Sanna’s ‘life-changing’ experience
MSYP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, Sanna Aziz, has described her visit to the United States of America as part of the inaugural Jo Cox Memorial Exchange Programme as a ‘life-changing’ experience.
Sanna Aziz MSYP
The Jo Cox Memorial Exchange provides opportunities for young people to share ideas on how communities in the U.S. and UK promote hope and inclusion while standing up to hate and extremism. Sanna, and her fellow MSYP Steven Sutherland, travelled to the States last month for a fortnight, visiting projects and organisations which have these values at their core.
Sanna, who became an MSYP (Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament) in June this year, heard about the programme through SYP, and thought it sounded like a fantastic opportunity.
She said: “I thought it would be a great opportunity to develop my understanding of community cohesion and how to bring people together. Scottish Borders, where I live, is not so diverse and it has its problems with equality but not on the grand scale that would help me to understand the issue in any depth. I thought a trip to the US might just do it and it would also help develop my self-confidence and skills for the future.”
Sanna’s passion for equality stems from her own personal experience. “Ever since I was little, I have faced prejudices. I have been bullied at school because of my size, my race, and even for being a tomboy, and this has had a detrimental effect on my mental health.
“But instead of letting it beat me, I decided to do something about it to make sure that other young people now, and in the future, do not have to suffer as I have done. That’s what drives me to fight for equality.”
The exchange took Sanna and her group from Washington DC to Chesapeake Bay, Philadelphia, and New York City, visiting about 12 different organisations and individuals working towards inclusivity and tackling hate.
Sanna and her group in Philadelphia.
“The organisation that had the most profound effect on me was the Broadstreet Ministry in Philadelphia,” said Sanna, “a voluntary organisation set within a church building that provides a place to chat and eat for people without homes.
“The organisation sees people first, and their homeless situation second. They show great compassion to everyone who enters their building and take the time to hear people’s stories. I heard first-hand how easy it is to lose everything in an instant.
“I also heard from Mr Rash – the president of Legacy International – about his life and how he found the need to work in a job that fulfilled him as opposed to something that provided him with material gains [he had previously worked in advertising].
“That made me think about my future and what I wanted to do, which resulted in a change of direction from psychology to politics and international relations.”
It’s safe to say that the trip made a real impact on Sanna. “I never thought the trip would be life-changing, but it was. Seeing things with your own eyes makes it more real and changes your perspective on life issues.
“So many things need changing but even though organisations are doing a great job they are just scratching the surface of the problem and have not found a way to work effectively together.
“There is a great need for collaboration rather than competition in order to tackle the problem of equality. People need to work together to make effective change.”