Inspiring Young People Feature: Melissa Abu-GazalehCreative Folk, Young People | June 9, 2015
At Celebrate Living History, we are creating a series on inspirational young people. Our first interview was with Melissa Abu-Gazaleh who is the founder of the Top Blokes Foundation which focuses on young men’s health and wellbeing.
Melissa Abu-Gazaleh loves men! Yes, you heard right: men!
But at the age of 19 she discovered there was something drastically wrong with the way Australian men were perceived in the community.
So in 2006 she founded the Top Blokes Foundation, which aims to reduce the anti-social and risk-taking behaviours of young men aged 14-24.
Today, at age 28, Melissa is now the CEO of the Top Blokes Foundation and employs a team of youth development experts who work with thousands of teenage boys, helping them to become great men.
Melissa has been named in Australia’s 100 Brightest Young Minds and Australia’s top 50 Young & Extraordinary. She has been featured on the Channel 10’s The Project, on a panel with Tony Jones and other national media.
Being a young female, she has faced a few challenges. From needing to learn how the business operates, to educating the public on issues affecting young men. But the determination to create something that was of significance was the driving force behind the Top Blokes Foundation.
Top Blokes Foundation website is www.topblokes.org.au
Melissa’s personal website is www.melissaabugazaleh.com
Tell me: what gets you excited?
I become extremely excited when I stop and remember that I am using my existence to stand up and make a difference in the lives of young men and boys who are often voiceless and struggling.
When I was a teenager, I was always worried that becoming an ‘adult’ will steer me away and distract me from my vision of creating good in this world. We often see adults working a job to pay the bills and not live life with passion.
I get excited when I see young men do good for the community. With 89 percent of news stories about young men being negative, I love seeing when young men are represented in a positive light.
What inspired you to start Top Blokes Foundation?
At age 19, I realised that we were being bombarded with negative news stories about young men each night. Alcohol-fuelled violence; reckless driving; vandalism. And while this does exist, it certainly doesn’t represent the majority. It was around this time that many people were saying that our generation was ‘the misguided generation’, the ‘fatherless generation’, and that something needed to be done about this.
As a person who was given every opportunity simply because I was young, female, ethnic and from a regional area, I was invested in to [help me] reach my full potential. I wondered who else was out there giving young men the same level of investment.
So I set out to find an organisation that focused on young men’s health and well-being. When I couldn’t find any, I said what any other frustrated 19-year-old would say. I said ‘screw it, I’ll start something myself.’
Today, the Top Blokes Foundation has developed one of Australia’s leading boys’ social education programs, which challenge young men to reduce their own anti-social and risk-taking behaviours.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing Top Blokes Foundation?
The biggest challenge that the Top Blokes Foundation has faced since inception is the need to constantly educate the public about issues that face young men. It took years for young men’s mental health, suicide rates and lack of community connection to be considered a legitimate issue to address.
Suicide is the leading cause of death for young men in Australia today and untreated mental health in young men costs the Australian economy $378,000 per hour in lost productivity.
Our mentoring programs, which we deliver to over 1,000 young males each year, have proven to improve mental health, attitudes towards women and increase future aspirations.
Yet there has never been significant funding available for young men’s health. Today, men’s health in Australia is only beginning to gain traction. I hope that in the coming years, we can begin to put more focus on the health issues that young men face.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months?
This year has been an incredible year of growth. To date, we expanded our 16-week peer mentoring programs to Dubbo and south Sydney. We have built an incredible team of passionate youth workers who are helping to stop boys from the downhill spiral.
We are also hosting Australia’s first National Boy’s Health Forum at NSW Parliament House. I figured that if no one else is willing to address young men’s health, then we will (that ‘screw it’ attitude never leaves I guess). This day will bring together leading researchers and advocates on young men’s health to put these issues on the political and social agenda.
How did you feel when you were named Australia’s 100 Brightest Young Minds and Australia’s top 50 Young and Extraordinary?
I was extremely humbled to be considered an emerging leader within Australia. It’s also a testament to hard work. Achieving my vision of giving young men a voice hasn’t come easy. It’s taken a lot of sacrifice, hard work, late nights, failures and challenges. But it’s shown that despite all the hardship we might face to get our dream up and kicking, being recognised for your tenacity and courage to step out of your comfort zone is rewarding. Along the way, I have met a number of inspiring young leaders who are impacting change in Australia.
Who is an older person over the age of 60 that you admire and why?
Dr. Catherine Hamlin is an Australian obstetrician and gynecologist who co-founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Africa, the world’s only medical centre dedicated exclusively to providing free obstetric fistula repair surgery to poor women suffering from childbirth injuries. She has treated over 34,000 young women, giving them a second chance at life.
Dr. Hamlin was born in 1924 and is currently 91.
If you could turn back time, what era would you love to discover?
146 BC – Spartan Era – their social system completely focused on military training and excellence. They were the best in battle. Spartan women also had more rights than women in other societies and were considered equal to men more than elsewhere in the classical world. Their level of fierceness, training and mental toughness is inspiring.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
http://www.oneinthree.com.au – One in Three is a powerful campaign in Australia that highlights the number of male victims of family violence. Often, male victims of domestic violence can be forgotten about. This website gives the figures on this often unspoken trend.
www.fightthenewdrug.org – this is an incredible movement in the USA that is currently helping boys to reduce or give up their use of pornography (sounds impossible right?). Their forward thinking and determination is a trait we can all learn from.
www.reachout.com – this website has very useful resources to assist young people with mental health issues. Anyone who may have a relative who suffers from mental health can gain online resources to help.