Aishwarya Pokkuluri , 22, was honoured at the Greater Dandenong Australia Day Awards for her volunteering work with young leaders. Aishwarya moved to Melbourne from India as a five-year-old and now works as a quality assurance assistance at Cobs Popcorn in Dandenong South.
Being from an Indian background meant I had a lot of Indian friends growing up but I wanted to explore other cultures, I wanted to understand other people’s experiences, get to know their stories and I wanted to know how I could help them.
A friend suggested that I join the Dandenong Young Leaders Program, run by the Council. The program started with training and personal development. They taught us skills in areas such as public speaking, conflict management and project management, and then we applied those skills into areas we wanted to work in.
I was really interested in youth unemployment because that really resonated with me. The statistics in that area is crazy!
I knew I was one of the lucky ones because I found part time work while studying. It gave me the freedom and made me realise how empowering having a job can be. There are people out there who are struggling, and I couldn’t stop thinking that having a job would give them so much more confidence and help them develop skills.
I wanted to help other young people gain employment, and I noticed how volunteering through Council provided me with skills that made me more employable. I thought that if community work is helping me, it could help other young people as well.
We created a forum at Chisholm TAFE where we invited several volunteer organisations to come together to showcase their causes, which was good because then young people had the chance to understand better what opportunities are out there. People could sign up to become a volunteer on the spot, and start their volunteering journey straight away which made it easier as well.
I was blown away by the interest the community showed in the forum, with over one-hundred attendees coming along the hear about the opportunities available across the south east.
I made so many friends and I had incredible support from Council throughout all the volunteering I did. It made me realise how many services are available to the community and just how much effort councils puts into trying to integrate newcomers to the community.
Helping others made me feel fulfilled in a way that many other things didn’t.
My earliest memory of Melbourne’s south east is going to Dandenong market with my dad, we used to go every Saturday morning. There is so much to see, to buy, to eat. The south east is diverse, compassionate and genuine community and we’ve got great food!
My experience living here is that people, I find, get to experience different types of diversity. People get to be unapologetically themselves.
The person who has influenced me more than anyone is Council worker Johanna who ran the Young Leaders program. Yohana made sure I overcame one of my biggest fears, public speaking.
I told her at the start of the program that I was really bad at public speaking and it was something I wanted to work on. She would give me specific opportunities to speak at different events, it started off as short speeches but they became longer and longer. Public speaking was something I really feared and now I am very comfortable with it. I feel like I have broken out of my shell.
There are so many who are doing so much for the community, I feel like they are the unsung heroes.
The ‘Celebrate South East’ event is taking place Thursday 17 May. It recognises the communities in the south east that contribute to making this region a fantastic place to live, work and recreate. Aishwarya will be one of the speakers.
Do you have an interesting story such as Aishwarya? Let us know and we may feature it on our website as part of our ‘Celebrate South East’ feature series.