My name is Rajya Atluri and I am a sophomore at the Hockaday School in Dallas, Texas. As the founder and president of my school’s UNICEF Club, I had the joy and privilege of hosting Caryl Stern, President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, on Thursday, May 1. With almost 50 students present from various different high school clubs and campus clubs around the Dallas/Fort Worth region, this inspiring and dynamic event offered students the opportunity to connect with each other and learn how they can continue to make a sustainable impact on behalf of UNICEF in the community and all over the world.
While I was standing near the doors to receive the guests for Ms. Caryl Stern’s visit to The Hockaday School, I was approached by one of our school’s security guards, Gai Gai. Seeing my bright blue UNICEF shirt, he questioned what was going on that day, and I explained that the President and CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF was coming to speak to us. With the event starting in a few minutes, I hurried upstairs to the meeting room without giving much thought to my recent conversation with Gai Gai.
Ms. Stern’s attitude was the first thing that stood out and set the tone for the event and for the rest of the evening. She was excited to see such a huge turnout of young people gathered together who were passionate about making a difference for UNICEF. While she spoke to us about her experiences and anecdotes from her new book, I Believe In Zero, she always centered around children, and made the conversation about others rather than herself. It was very refreshing and inspirational to hear someone involved in helping others speak so passionately yet selflessly about the work she had been doing.
Many times I felt transported into her stories, feeling her emotions, and caring for the people she spoke of—I forgot where I was. I was moved by the story of a desperately hungry boy who, when given a biscuit, first split it with others before eating it himself; by the story of a woman who, despite enduring sexual assault, awoke each morning with a sense of hope for betterment in her life as well as the life of her child; by the story of UNICEF volunteers risking their lives, living in dangerous circumstances in hopes of improving those of others. A distinct moment in the conversation occurred when one of the attendees asked Ms. Stern what motivated her to keep going with such a daunting goal before her. Her answer surprised many: she explained that she started off less optimistic than she was today, her experiences actually motivating her further in order to reach UNICEF’s goal of zero kids dying from preventable causes. Going in, I knew a few people expected to feel guilty because they weren’t doing enough to help, but in fact the opposite happened—we all left with a feeling of optimism and hope and with a belief that we, even a single person, could contribute in solving the world’s problems.
As the program was coming to an end, our Director of Community Service, Ms. Laura Day, brought up Gai Gai, the security guard who had asked me earlier about the event. To my surprise, his interest in the event was not simply curiosity—it was a personal one. Gai, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, was born and raised in South Sudan. In 1987 he fled Sudan, lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia for eight years, moved to Kenya, and eventually was able to immigrate to the United States in 2001. Gai Gai had a personal connection with UNICEF because it was one of the organizations that aided him along the way. Seeing how UNICEF was linked to our everyday community, to someone we see every day, opened my eyes to see how changing the life of one person can impact the lives of many others. My fellow club members and I feel a renewed sense of passion and motivation to educate and advocate for UNICEF not only at Hockaday, but in our community as a whole.