Julie Bartlett is the worst enemy of discrimination wherever she finds it.
She’s the founder of the new charitable trust Sources of Unconditional Love, or SOUL, which is up and running in South Auckland.
Its aim is to “replace prejudice and discrimination with respect and empowerment toward girls and young women”.
“Women in New Zealand are still facing prejudice,” Bartlett says. “Soul shines a light on discrimination but with love.
“Its mission is to … motivate young women to become their own role model.”
The South Auckland programme is for girls aged 15-18.
Among those signed up already are 18-year-old Manurewa tertiary student Lahronda Liugalua and Yukta Verma, 16, who lives in Takanini and goes to Alfriston College.
Lahronda was drawn to get involved after seeing a post about the trust on Facebook.
“I’m keen to help run events in the area to draw more of us in,” she says.
“If you look at the statistics in South Auckland, something does need to change with teenage girls.”
Yukta says she got involved out of a desire to make a positive difference for her peers.
“I want to make them realise people are helping them and that there is support out there.”
She also wants to try to stop girls in South Auckland from dropping out of school.
“Hopefully we can do something about that and show them if they don’t go down that path they can accomplish something,” Yukta says.
Bartlett brings a range of skills and experience to her new endeavour.
They include having created the award-winning organisation StarJam, which provides music and performance workshops for people with disabilities.
“I led it for 11 years and then handed it on and thought ‘what am I going to do now?’,” she says.
“I talked to a lot of people about issues such as family violence, poverty and suicide, and came to the conclusion that what’s contributing to all of these is discrimination.
“If we do everything we can to reduce it, that’s the starting point. A lot of bad stuff happens in the world but there are places of unconditional love.”
“If we can expand on that and get people to realise it we can make things better.”
Bartlett says she wants girls who get involved with the trust to come up with their own ideas and projects.
Her goal is to improve the lives of young women who “devalue themselves or self-discriminate”.
“If the messages they grow up hearing are that they aren’t good enough or could never do something … that’s what we’re working to change.”
The trust has received funding from the Ministry of Youth Development and it’s free to get involved.