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COVID-19 Couldn't Stop Young UNICEF Supporters from Taking Action

March 25, 2021

UNICEF Club members and supporters reflect on lessons learned during the COVID-19 lockdowns and share their post-pandemic action plans.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a range of inequities to the forefront, causing many people to confront their privilege and commit to creating a fair and equitable society. Young people have especially taken advantage of the digital space, using it to educate and empower themselves and find new ways to take action. 

In November, New York City UNICEF Club members gathered virtually for the NYC UNICEF Collegiate Conference to learn about the global refugee crisis. A wide range of inspiring speakers and attendees participated, and we raised $1,200 for UNICEF. But such opportunities have been few and far between, challenging UNICEF Club members to find new ways to stay connected, take action and make change in our own communities.

Last March, when my school, Fordham University, shut down, I returned to my home in Nigeria to finish the semester online. The distance between Nigeria and New York made classes challenging at times. But learning from home meant I could participate in last fall's protests against abuses committed by the Nigerian police force's Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) and lend my voice to the national call for change. Knowing that some of my fellow UNICEF College Club members took their own stands against police brutality here in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement last summer brought us together across continents and time zones.

But as we mark the one-year anniversary of the coronavirus pandemic this month, we still long for the day when we can reunite as a community — in-person — to resume our work to support UNICEF. Here, a few UNICEF Club members and UNICEF supporters share what they’ve learned this past year along with the issues facing children that they look forward to tackling:

Small actions can have a big impact

“I think you should start at home. Make sure that your friends and family are at least educated on the issues you support and feel passionate about. Tell them what you believe in, and if there's anything that you think can be changed, see if you can make that change in your neighborhood first,” — Anjali Tripathi, UNICEF UNITE Miami advocacy lead  

COVID has illustrated how crucial access to the internet is for the equity of children in the U.S. and abroad

"COVID has illustrated the wide disparities between students and demonstrated how crucial access to the internet is for equity of children in both the U.S. and abroad. We as UNICEF USA supporters need to strive to provide not only rights and necessities for children outside of the U.S. but also for the children around us," — Samantha Hochstat, outgoing vice president of Columbia University UNICEF Club

Sneha (above with her parents) is one of 1,500 children between the ages of 3 and 5 from Bangladesh's remote southeastern region who had to learn at home once her school closed down due to COVID-19. Her family does not have internet service, so UNICEF-supplied home-based learning packets — covering two-months of material — meant she could keep up with her lessons. Sneha said she would prefer to be in class with her friends and teachers, “but at least we’re now able to draw, read, write and play more at home.” © UNICEF/UNI359527/Chakma

Digital advocacy has its place, but I am looking forward to face-to-face interaction, which promotes involvement in a unique way

“Lack of internet access for online learning, food insecurity and disruptions in health care are all problems that are heightened in the time of global crisis. We need to be more united in our care for others and focus not just on how these issues impact our own lives but also on how other people are affected. Digital advocacy has its place and is a useful tool in community education, but I am looking forward to getting back to face-to-face interaction, which promotes involvement in a unique way,” — Meghan Decker, president, Fordham University UNICEF Club

These young people from Yaoundé, in central Cameroon, use U-Report — an SMS and social media platform UNICEF designed — to speak up about problems, ask questions and support and advocate for programs that help their communities. Over 13 million young people from across 76 countries are registered users of the U-Report social messaging tool. © UNICEF/UN0427219/Dejongh

COVID has enhanced our ability to adapt to new situations 

"COVID has opened our eyes to novel ways of doing things and enhanced our ability to adapt to new situations. I hope that the innovation and, more importantly, the flexibility we have embraced in this time is not temporary. Within school systems and even in the workplace, we could do with less rigidity and more compassion," — Onyinye Enwereji, outgoing outreach chair, Columbia University UNICEF 

I want to learn as much as I can about the mental health struggles facing LGBTQ+ and all refugees

“Once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, I hope to volunteer at the RDJ Refugee Shelter, currently the only shelter in New York City specifically for asylum seekers and refugees experiencing homelessness. I also want to learn as much as I can about the mental health struggles facing LGBTQ+ and all refugees," — Sawyer Swain, incoming outreach chair, Columbia University UNICEF Club

Tearing down political polarization is needed to combat such issues as COVID-19 and the politicization that can halt progressive change

“The COVID-19 pandemic was a clear sign that unity is the change we need. Not only would I love to see the world become healthier and more prepared for illness, but I would like to see unification for the good of others. Tearing down political polarization is needed to combat such issues as COVID-19 and the politicization that can halt the progressive change needed to prevent the spread of illness and develop vaccines,” — Anna Lazzaro, vice president, Fordham UNICEF 

UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore credits the global COVAX Facility with ensuring that people like Kwame Kwei, a retired 78-year-old farmer from Ghana (above), have equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines: “The global unity, commitment and support for the COVAX Facility is truly a remarkable demonstration of what we can accomplish when we all — governments, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies, other members of the private sector and the UN itself — work together." © UNICEF/UN0431339/Kokoroko

Money is great because it can fund change. But money does not make change. People do

“If someone is motivated and they want to make a change, they can. I would be happy if I could help change just one child’s life. There are kids out there who do not even expect to have basic human rights and necessities, and that's not right. Money is great because it can fund change. But money does not make change. People do. ” — Olivia K., UNICEF USA, youth representative of Chicago

UNICEF USA is requesting Congressional support for a number of important issues, including FY22 Appropriations for UNICEF's global programs for children, the reintroduction of the Keeping Girls in School Act and cosponsorship of the Mental Health Services for Students Act

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Anenwojo Omagu is pursuing a double major in international studies and history at Fordham University in New York City. As a Fordham University UNICEF Club member, she works to organize fundraising events and advocate for UNICEF.

Top Photo: The 2019-2020 Fordham University UNICEF Club executive board, Hanna Kilroy, Isabella Mascio, Alvaro Cooper-Perales, Meghan Decker (current president), Anna Lazzaro (current vice president), Elise Elkins, and Anenwojo Omagu, in front of Fordham University's Keating Hall in October 2019.