Past, Present and Project Futures

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WORDS Adrian Hizo

Stephanie Lorenzo organised a 500-kilometre bike ride across Cambodia to raise money for the Somaly Mam Foundation (SMF) in 2007. While on the two-week bike ride, the Macquarie University graduate met with Somaly Mam, a local Cambodian who was forced into prostitution in her childhood and the girls under her care.

“Somaly’s attitude was another thing that I was drawn to her willingness and openness to communicate and tell people her story… she does this every day for the greater good, to educate and inspire people,” Stephanie said.

After reading Somaly’s biography, The Road of Lost Innocence, Stephanie was inspired to start Project Futures Ltd in 2009, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to raise awareness and combat sex-trafficking. At the root of the organisation is a foundation of socially-engaged volunteers who balance their life to campaign for this cause.

By holding innovative events and fundraisers, such as the Stella Fella campaign, they are able to garner the support of many like-minded people, some of which are big celebrities such as singer Guy Sebastian and footballer Jarryd Hayne.

Project Futures has a global reach, in partnership with SMF and other charities doing advocacy work and fundraising in Australia and abroad. In its few years of operation they have managed to raise $450,000 to support their projects.

Before then, Stephanie’s career path was fairly linear. She graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of International Communications with the hope of starting a marketing and public relations firm. “I have a love of everything international, and my degree helped me to understand cultural sensitivities and… to respect culture.”

“It also opened a lot of doors for me, especially with my background in marketing and media,” she said. However, just like all big career moves, this transition was not without its hurdles. “You know what the biggest obstacle was? It was people not believing you could do it.

“Project Futures was hard to get off the ground… In its first two years, Project Futures was 100 per cent voluntary and it easily impeded a work life.

“Of course there were times where I wanted to pull my hair out and throw my hands up and say it’s over, but the moment you remember why you started it, it is impossible to turn your back on it.”

Besides the challenges presented by establishing a new organisation and having a part-time career, Stephanie had to also contend with her parents. “[My] parents, especially, were surprised and dare I say a little disappointed…but now they have been so supportive. A lot of it was making sure they understood and appreciated it.”

Stephanie recognises that passion and commitment are integral to her line of work. “It’s very easy for volunteers to say they’re going to do something and don’t… they need to be reliable and committed.”

“We’re open to anyone with skills and talents. You can be a plumber and still get involved. You just need to be willing to ask questions and stand up and say I’m part of Project Futures and I’m proud of that.

“You need passion for something.”

When it comes to Generation Y, passion doesn’t seem to be an associated trait; apathy and indifference is abundant in portrayals of youth. However, Project Futures – being youth operated – inverts this stereotype onto its head. “Stereotypes will always be stereotypes… [But] there are also a lot of things that the media hasn’t said about Gen Y… that remain unspoken.”

“People just need to believe in [us]. I’m constantly surprised at what happens when you inspire young people to get involved.”