there was a flicker of cynicism in him, he wondered whether she was just assuring him that ‘life is beautiful’. But as he got talking, Martin found comfort in her words. The nurse confided that her son was experiencing similar problems. The counselling that he received that night would prepare him for life ahead. He became confident enough to talk to the doctors about his mental health condition and together with the help of the nurse and his case-worker, he learnt to be comfortable in his skin.

Today, Martin admits he is a happy person and uses his personal life experiences to educate others in the community and influence decision-makers to create better policies. He started advocating and learning about the justice system. Martin advocates on issues experienced by youth, disadvantaged persons and vulnerable members within our community and is developing strategies for the prevention of mental health issues, domestic violence, homelessness and suicide.

An award-winning youth volunteer leader, he has, for the past four years, held many leadership roles. This February, Martin was the recipient of International Young Leader of the Year, an award given by the United Nations Global Compact. As a passionate young leader of Victoria, his areas of advocacy work include mental health, homelessness, domestic violence, suicide prevention and the LGBTIQ+ community. In conversation with Elvis Martin.

What made you come to Australia and what did you study?
I came to Australia to pursue my further studies. My dad had different dreams than mine. So I went on the journey of fulfilling his wishes by taking up Information Technology (IT), it was just not my cup of tea, it was challenging and confusing. I was not successful in that. Then my mom wanted me to study accounting, so I was truly at the crossroads when I landed here. Eventually, I ended up taking up youth advocacy and went on doing many intensive courses and training to be an advocate. What I realised through my journey was education is essential and many people experiencing disadvantage might not get it.

What were your experiences as an international student?
I had a tough time as an international student, and I know many middle-class background international students go through similar tough times; there is no support provided. That’s why I am a strong advocate for international students as I know what they go through. On top of that, the crazy discrimination and racism they go through add to the problem.

What kind of issues do Indian students face and what makes them prone to these situations?
I have seen many innocent people experience racism and workplace bullying, such as getting called ‘curry’. But the thing I am proud of is, I make those people accountable for their behaviour. Many women still experience domestic violence and they don’t do anything about it because they are scared and not aware of their rights and support system.

What advice do you have for people experiencing racism or homophobia?
Stand up for it but make sure you have safety and support around you. Don’t think English is your barrier; you will get the same support. If you need more support, reach out, there is no shame in that, the government wants to help people. There are many organisations run by young people who can help. I knew someone who was experiencing homophobia at the work place and I spoke with some of his colleagues but they didn’t want to be involved. They felt the person should deal with it himself. But I said if all of them stood together and supported one another, this would stop. We just can’t see someone get victimised.

You have won a few awards. Can you sum up your career trajectory?
I have been recognised for my extensive leadership and ambassadorial work with organisations such as One Young World, Melbourne City Mission, Cohealth Youth Council, R U OK Day, the Council to Homeless Persons and the National Youth Commission, just to name a few.

I have received honourable awards such as the Peter Sullivan Most Wanted Leader Award, Young People’s Awards 2018 (awarded by the Local Government/ Moonee Valley Council), the Victorian Premier Leadership Award 2018 (State Government), and the Victorian Multicultural Awards for Excellence 2018 in Youth Category (State Government).
I am currently the Ambassador of National Youth Commission Australia and R U OK? Day.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your role?
When I help people and it resolves their issues – that is the most fulfilling part of my role.

How do you approach building trust and respect with people from different cultures and backgrounds?
I don’t judge people. I listen to them rather than telling them how they should do things.

What were some of the highlights of your experience as a youth ambassador at the national and global levels?
Wow, big question but I will answer in short. Very rewarding. I get to advocate for those who are in need, those who are struggling. I am so lucky to hold this role. I do experience challenges from time to time but I work through it. I always try to be true to myself.

My mission is simple. I want to support those who are in need, and I want to help them achieve their goals and be proud of who they are. I believe every young person is brave enough to be successful, but sometimes life doesn’t give them a chance to reach their goals. I feel deeply disheartened when I see statistics on youth homelessness, young people experiencing domestic violence and majority of youth experiencing mental health issues. I wouldn’t just blame the system for this; I believe it is also due to lack of compassion and equality in society. I want people to be more compassionate and kind towards each other. How we can achieve this is by being non-judgmental, accepting differences and respecting others’ choices.

To those who experience hardships in life and believe they are worthless and can’t achieve anything, I want to say that just because there is an obstacle in your path, that doesn’t mean you will have to get off the road. You are strong and worthy of living a beautiful life; I acknowledge it’s hard now, but you will get there.

(As told to Indira Lairsram)