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Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures

The Award for Leadership in Languages and Culture is for students and young people under 24 who demonstrate commitment to a multicultural Australia. The award is provided by the Minister for Education, Training and Skills through the Multicultural Education and Languages Committee (MELC). It's administered by the Australia Day Council of South Australia and is presented at the Australia Day Awards Ceremony each year.


Nominations are open

Do you know an inspiring young leader passionate about languages and cultures and who advocates for a multilingual and culturally diverse Australia?

Nominations are open for the 2023 Minister for Education’s Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures. 

Nominations close Tuesday 1 November 2022 at 5.00pm. 

There are 2 categories.

Category 1 –  a high school student

This award is designed to promote the study of languages and the development of intercultural capabilities. It's awarded to a high school student who:

  • has shown outstanding commitment to their study of languages and cultures at school
  • seeks to advocate for a multilingual and culturally diverse Australia by fostering engagement in linguistic and cultural diversity.


  • Sound capability in more than 1 language.
  • Outstanding commitment to the study of languages and cultures.
  • Effective intercultural capabilities.
  • Fosters engagement in linguistic and cultural diversity within the school or the broader community.

Category 2 –  a young person 24 years of age or under who is no longer at school

Awarded to a young person who has demonstrated outstanding commitment to advocacy for a multilingual and culturally diverse Australia and strong community leadership.


  • Commitment to advocacy for a multilingual and culturally diverse Australia.
  • Outstanding community leadership and effective communication skills.
  • Sound capability in more than 1 language and the ability to operate successfully in linguistic and culturally diverse environments.

For more information or to nominate, visit the Australia Day Council of SA (ADCSA) website.

2022 award

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures – Category 1 recipient

Ms Kellis Dare-Lawrie

Ms Kellis Dare-Lawrie accepting her awarded remotely. There are trees behind them, they wear a maroon tee shirt and black leggings.

Kellis speaks 3 languages, English, Mirning and Pitjantjatjara, which she is also studying as a SACE subject. She is a strong advocate for female empowerment in community and the important role of education.

In 2020 Kellis was a winner of the Country to Canberra Leadership competition for young women living in rural and remote areas of Australia. She shared the complexities of living remote, living within 2 worlds and the impact of culture on her as a young Aboriginal woman. She has also worked alongside a bilingual literacy project as an illustrator to create a book to support the learning of Pitjantjatjara phonics for young children.

Ms Kellis Dare-Lawrie who accepted her awarded remotely. 

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures – Category 1 commendations

  • Ms Mehnaz Hussaini, Thebarton Senior College and School of Languages
  • Ms Krystal Zhong, Unley High School.

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures – Category 2 recipient

Ms Zainab Kazemi

Three people accepting their award, standing together holding their framed certificates.

Ms Kazemi is a volunteer at the Afghan Association of South Australia where she helps new arrivals to adapt to life in Australia. She promotes Afghan culture through the media and by organising numerous community events and fundraising activities.

Ms Mehnaz Hussaini, Ms Zainab Kazemi and Ms Krystal Zhong at the Australia Day Awards.

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures – Category 2 commendation

Mr Oscar Zi Shao Ong, University of Adelaide

Past winners

2021 award

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures 2021 joint recipients holding framed awards

Ms Samoda Silva, Ms Jasmine Kaur, Hon Hue Van Le  Governor of South Australia, Ms Thuyen Ha and Mr Wathnak Ha at the Australia Day Awards at Government House on 18 January 2021.

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures  Category 1 recipient

Ms Samoda Silva

Samoda has demonstrated excellence and outstanding commitment to the study of languages and cultures, including English, Italian, Sinhala, Japanese and Auslan. She attended the Sinhala Buddhist School from reception to year 10.

Samoda is an active contributor to her school as well as the local and broader community. She hosts prerecorded and live television shows on Vishwavahini TV (Melbourne) including a weekly news segment from Adelaide, and also hosts Lama Mandapaya, a children’s program in Sinhala on Radio Adelaide. Previously she has hosted a monthly segment in Sinhala about Adelaide news, Rupavavini, on Sri Lankan National television.

Samoda is an exemplary role model for young people of Sri Lankan origin living in South Australia. She generously volunteers her time welcoming children of Sri Lankan background and supporting them to settle into their local community.

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures  Category 1 commendation

Ms Jasmine Kaur

Jasmine Kaur arrived in Australia at the age of 3, speaking Punjabi. In her commitment to the study of languages and cultures, Jasmine has learnt English, Modern Greek, French, Spanish and Hindi.

Jasmine has undertaken many volunteering roles with her school and in the broader community, including at the Guru Nanak Punjabi School. Jasmine embraced the role of International Ambassador at Adelaide High School. This role focused on supporting international students within the local school environment and the wider South Australian community.

Commitment to the study of languages and cultures at junior secondary level

Mr David Perry, Pulteney Grammar School and Ms Farimah Goharipourfard, Glenunga International High School were recognised at the Australia Day Awards ceremony at Government House event for their commitment to the study of languages and cultures at junior secondary level.

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures – Category 2 recipient

Mr Wathnak Vy

Wathnak migrated to South Australia from Cambodia, was a student at Woodville High School and has achieved a double degree in Bachelor of Social Sciences and Bachelor of International Development at The University of Adelaide.

While at university, Wathnak created the Multicultural Mental Health Group. This group now has more than 700 members, all of whom volunteer their time to provide peer support in helping international students feel a sense of belonging within their local community. This was a particularly important support group in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wathnak has been leading the way in creating new initiatives that respond to mental health issues faced by young people from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds.

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures – Category 2 commendation

Ms Thuyen Ha

Thuyen is a third-generation Vietnamese Australian, born and raised in Adelaide, who actively promotes and supports the learning of Vietnamese language and culture to younger people.
She volunteers weekly at the Vietnamese Community School and takes on different roles in the Vietnamese community, such as modern dance instructor, mathematics teacher, Vietnamese teacher, translator, video producer and events coordinator.

During the COVID-19 pandemic Thuyen provided support to other teachers at the Vietnamese Community School in transitioning to online learning.

2021 award (joint recipients)

Award for Leadership in Languages and Cultures 2020 Award-joint recipients Zahra Bayani and Fatima Shah holding framed awards

Award winner: Zahra Bayani

Zahra arrived in Australia as a refugee, originally from Afghanistan, who is proficient in Dari, Hazaragi, Persian, and English. She's passionate about caring for the wellbeing of others in the community.

Zahra shares her story and life experiences through inspiring public speeches in multiple languages, providing deep insight into the lives of refugees and how they contribute to Australian communities. Through her storytelling she hopes to motivate and inspire youth from linguistically and culturally diverse communities to develop resilience to follow their dreams and reach their full potential. She also hopes her speeches help in developing intercultural understanding within the wider community.

Zahra is tireless in her volunteering and leadership roles in organisations such as the Australian Refugee Association, the Australian Migration Resource Centre, the Australian Red Cross, the Ariana Farsi School and as President of the Roteract Club for Global Peace at Thebarton Secondary College.

Award winner: Fatima Shah

Fatima is an Afghan Hazara refugee who is proficient in Dari, Hazargi, Farsi, Urdu and English. She is a born leader who strives to create harmony and peace through youth and community engagement. She navigates linguistic and cultural diversity with grace and understanding.

Fatima devotes her time and energy to helping others, both at her school, Thebarton Senior College, and in the wider community. She is an active member of the school’s Youth Reference Council, a group of young leaders engaged with Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Services (STTARS), the schools’ Roteract Club and governing council.

Fatima co-founded a women’s wellbeing group where women from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds come together and participate in activities such as yoga, dance, group discussions, and games.


2019 award (joint recipients)

Award winner: Farzana Rezaie

Farzana Rezaie and MELC Chair Angela Scario.

As a Naracoorte High School student, Farzana used her fluency in Hazaragi, Dari, Persian and English to assist teachers to educate fellow Hazara students who arrived with poor or non-existent English skills. While still at school, she also worked as an interpreter with the Adelaide-based Interpreting and Translating Centre to assist non-English speaking clients with drivers licence tests, health information sessions with Naracoorte Community Health, and Centrelink issues. As a volunteer with the newly established Naracoorte Migrant Resource Centre, Farzana worked with youth in various settlement activities such as sport and cultural integration sessions. 

Farzana’s tireless energy across the education sector in Naracoorte and as a mentor has transcended the cultural barriers for women across the whole community. In 2013, Farzana was selected as the People of Australia Ambassador, an award instituted by Prime Minister Julia Gillard for local champions of social inclusion and who have helped strengthen community relations. She continues to link her work of uniting her community with services and supports. She has assisted migrant/refugee children from various ethnic backgrounds including Chinese, Hazara, Japanese, Burmese, Thai, Filipino, Bangladeshi, Lao and Cambodian. 


Award winner: Sophie Szabo

Sophie’s mature grasp of languages and cultures belies her youthfulness. Sophie has studied Chinese and French both at Pedare Anglican and Uniting Church School and at the School of Languages, and has dedicated herself to opportunities that enable her to grow and learn about different cultures. She has visited France twice, undertaking intensive language and cultural instruction, and has been recognised across multiple platforms for her ambassadorial qualities, outstanding scholarship, significant progress, and exceptional application and effort. 

As well as French, Sophie concurrently developed a keen interest in Chinese language and culture. She has represented South Australia twice at the national finals of the Hanyu Qiao (Chinese Bridge Competition), winning the cultural performance award in 2016 and coming second in 2017, and in 2017 represented Australia at the international finals of Hanyu Qiao (with her partner from Western Australia) and finished 4th in the world, winning the Oceania Continental Prize. She has also participated in official visits to Chinese schools, universities, cultural monuments and government departments, developing both linguistic and cultural capabilities, and influencing international perceptions and understanding of Australia and our culture.

Sophie’s exposure to both Chinese and French cultures has been a rich and rewarding experience, and has motivated her to educate others on the advantages of intercultural perspectives. She is a strong advocate for bilingual education in schools and has been dedicated to promoting the benefits through her own experiences. 


2018 award

Award winner: Manal Younus

Manal Younus and MELC Chair Angela Scario.Manal is a young Muslim women of Eritrean origins, who through her storytelling, community work and advocacy has been a great contributor to the national discussion on linguistic and cultural diversity, what it means to be different and how to be an agent of change.

Manal is a spoken word (performance) poet and storyteller who uses her poetry to not only to explore her own sense of identity, but also to provoke discussion relating to issues of linguistic and cultural diversity, racism and prejudice. Through her poetry and performance, Manal empowers others to find and develop their own voices and encourages others to question perspectives in order to engage with and embrace diversity.

Manal works with Welcome to Australia, a non-for-profit organisation that aims to cultivate a culture of welcome to our nation, to support new arrivals and refugees and develop programs which elevate the national conversation around refugees, immigration and multiculturalism. Manal also works with ActNow Theatre to engage communities and schools in discussions about racism and cultural safety and assists high school students and community leaders to develop practical skills for ‘responding to racism’.


Commendation: Apiu Nyang

MELC Chair Angela Scario and Apiu Nyang.Apiu is a young South Sudanese Australian who arrived in Australia in 2006. Apiu is passionate about her own culture and engagement with linguistic and cultural diversity.

Apiu is a strong advocate for newly arrived refugees through her role as Youth Ambassador with the Australian Refugee Association. In her school life at Nazareth Catholic College, Apiu has been a leader in the schools culture club and instrumental in enabling educators to help plan focused activities around cultural integration and experiencing diverse languages and cultures.

Through her advocacy, poetry, speeches and presentations Apui shines a spotlight on volunteerism, advocacy and social justice and supports young people to embrace their cultural identity and share their own experiences, languages and cultures to teach and lead others.


2017 award

Winner: Corey Kirkham

Corey Kirkham, winner of the 2017 award for excellence in language and culture.Corey Kirkham was awarded a scholarship in 2011 to finish High School at the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West. This opportunity gave Corey the chance to interact with people from many different cultures and contribute to the student led cultural day celebrating Middle Eastern, Asian and Australasian nationals. He also learnt Spanish which was useful in the wider community in Las Vegas and Montezuma.

After completing school in 2013, Corey lived in China and taught English to children aged from 3 to 13 while also learning Chinese. Through volunteer work with the Confucius Institute, Corey promotes awareness of Chinese language and culture in South Australia by attending and helping at the Institute’s initiatives and events. Corey’s skills in Chinese won him first place in the Chinese Bridge Competition in 2016 and an invitation from the Chinese Language Teachers Association of South Australia to be a keynote speaker, where he used his speech to encourage others to showcase Chinese language and culture throughout Australia. 


Commendation: Yassir Ajrish

Yassir Ajrish, recipient of the 2016 commendation for excellence in language and culture.

Yassir Ajrish (also known as AJ) arrived in Australia as a refugee from Iraq seven years ago. At 20 years of age, he is very passionate about his work and studies and also loves to share his experiences with the wider community. He represents the Australian Refugee Association as a Youth Ambassador, volunteers with their homework clubs and works as a mentor in their youth mentoring program.

AJ is fluent in Arabic and English and is also studying French. He believes it is important to learn many languages as it teaches people to communicate effectively and enables them to connect with as many people as possible. AJ performs music from his home country with family members at various functions and believes that Adelaide’s multiculturalism has given him the experiences and opportunities to get to where he is now.


2016 award

Qasem Bahmanzadah, winner of the 2016 award for excellence in language and culture.Winner: Qasem Bahmanzadah 

Qasem lost both his parents at age seven and came to Australia as a refugee from Afghanistan with no possessions and no grasp of the English language. Since arriving in Australia, Qasem has been a dedicated student and has also given back by assisting other refugees who have experienced similar hardship.

As an Ambassador for the Australian Refugees Association he is an active participant in many fundraising activities and speaks in a large range of forums to help people understand the challenges refugees face, including the language and cultural barriers that make it hard for new arrivals to settle in. At just 19 years of age, Qasem completed his Bachelor of Aviation.

Commendation: Murtaza Hussani

Murtaza and his family fled Afghanistan when he was five years old and settled in Australia in 2011. As a student leader, Murtaza coordinated multiple major fundraisers to benefit refugees including a donation of 700 cans of food for an emergency relief program and has committed a great deal of time to mentoring primary school students.

Murtaza is a talented artist and is studying visual arts at University. In 2015, he worked with the Australian Refugee Association to co-curate the 2015 Portrait Exhibition as well as contributing his own work towards it. He is passionate about raising awareness of the refugee experience and the challenges and opportunities posed by differences in culture, education, social interaction and language.

MELC Secretariat

Phone: 8226 1191
Email: education.mecs [at] sa.gov.au