From high school to the UN Youth Summit

By John Lewis

Seize the day and go for it - even as far as Dubai.

That's Liaqat Ahmadi's advice to anyone starting out with nothing but a suitcase full of dreams.

Two years ago, the 18-year-old Shepparton High School student was languishing in Pakistan, waiting to escape the daily threat of Taliban violence. 

On Wednesday he flies to Dubai as an Australian representative at the three-day Arab Youth International Model United Nations conference in the United Arab Emirates city.

As one of 300 delegates chosen from thousands of applications from young people across the world, Afghanistan-born Liaqat will take part in debates and discussions based on the United Nations  model of dealing with international issues.

After submitting a paper on the challenges of health emergencies in refugee camps and the rising problem of resistance to antibiotics, Liaqat will join the World Health Organisation committee at the conference.

He said it was the first time he had travelled overseas on his own.

"I am excited and nervous, but I hope to learn so much and meet new people. I will be taking so many notes, " he said.

"I believe I'll be more informed about world issues such as mental health and climate change. I'm hoping to learn how systems work and get to know what other people are doing in their countries," he said.

Liaqat said he had applied twice before to attend similar conferences in the United Kingdom and Thailand but his efforts had stalled when it came to finances and visa requirements.

But now, thanks to the support of his school, The Fairley Foundation, Greater Shepparton City Council, the Ethnic Council of Shepparton and Goulburn Ovens TAFE, he is on his way.

"I am overwhelmed at the support from the community - coming from a place where I had no support at all, I'm blown away," he said.

He said his father Mohammad arrived in Australia by boat in 2009 and spent time in detention on Christmas Island. It took another eight years for his family to be reunited.

"As Hazaris in Pakistan we were persecuted - I missed a lot of schooling. It really affects your mind," Liaqat said.

Now Liaqat is in Year 12, speaks near-perfect English, and he plans a gap year after school before he applies for Australian citizenship to continue his studies.

"I would like to thank everyone for their support," he said.

Fairley Foundation chief executive Amanda McCulloch said the philanthropic organisation was proud to support Liaqat's initiative.

"The trustees were very impressed with Liaqat's involvement in and leadership in the Shepparton community. We see a future community leader in Liaqat and wish him all the best at the conference," Ms McCulloch said.

Liaqat is a Shepparton High School captain, a Multicultural Arts Victoria ambassador, and executive member at the Victorian Student Representative Council.

Last year his talent as a photographer won him the Community Fund Goulburn Valley’s 2018 #ShepPROUD Youth Video competition.

In a three-minute video using drone footage and creative dash-cam shots, he shared images of the Shepparton community and landscape that made him proud to live here.

"Australia is one of the most unique and beautiful countries in the world, and in Shepparton you can make friends easily and everyone is really helpful," he said.

"I would encourage other young people to make the most of every opportunity - they will get the support," he said.