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When opportunity meets the gold-hearted

It doesn’t exist on our doorsteps any more, nor on those of our Western neighbours. It’s a long-forgotten evil – one reminiscent of cotton fields and Toni Morrison novels – and it is hardly spoken about in casual conversation, because its reality seems so far away. But for people like Matthew Darvas and the rest of the crew at World Vision, they seek to combat its presence everyday. Because they know that slavery is still very much alive and kicking – and more prevalent in our lives than we might think.

Matthew Darvas is the New South Wales co-state director of Vision Generation, World Vision’s youth arm. Aimed at people between the ages of 15 and 25, the group’s mission is to campaign relentlessly for those who are not able to and to be the generation which makes poverty history. The members work on fundraising, lobbying and gaining recognition for poverty and its causes. For the past year, Matthew has been the go-to-man of Vision Generation, and has played a pivotal role in harnessing public support in schools and universities for the Don’t Trade Lives campaign to unite Australians against human trafficking. Needless to say, his priorities aren’t the same as any old 21-year-old University of Sydney student.

“Human slavery didn’t finish with the slave trade, and it hasn’t been eliminated simply because it’s illegal. It is actually the world’s third largest crime,” he says.

When Matthew speaks about human trafficking, it becomes immediately clear that the crime isn’t merely part of a Hollywood production completely removed from Australian society. Sure, its existence lurks somewhere in the back of our mind – along with the rest of the world’s human rights tragedies – but the fact that its aftertaste can be found everywhere from the grocery shelves to our sporting goods brings modern-day slavery much closer to home.

“80 per cent of cocoa is from West Africa, in farms where there are widespread cases of unpaid child workers – so if it’s not Fairtrade, you could very well be eating a product of slave labour,” says Matthew.

And thanks to the likes of Matthew, confectionary giant Cadbury Australia announced just last week that they will use Fairtrade cocoa in the production of their most popular product, Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate, in both Australia and New Zealand – a huge win for Vision Generation, which played a large role in lobbying the government and having their voice heard.

“Our main objective is to not just present problems, but to tell young people how they can get involved and be part of the solution,” he says.
“Vision Generation starts off as a grassroots movement and takes local action in its local area, so there is a sense of empowerment in independent communities.”

So how did a 21-year-old get to be so passionate about human rights issues – and end up leading people along the way?

“I know this story is going to sound trite, but after I volunteered in Thailand following the ‘04 Tsunami, I trekked around Asia and met a man who was selling books at the Angkor Wat Ruins in Cambodia. He was just one of so many people doing the same thing, so I struck up a conversation with him and asked him how many books he had sold this week. His answer was zero,” says Matthew.
“He was the oldest in a family of 10. Because his father was a fisherman, he had to work to support the family when his mother passed. I noticed that his English was quite good, so I asked him about it and he ended up telling me that he was actually studying English at university so that he could eventually teach young people, but he had to pull out because he couldn’t afford the costs – which are a fragment of what they are here. It’s not all about starving kids and all that. These people are just like me, but the only difference is the circumstances in which we were born.

“We have opportunities, and we have to use these opportunities to ensure that people like him also have chances.”

While Matthew cites fighting apathy and competing with a society that so absent-mindedly pushes human rights issues aside as the greatest obstacles to this type of work, he stresses that witnessing other young Australians grasp the issues and the role they have in everyday lives makes it all worth it – and such success will be fundamental in changing Australian society for years to come.


Matthew at India's World Vision offices


The Fairtrade movement and and the Don’t Trade Lives Campaign have been the most recent battles of Vision Generation, and Matthew says both the campaigns and the group will be around for years to come. But what’s up next?

Vision Generation is trying to gain momentum for Youth Decide, which begins next week. From the 14th to 21st of September, all young people are encouraged to vote on climate change and what they want the government to do about it at www.youthdecide.com.au. After the vote, the campaign is set to continue on how climate change affects the poor.

Then Vision Generation will be hosting a screening of Call and Response on September 23 at the University of Sydney as part of the school's Humanitarian Week. It will also be attended by Damien Walsh Howling from Underbelly. Oh, and it’s a free premiere. Who says you have to be snooty to feel posh?

To stay up to date on Vision Generation, visit their blog, attend their next event, or, of course, set up your own group. For those over 25, click here for volunteer opportunities with World Vision.


words: Seema Duggal

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