Student determined to tackle poverty
Monique Francois wants to improve the lot of Kiwis living on the lowest rung of the economic ladder.
The Manurewa student was among 36 New Zealanders aged 18-25 chosen to take part in the TacklingPovertyNZ workshop.
It was staged in Wellington by the McGuinness Institute think tank and Treasury in December.
Participants heard from speakers including Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, policy analysts, and people with first-hand experience of living in poverty.
Francois, 20, is in her final year of a health science degree at Auckland University.
She has a strong interest in social justice and has learned about the relationship between health and economic inequality through her studies.
"I don't think people should be valued based on how much money they have and they shouldn't be blamed if they are in poverty. Everyone should still get an equal start."
To apply to attend the workshop, Francois had to explain in writing what poverty means to her and provide references from two referees.
One of them was from Manurewa MP Louisa Wall, who says it is clear Francois has an understanding of what poverty looks like.
"I'm proud of young people like Monique who represent us with passion and pride and who want to contribute to making a positive difference in our community," Wall says.
Francois describes the workshop as "sensory overload" and says it was amazing to hear from people who have experienced poverty and gone on to succeed.
"The speakers said we need welfare for harm reduction for people who are poor, but you can't just put a plaster on it," she says.
"Long-term, you have to treat people with dignity and have services there."
Once she's completed her studies, Francois hopes to work in public health policy and use that as a platform to reduce inequality.
"I want to level the playing field because I don't want people starting the race nine steps behind," she says.
"The gap between rich and poor is getting shockingly large.
"We shouldn't define poverty in New Zealand compared to third-world countries because we're a first-world country. We live in a democracy where everyone should get a fair go."