Ten’s Teen Activists: We Present Milana Bout, A We Belong Campaigner from Manchester
You can tell a lot about a person by what’s plastered on their bedroom wall, what sits on their bedside table or even by what they leave lying around on their floor. For a teenager, their bedroom is an extension of who they are – or who they want to be. Often with a ‘Keep Out’ or ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign scribbled on their door, teens can lock themselves away from the outside world within their own personal sanctuary, where their every need is catered for. For Issue 64, we commissioned the photographer Jermaine Francis to explore these mini universes. The inspiration was Adrienne Salinger’s ‘In My Room’, a seminal photo book from 1995 that journeyed though a selection of teen bedrooms in upstate New York. Salinger found her subjects in shopping malls and restaurants, as well as through friends, resulting in a perfectly imperfect chorus of adolescent youth to photograph in their as-yet-uncharted territories. The only rule in place before Salinger’s arrival was that the teens were not to tidy their rooms, no matter how messy they were.
Comparing then to now, the sentiment remains that no two of these personal palaces look-alike, although for today’s teens, bedrooms are no longer dedicated to their favourite boyband member or celebrity crush. All over the country, the function of a teenager’s bedroom has evolved. Within their four walls, the modern-day teen is able to plot how they will make tomorrow brighter, both for themselves and the marginalised groups that surround them. From the climate-change warriors and LGBTQI+ activists, through to young migrants battling for their right to belong, teenagers simply can no longer wait for the government to assuage their fears for the future. In celebration of such titans, we trekked up and down the country to the bedrooms of 10 teens who are taking matters into their own hands. On World Refugee Day, we bring you Milana Bout from Manchester.
“Activist” isn’t a label that particularly resonates with Milana Bout. Yet she can’t remember a point in her life when she wasn’t striving to “change this life for the better”. From being the peacemaker of family arguments to a volunteer at Oxfam, to starting her senior school’s eco club and recently passing her interview to work for Childline, Bout refuses to take a backseat when it comes to fighting injustice. “I am guilty of living in my own good life, thinking that everything around me is good, when in reality, there is so much going in the world that truly horrifies me,” she says. As well as studying applied psychology at college, Bout is part of We Belong – Young Migrants Standing Up, a charity led entirely by young people who aim to offer support and guidance to migrants who have faced any form of hostility here in the UK. “I migrated to this country at a young age, and it’s upsetting to find you face financial and educational barriers because of your immigration status,” says Bout. “I believe that by joining my efforts with other people’s, we can bring about positive change.”
When did you first feel like you were an activist?
“I still don’t think of myself as an activist, but from a young age, I always wanted to change this life for the better. When I was a child and my family would argue with each other, it made me extremely unhappy, so I would tell them to stop. My mum called me the peacemaker after that.”
What’s the best thing about being a young activist in your city?
“Manchester is a culturally diverse city and full of opportunities. It is open to new changes, so it’s a great place for a young campaigner to be.”
What’s your favourite thing in your bedroom?
“I have pink heels that I bought for £4. They were a good bargain. They are standing on the top of my wardrobe and just by looking at them I feel much better. They remind me of the film and musical Legally Blonde, where Elle Woods succeeds in becoming a lawyer, even though nobody believes in her.”
Do you make your bed every morning?
“Sometimes I’m organised, making my bed and leaving my room clean. Other days, my mornings can be too chaotic, so I do not have time for anything.”
What do you want to see change about the world in 2020?
“I want more opportunities for young immigrants in terms of education, which is why I joined We Belong. A lot of young immigrants like me are not eligible for student finance, and university fees are too high for us to pay without a loan. Everyone who works hard and is determined should be able to progress into higher education. I’m looking forward to helping campaign for change.”
Which fellow activists inspire you and why?
“Since becoming involved in We Belong, I have come to know Kimberly Garande, who is the outreach worker and very helpful and supportive. We Belong was launched in 2019 and is the first UK-wide charity run entirely by young migrants, and I am inspired by everyone involved. They address important issues that young immigrants face and I am truly encouraged by that. They are a clear example that change can be made if we all try.”
What activism work are you most proud of?
“When I was part of the ECO Club [at school], my friends and I had to go around and pick up litter in front of everyone. It was quite embarrassing, but we wanted to send a strong message that it’s wrong to leave litter and not care about your environment.”
What’s the most comfortable pair of shoes to protest in?
“Not my pink heels! I wear my boots to protest in as they are comfortable, but they also make me feel confident and strong.”
Portrait by Jermaine Francis. Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – available to view for free here.