2020 in review: Young New Zealanders who inspired us

As New Zealand looks back at a tumultuous 2020, one beacon of hope for 2021 and beyond is this country’s young people, as these seven Kiwis show. 

Student Volunteer Army

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With some stuck in their lockdown bubbles, the SVA are stepping up to help out. Source: Seven Sharp

Having stepped up time and time again whenever they're needed, The Student Volunteer Army became a lifeline for many during the Covid-19 lockdowns. 

Soon after the virus arrived in New Zealand, the SVA mobilised to shop for those who couldn’t make a supermarket trip themselves.

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Student Volunteer Army mobilising once again to help strangers amid coronavirus pandemic

“It’s a pretty scary time for everyone so if we can help as volunteers to ease the burden on people, to be a friend in this time… it’s our duty as healthy and able citizens,” Student Volunteer Army president Isabella Fanselow told 1 NEWS in March. 

Aigagalefili Fepulea'i-Tapua'i

Aigagalefili Fepulea'i-Tapua'i has been a mainstay across 1 NEWS’ coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the young leader raising up the voices of Pasifika and South Auckland youth. 

In August, the 18-year-old Head Girl at Aorere College detailed how some of her peers didn’t return to school to help support their families financially. 

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Aorere College head girl Aigagalefili Fepulea’i-Tapua’i says many students have had to leave school to support their families. Source: 1 NEWS

"Before Covid-19, all it could take for a student to realise that their family was struggling was just one medical emergency or maybe just one parent being laid off, but now we're getting a lot more of these types of cases. It is the biggest act of sacrifice and love,” she said. 

At TVNZ’s first Leaders’ Debate of the election, she asked Labour’s Jacinda Ardern and National’s Judith Collins what they would do for students in low decile schools who found themselves in that situation of sacrificing their education because of the economic impacts of Covid-19. 

But, after hearing their answers, Fepulea'i-Tapua'i said neither Ardern nor Collins truly understood the impact the pandemic was having on students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. 

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Winners of Pacific youth leadership awards transform 'negative emotions into action'

She was recognised in December by the Pacific Cooperation Foundation and was awarded a prize for her advocacy

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Aorere College Head Girl Aigagalefili Fepulea'i Tapua'I says students want “real, tangible solutions” to the very hard realities they face. Source: Breakfast

Journey Parata 

Nineteen-year-old Journey Parata was taken into state care at age eight and was shuffled around seven times from home to home. She described her earlier years as "very traumatic", with drugs, alcohol and violence at its forefront. 

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Journey Parata was taken into care at age eight and shuffled around seven homes. Source: 1 NEWS

But, the law student is rising against the odds. She credited her ambition to an "awesome" lawyer who represented her in the justice system during her life. 

Earlier this month, she was recognised with the Prime Minister's Oranga Tamariki Award.

"I believe, regardless of whether I take law or not, I was born to make a difference,” Parata said.

Josh Stylah (Jawsh 685)

It started with Josh Stylah’s tune Laxed going viral on social media platform TikTok. 

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Jawsh 685 shares the story of how he created the beat for hit song Savage Love on his worn out laptop in his bedroom. Source: Breakfast

By November, the 18-year-old had taken home two Tuis at the Aotearoa Music Awards for Breakthrough Artist of the Year and an International Achievement award, all the while being cheered on by his Manurewa High School peers. 

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South Auckland suburb stars alongside LA in video for Jawsh 685 and Jason Derulo’s Savage Love

Better known as Jawsh 685, Stylah is representing the Cook Islands, Samoa and South Auckland at the top of the charts around the world with R&B artist Jason Derulo’s Savage Love.

Grace Stratton

Entrepreneur Grace Stratton, 21, is revolutionising the fashion industry and its approach to people with disabilities. 

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Grace Stratton says while “it’s only natural” to have able-bodied users in mind, it’s important for brands to be inclusive. Source: 1 NEWS

Stratton, a 2017 Young New Zealander of the Year nominee who uses a wheelchair, founded online clothing store All is for All that aims to give people of all abilities an accessible shopping experience. 

In December, she was awarded the prestigious Supreme Award winner in the Attitude Awards, a ceremony established to celebrate the successes of people living with a disability. 

Shaneel Lal 

Shaneel Lal, 18, is a tireless advocate for the Rainbow and Indigenous communities. As the co-founder of End Conversion Therapy in Aotearoa New Zealand, Lal has been urging the Government to ban the practice for years. 

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Shaneel Lal says by keeping the practice legal, the NZ Government is “keeping torture legal”. Source: Breakfast

"As someone who has experienced conversion therapy I know that it doesn’t work and I know that it is detrimental to people’s wellbeing,” they said in August. 

In October, during its election campaign, Labour promised it would ban conversion therapy

In 2018, an investigation conducted by TVNZ's Sunday revealed that conversion therapy in New Zealand is readily available.

Courtney Duncan 

Through gritted teeth, Dunedin motocross star Courtney Duncan defended her Women's Motocross World title in November. 

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It was far from easy for the 24 year old with mid race drama meaning victory came down the wire in Italy. Source: 1 NEWS

It was far from easy for the 24-year-old, who had to pull out the ride of her career in Italy.

“I’ve never come from last to first, but I think that just showed my heart and determination and how much I wanted to win this championship,” she said.