Young Catholics get a voice

6 September 2017
Young Journalist Awards for 2017. Image: Becky Xie.

Australian Catholics magazine, in conjunction with Australian Catholic University, is proud to announce the winners of this year’s Young Journalist Award.

The award, now in its 21st year, is aimed at encouraging students in Catholic schools to use the media to make a difference. Students are encouraged to find inspiring people and stories in their community and to share those stories with the world. This year’s theme was ‘Justice Heroes’. Students were asked to write about a hero from their own community.

More than 1000 students from across Australia entered this year’s awards – a record number of entries.

This year’s Intermediate Section (Years 7, 8 and 9) winner is Noelle Ramirez, from Montgrove College in Orchards Hill, NSW. Noelle wrote about 16-year-old Mark Lozano’s campaign to bring light to impoverished people in the Philippines.

This year’s Junior Section (Years 5 an 6) winner is a refugee from Iraq. Sarah Sona from St Dominic’s Primary School in Broadmeadows wrote about how her family fled Isis into Jordan, where she encountered her ‘justice heroes’ – Caritas.


Noelle Ramirez, from Montgrove College in Orchards Hill, NSW

Picture this: Seeing a beautiful, bright, red-orange glow, only to find it disappear from your very eyes, leaving you in complete and utter darkness. Now, imagine every night of your life, with only a dim flicker of a dangerous kerosene lamp lighting your way. 

Knowing that 15 million Filipinos live this type of life, 16-year-old Mark Lozano decided this was a major problem that urgently needed to be solved. Researching solutions, Mark finally found something to help those in need. And so, in August 2010, ‘One Million Lights Philippines’ was established.

Mark Lozano was eight years old when his parents started to involve him in voluntary work. They brought him to church outreach programs, typhoon services and much more. After a while, he realised how fulfilling these events were, and saw that these little things were such a major help. Along with that, these events were also very fun.

After going to a leadership seminar in America, he was inspired. He realised he had the potential to do so much more. With this, Mark decided he wanted to help people living troubled lives.

At the time, kerosene lighting in the Philippines was a big, but unacknowledged problem. It was so big, that statistics showed that 15 million deaths were caused by kerosene every year, with 62% of children being affected. When asked why he chose kerosene lighting as a problem to solve, Mark said, ‘I knew people were already helping problems involving water and education and that required the special knowledge that I didn’t have. So light was a more straightforward problem I knew I could help solve.’

But Mark was young, and not many people wanted to volunteer to help him and his colleagues. After researching more, he found an organisation and a trusting friend that could help them begin the One Million Lights Philippines project.

Being only 16, Mark and his colleagues felt very unqualified as they were organising this. But this feeling only motivated him more. And so with determination, perseverance and the encouragement of his family, the organisation of One Million Lights Philippines came to be.

But this wasn’t the end. Up to this day, One Million Lights Philippines still spreads light throughout the Philippines, selling over 13,000 solar-powered lights to those struggling to live with kerosene lighting. These solar-powered lanterns not only took away health problems, but make it easier for children and adults to do chores and finish off their homework. The result? Increases in general productivity and improvements in education and livelihood that dramatically improved their lives.

Because of Mark Lozano, thousands of households living in the Philippines live healthier and happier lives. And though you may think you are too young or don’t have the mind to follow your dreams, persevere and do what you love.

As The One Million Lights Philippines organisation says, ‘You are never too young to make a difference.’

YJA 2017 Intermediate Section Winner: ‘A light for a nation’; Noelle Ramirez, Montgrove College, Orchards Hill, NSW.


Sarah Sona from St Dominic’s Primary School in Broadmeadows

My story started in Iraq, in a little village called Qaraqosh where I was born in 2004. Life was peaceful. However, in 2014, everything changed. Isis gangs wanted to kill all the Christian people in Qaraqosh. 

If we didn’t change our religion to Muslim, we would have to pay money to remain Christian. This was such a bad time for people in Qaraqosh.

On 6 August 2014, we heard bombs exploding nearby. Dad knew that the Isis gangs had entered our village because the army soldiers had run away. We had no choice, if we wanted to survive then we must run. My family ran into Erbil, the only safe city in Iraq. From there we travelled to Jordan.

People from an organization called Caritas Jordan welcomed us when we arrived in Jordan. They helped us get some food and clothes and a place to live. We had to live with ten other families at the same place but I thank God that we were safe. The Caritas people were very kind, trying to make us forget the pain of leaving our families and friends in Iraq. There were some teachers from Caritas coming to help the children to learn English.

A year and seven months later, my family had a call from Australian Immigration. Our visa was ready to go to Australia. We first came to Australia on the 26th of April 2016. After one week in Wollongong, we came to Melbourne because we had family here and it was important for my family to be near a Chaldean church.

Today, I feel so lucky because I’m living with my family peacefully, free to practise my faith. My dream is to go to university and become an author. The life I have now would not have been possible without the wonderful people of Caritas. They are real justice heroes and I will never forget them.

This is not the end of my story, it’s just the beginning.

YJA 2017 Junior Section Winner, Sarah Sona, St Dominic’s PS, Broadmeadows, VIC.


With thanks to Australian Catholics.

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