Teenager wins award for photography exhibit raising awareness of mental health problems in young people

By Alexandra Warren

A 17-year-old A-level student has won a global award for her “powerful” photography of local people, which raised awareness about mental health problems in youngsters.

Nicole Fernandes de Silva took part in Lambeth-based charity BIGKID Foundation’s first ever art exhibition, earning her the award for social impact.

Her entry to the art show was a series of portraits of young people captioned by their thoughts about growing up in South London.

Nicole said: “I kept saying that I wasn’t going to win but everyone else said otherwise. My cousin kept saying I was going to win but I didn’t believe her.

“When my name was called I was in shock. I was not expecting to win but I was happy and felt proud of myself.”

Through her artwork Nicole has highlighted the issues that young people in her community face, as well as providing them with a sense of unity and understanding.

One of Nicole’s photographs – Jayden

Captions to the photos include “South London is a controversial place where we have gangs and politicians but a great social place to be” and “London is where we have our own experiences and find our inspirations. I’m glad to live in London otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

Nicole said: “Before taking the pictures, I asked each person to think of their worst memory where they had to hide their feelings. Everyone had a similar reaction.

“This project is important to me as it shows the reality of young people’s lives. Our lives aren’t perfect – there are things that we struggle with but cannot say out loud.”

There has been a positive reception to the photos in the community – with many people saying that her work was extremely powerful.

Nicole added: “A lot of the young people I spoke to all said that they have experienced having to hide their emotions and act like nothing is wrong, and that they relate to the photos.”

Before the exhibition Nicole was not that passionate about photography, but after seeing the impact that her work has had is now considering doing some in the future – alongside travelling and learning languages.

Nicole first joined BIGKID Foundation as part of their girl’s football team, but quit after a while.

She re-joined in October 2019 when she was asked to help with the art exhibition and she is now a regular volunteer at the charity, developing creative projects and making media content.

The charity was founded in 200 by Shaninga Marasha and aims to offer young people leadership skills and a sense of belonging through community engagement and mentoring and leadership programmes.

The Canon Young Champion of the Year Award is part of the Global Good Awards, which recognise and reward change in purpose driven sustainability and social impact.

The other recipient of this year’s Canon Young Champion of the Year Award is 17-year-old conservationist Bella Lack, who is an ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, the RSPCA and the Jane Goodall Institute and uses social media to educate others on wildlife conservation.

Pictured top: Nicole Fernandes de Silva



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