In­spired by royal ex­pe­ri­ence

Central Otago Mirror - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - RHYS CHAMBERLAIN

Ash­leigh Smith doesn’t know how she got to be the one stand­ing in front of Queen El­iz­a­beth II, and says a lead­ers’ award she re­ceived is for those peo­ple ‘‘fight­ing ev­ery­day for what they be­lieve in’’.

The 19-year-old anti-bul­ly­ing cam­paigner from Naseby was one of 60 young peo­ple pre­sented with a Queen’s Young Lead­ers Award by the Queen her­self, in Lon­don, on Fri­day.

Just home from the two-week trip, the Otago Polytech­nic nurs­ing stu­dent and Sticks ‘n Stones co-founder said she was ’’in­cred­i­bly in­spired’’ by the ex­pe­ri­ence and heaped praise on other mem­bers of the Cen­tral Otago anti-bul­ly­ing move­ment.

‘‘I was lucky to be the per­son stand­ing there in front of the Queen,’’ Smith said on Mon­day.

It was recog­ni­tion for all mem­bers of Stick ‘n Stones, she said.

Queen El­iz­a­beth asked her what she did and and af­ter Smith talked to her about her cam­paign, the Queen replied that she must be ‘‘a very busy per­son’’.

‘‘It was just the most crazy ex­pe­ri­ence I have ever had.

‘‘There’s just no way to de­scribe it [meet­ing the Queen and re­ceiv­ing the award].

‘‘Re­ally I was just so proud and hum­bled.’’

Smith would now fo­cus on up­com­ing ex­ams be­fore tak­ing time to ‘‘re­ally de­brief’’ and de­cide what was next for Sticks ‘n Stones.

She never imag­ined the group would gar­ner this much ac­claim and have such an im­pact on young peo­ple’s lives.

‘‘I only hoped I could help. It’s re­ally in­cred­i­ble.’’

The Sticks ‘n Stones ini­tia­tive came af­ter three school­mates died from sui­cide in eight months when she at­tended Man­iototo Area School.

Cromwell Col­lege’s branch of the group was a tes­ta­ment to just how widely recog­nised and val­ued the group had be­come in the com­mu­nity.

Mem­bers re­ceived a first ever Good in the Hood grant from Z en­ergy for just over $1200 the same day Smith re­ceived her award.

Com­mon­wealth Youth New Zealand ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Brad Olsen called Smith’s work ‘‘in­spi­ra­tional’’.

‘‘[It] per­fectly re­flects her com­pas­sion and drive to make New Zealand and the world a bet­ter place to live in.’’

Smith is co-leader and vice chair of the board for Sticks ‘n Stones.

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