Remarkable young club president shares powerful story

Sara Diana Faraj has been interested in politics and advancing women's status since she was just 12 years old.

In 2020, she won the Zonta Club of Hervey Bay Inc's Young Women in Public Affairs (YWPA) Award, introducing her to the world of Zonta. She then joined the club and, at just 19 years old, became the club's president—making her the youngest club president in Zonta's history.

Sara was born and raised in Australia, where her parents settled as refugees after fleeing the war in Iraq and Lebanon in 2001. She co-founded a community project entitled "Making Hervey Bay Home," in which she told her parents' stories about their journeys to Australia and how they came to call the Queensland coastal city home.

In 2021, Sarawas the Hervey Bay Youth Parliamentarian, and her committee passed a youth bill to criminalize coercive control, which the Queensland government is now drafting. She was named the Young Citizen of the Year in the Fraser Coast in 2022.

In July, Sara was featured by Zonta International in a Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories event, a leadership series hosted by Lynne Foley OAM, chair of the Zonta Spirit Working Group.

Here are some of the top takeaways from their conversation:

Gratitude for her parents' sacrifices

"If they hadn't made this journey and chosen to start their family here, my life would be very different from what it is. I always made sure that my education was at the forefront of my mind during my schooling time and now that I'm at uni because those things wouldn't have been available to me; my life would have been so different if I was to live in the Middle East. I know I probably would have been married and had my own kids now, which is not something that I need at this stage. But my mom and dad coming here and doing what they've done in raising us here has changed my whole world perspective; it's made me into a very grateful person—and a hardworking person at that—because I know that I've been given this opportunity, so therefore I will not waste a single second."

Why political science?

"Political science is a very interesting field because it covers both what's happened in history and how we've got where we are and what's currently happening in the world. So it's a great way to explore politics on a different playing field.

"I think it's the ability to make grassroots change; a lot of people think that to make change that's positive, you have to be up in the air jumping up and down and screaming about it but there's also the ability to make grassroots change at a policy and legislation level, and I find that very interesting. Not only that, though, I find that if I'm able to use my voice to represent as many people as possible and make sure that their voice and their interests and their needs are heard, then my job is done."

The moment it clicked

"It was in grade six when I really had my big spotlight moment where I was like, 'I need to be a politician.' … My teacher was trying to get us to be engaged in this great debate and he was trying to get everyone to really talk and tell them how they felt. And no one was biting, but I just really had to say what I had to say; so, I stood up and I said my piece, and I just had this light bulb moment, and I was like, 'Wow OK, I think I found what my calling is.' After that I just decided that everything I did, I would put my energy into pursuing that. And as we learned about democracy, we also learned about feminism and women's rights and what the Suffragettes of the early waves of feminism had to go through to get to where we are today, and it just inspired me."

Becoming involved in Zonta

"One of my past teachers actually pushed me to apply for [the YWPA Award]. … I was successful in that, and then when I won, I didn't let it stop there. … I sort of drew myself into Zonta and I learned and recognized what it was about and what the organization aims to achieve and I absolutely fell in love and said, 'This is exactly what I've been talking about my whole life. You know, where has Zonta been my whole life?' In the lovely Hervey Bay group, I met some people I will consider lifelong friends and decided that I just absolutely had to join. I didn't care that it was so weird that I was so young. I just thought, 'This is it; this is me. If I start now at 19, where can I go and what can I do in this organization to make the world a better place?' "

How can Zonta relate to and attract more young women?

"There's a few different facets to creating a club that allows young women to be a part of it, and I guess the first one is looking at the differences between when maybe yourself and other more mature-aged people would have been members and what life was like back then for you and how was your work life balance, how was your household structured and how have things changed, how can we adapt?

"Just like a business, you have to find out who you're targeting and how you're going to target them. And it does take a little bit of work but it's very well worth it. If we've got single moms that work full time, how can we cater to those people? I think the e-clubs are a great example of that because you don't need to travel here and far and you can still fundraise and you can still do everything, all from the comfort of your lounge room. So, I think that's really important.

"Another thing is, how do you market to these younger people; how do we attract these younger people in? What are we saying, what type of language are we using and where are we targeting?

"It's a multi-faceted approach and it's one that is very achievable; it just takes time and effort and work, but I think as an organization and as a club, if we each do our bit will be very successful in that."

What motivates her

"I believe in service and community service and it's one of my core values and something that I absolutely love doing. Every single day I wake up grateful that I can do that and helping others and seeing the positive changes that we can make is what fills me every day."

Leadership skills

"I think I'm easy to talk to because I'm very open to just about anything, and I find that a lot of my friends and peers find it easy to confide in me or to talk to me about things because I will definitely listen. I think that being confident is also important—not confident to the point where you're the best person in the whole world, but confident to the point where if someone brings something to you that needs raising, they can confide in me and know what I will raise it for them. I am a listener and I try my best to listen to others."

How she has become so successful at just 21

"I am quite the opportunist, I think. Every time I see a little opportunity or an open door, I barge my way through, I guess. But it's worked in my favor thus far so I'm not going to stop."

What it takes to make a difference

"Community and service to others is probably the big umbrella that overlaps everything that I'm passionate about but definitely helping others and ensuring that women have their place in the world—and men too. We can't leave men behind on this journey. They're really an important part of our journeys as women—ensuring that our men understand us, understand our issues, and we understand theirs and that we educate one another and go on the journey together. That's really important to me and I'm grateful that I have a family, partner and friends that support that and understand that I'm out there and I'm loud and proud about it."

Why advocacy and awareness are so important

"If we don't converse about it, if we don't talk about it, then it doesn't change. Word of mouth is one of the greatest forms of education. … And that's been very evident in the MeToo movement and March to Justice movement, that the word of mouth has created this big movement where people are saying, 'No more, we will not put up with this anymore.' So I think it's really important that as an organization that looks to empower women and advocate for women and make sure that we live in a world of equality, that we look at the multi-faceted approaches wherein women are discriminated against, because it's not only for being a woman; it's for being a woman of color, being a woman of color with a disability and the list goes on and on and on. I think that we should address that definitely and add that to our list of things we advocate for as an organization."

Thankful for Hervey Bay community

"Once we moved here, it just changed my whole perspective and I've never looked back. To be honest, I absolutely love it here. I've got my friends here, my family here, my partner's here. My community is in Hervey Bay and I just absolutely love every piece of it and every bit of it and I wouldn't change it for the world.

"So many different people across the community have my back and make sure that I know what I'm doing and where I'm going and give me bits of advice here. They're always open to listen to what I have to say as well, which is really important, because sometimes I'll be saying something and I'll just come to a sudden realization that, 'Wow, no, this is actually how it should be,' or my opinion has suddenly changed or I've learned something. … I'm really grateful for that and it's really important that you have those people in your life to help you through these things.

"Hervey Bay is just a place that's got my heart. I don't know how else to explain it, but it just does; it's got my heart and being able to be immersed in my community, that's just the best thing."

Overcoming challenges

"My first day of school in Hervey Bay I was called a terrorist and I didn't take to that very well. I think, since I was a younger teenager, the coping mechanisms I used then and what I use now have changed drastically and I'm a much better person for it. But those things that come with racism and the hate and the prejudice, they are a lot and they're enough to knock someone down. … The way I overcome it is I sort of self-evaluate and sit down and I tell myself that I know I'm not a terrorist and I'm not a bad person, and I extract myself as the problem in that situation. I'm not the problem, the problem is the person—whoever thought this—has either seen something or heard something or been taught something, and that's the problem.

"Another way to overcome it is I turn to my loved ones—my friends, my family, my partner and that's my support. These people have my back, they're my brick wall.

"The sexism and the ageism and that comes with living in a community like I do where [people say], 'Oh, aren't you too young to be doing this?' or, 'You're always the youngest in the room,' or, 'You're a woman, you won't get to do this,' or, 'Why are you doing that?' and all this other stuff where I just make it my mission to prove them wrong and that's how I overcome that one. And if I do, I do. If I don't, that's fine, I'll try again."

What it meant to win the Young Citizen of the Year in the Fraser Coast

"That was a huge surprise and a huge achievement for me. I was absolutely beside myself and just really grateful for all the support that this local community gives me to be able to do what I do. I wouldn't be where I was without the community behind me, so I dedicated the award to my community, to my family, to my partner, to my friends, and everyone that's been behind me throughout this journey."

Sara is currently studying political science at the University of Queensland and is the Youth Mayor for the Fraser Coast Youth Advisory Council. She was accepted into the Queensland University of Technology's Pathways to Politics for Women program, which she begins in August.

To keep up with Sara, follow her on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. To keep up with her club, follow the Zonta Club of Hervey Bay on Instagram and Facebook.

Watch Sara's Remarkable Women, Powerful Stories session: 


4 AUGUST 2022