He stands up in front of me, displaying the upmost manners. I stand up to greet his warm, welcoming face that arrays a sense of lightness and comfort.
His long, slender face only marked by the birth spot that cheekily lays on the outskirts of his radiating smile. The mood is electrifying. The man I was meant to calm was instilling calm in me.
He sits casually in his normal long jeans and proudly parades the UOW logo on his bright blue shirt, placing a handful on notes onto the table in front of him; “I’m ready when you are”.
Aaron Lovell is a university student. But not average the type of university student you would expect. Instead of spending his extra time playing video games or hanging out with friends at the pub, he is spending his extra time working to make much needed change in the life of others. A lot of his time… In fact, just about all of it.
From a young age he was brought up alongside his local church and supportive parents whom he describes as being his constant role models. Evolving was a passion that now governs his day-to-day life.
This passion is social justice.
Aaron discovered his passion throughout his high schools years. He describes it as a time that was a breaking point for him, entering into a world dedicated to making life less difficult for others.
It wasn’t all easy though; he struggled with some challenges along the way. Describing himself as an introvert at heart, naturally very quiet and conservative but very much a people person, he has some barriers that he had to break down.
With a deep hunger for change, he had one distinct fear. “I wanted to speak out about social justice, I wanted to encourage other people to take action and stand up for what they believe in but I was a really shy public speaker,” Aaron said as he casts his thoughts back. “I hated public speaking. I was so nervous in high school about public speaking.”
But despite his fears, he gained a position volunteering at World Vision, a Christian organisation for humanitarian aid and advocacy. His role was to run the 40hr Famine campaign, an event that raises money and awareness for world hunger, at his high school. This was Aaron’s first big step towards putting his goals into action. “That…” He said as a smile cracked through his lips, “That was when I knew that it was something that I would do when I had finished school.”
From there, he said it was a personal journey where he had to train himself and develop a skill set in order to fulfil the high goals he had set himself and gain new opportunities. He became the School captain of his high school and a youth leader at his local church, ShireLive, where he helps younger students in various aspects of their life; supporting, encouraging, and sharing advice to help them believe in themselves and their abilities.
For Aaron, volunteering is now a big part of his life. He describes it as opportunities and ‘stepping stones’ in his career. The more he engages in this kind of work, the more he wants to become involved.
“I image it as mountains.” He laughs at his metaphor, but nevertheless continues to paint the picture. “Once you have done something, it kind of pushes you forward to find bigger and better opportunities. You’ve climbed one mountain and you look to the next mountain. So I think, I’ve done this volunteering work so now I want to look for paid work there. I was school captain and now I want to look for a bigger leadership role at university. It pushes you to climb a higher mountain.”
In the year after he completed high school, he enrolled to study a Bachelor of International Studies at the University of Wollongong. He says that his choice came out of a real interest to know about the world around him. From the many rewarding and fulfilling opportunities that Aaron has had, he is constantly inspired and motivated him to continue in his path. He notes that, “studying international studies is sort of fundamental for me being able to understand how the world works to then be able to make a difference in the world. I personally need to understand where it is at and how it interacts.” He then goes on to say, “I guess, for the lack of a better saying, I want to leave my mark on the world or I want to do things that benefit not just myself, but other people as well.”
Through this, he has learnt and discovered many ways in which he can help other people achieve justice and also impart this knowledge to the youth of today.
He speaks of an experience that he has kept with him as inspiration.
He explains how he stood proud, up amidst a crowd of intently focussed school kids eager to learn about what it takes to be a leader and a volunteer.
Feelings of warmth and comfort rush through him as he sits up in his chair and thinks back, reliving an experience that has touched him.
During the holidays of the first year of university, Aaron took up an opportunity to travel to East Timor, a country in South-east Asia. While he was there, he had a look at some of the projects that were being run as well as visiting some of the families and communities that live there. He speaks of a six-year-old girl that he met, by the name of Lily. “Her dad had been killed when she was one, her mum had fled and she was as poor as poor could get. She lived with her grandma in a tiny mud brick house way, way away from any type of town or city and they had basically no food.” After speaking to Lily for around half an hour, Aaron got to know a little about her, hearing stories of how she is bullied by people at school. His voice turns from sombre to surprise as he describes one of the most profound things that she ever said.
Before leaving, Aaron asked Lily what makes her happy. He then describes that she replied, “ I’m happy you’ve hugged me even though I am dirty”.
Aaron paused for a moment before saying, “It was just the most crushing, heart breaking moment that poverty had put this girl in a place that made her feel so devalued and without a sense of worth.”
This was the story that Aaron told at World Vision youth conference that same year. A moment where he incited empathy into 1000 school kids and a passion for making a positive mark on the world. He describes it as a surreal moment where we felt that he, in a way, brought Lily some justice by bringing her story back with him.
Bringing about social justice was a goal that Aaron had made for himself, which could be outworked through his position at World Vision. Another goal that Aaron had set since he was in high school, was to learn a language. As part of his degree in International Studies at university, he was required to minor in a language. He began learning French but admits that he gave up in within six weeks because he felt it was too hard. After thinking about it for a while, he decided to pick up Chinese in his second year as he felt it would be useful later in life. One year turned into two years and then into a third before he received a scholarship to live and study in China for six months, fully paid by the Chinese government last year. He discusses that being over there was an eye-opening experience. “Living in another country, in another culture surrounded by different people who are all speaking a different language, really reshaped my perspective of the world.” He explains, “It makes me realise that the way I live isn’t normal, the country and city that I live in isn’t everyone’s normal.” He talks about how his travelling has helped him to relate to other people properly and to take into account their life experiences when you have to understand where they are coming from. “This was a really personally defining moment for me where it tested me in a lot of ways, I didn’t have any friends or family while I was there at time there weren’t even people that I could speak English to. It was forcing me to communicate in a way.”
Taking on these volunteering opportunities has paid off for Aaron and in turn has been beneficial for not only career opportunities but also personal growth.
“Some internships I’ve had over the years, so say interning with a politician, that was more of a personal motivation. I saw that as an opportunity to develop skills, to be exposed to workplaces and people with greater knowledge that I could learn from. So I think the ability to learn through volunteering has been very important.”
Politics is also a topic that Aaron has a deep interest in. “Politics…” He paused for a moment to catch his thoughts. Then he said something that really made me think differently. He explained, “For me, I think I’m most passionate about politics because I see it as a means to make lasting and meaningful change. Politics is something that affects all aspects of life and it is a tool that can bring around change in people’s lives.”
Aaron hopes that in the next five years he is still continuing on his journey for social justice. “I’ll hopefully have finished my honours and my masters to be done in Canberra. I also hope to do a one or two year program somewhere or maybe even work overseas. Hopefully I’ll be in a relationship too if I can manage that with work and study.”
Although there are always fears for what the future hold, he remains positive and motivated. He hopes that next year he will be able to work for the Australian Government, particularly in the foreign affairs sector although he believes that he will need more experience before he can make the impact that he wants to see.
He explains that he also seeks motivation from other people. “I think the thing that pushes me is when other people do things that inspire them. So when people step out of their comfort zone, or if people are excelling in things they are passionate about, that challenges me to push myself further.”
But he is focusing on the here and now. On the days that he isn’t working to complete his honours thesis for International Relations, you could find him sitting in on a university meeting, making a speech at a local high school, researching at World Vision, running youth groups around his local church or maybe you won’t even find him. He may just be leaving his mark somewhere across the globe.