UNICEF High School Club leaders at the United Nations General Assembly
Rebekah is one of the UNICEF High School Club leaders who participated in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) events. Below is an account of her experience.
Volunteering for UNICEF is a phenomenon quite new to me. I’d just been to my first event the previous week, discussing world issues and concerns among other teens my age from NY and Philadelphia. Aside from being a great experience, what became especially clear at the end of the day was how everything UNICEF stands for has everything to do with where I am in life and where life’s pointing me. There’s this overwhelming sense of fulfillment knowing that you’re working towards something bigger than just you- something that’s impactful and meaningful to countless others- something that brings a global aspect you haven’t fully comprehended or considered before. So of course, being asked to take a part in the UNGA events during the week of Sept. 25 presented a unique and exciting opportunity.
What I mostly took away from the UNGA events was its emphasis on holding leaders accountable. Yeah, it was really cool to conclude and speak on behalf of UNICEF, but it was nice to hear people with higher influence speak about real issues that would challenge the realistic aspect of the Global Goals.
The concept of youth involvement in world issues came up frequently through the day. It definitely goes hand-in-hand with the key component of ensuring the global goals’ effectiveness, by harnessing social media to spread global awareness. As the We the People’s hub (an installation created to share live updates from the UN through social media) emphasized, everyone needs to take action towards a better world, and I believe the youth’s role is to be aware and make these global goals “a thing.” That is, to make it something talked about and to make the conversation last. Young people need to acknowledge how much power they already possess and take advantage of it for the better, yet at the same time, people in high places need to be considerate of the inherent nature of young minds and remember the flexibility of their opinions. What was amazing about being at the UN during such an important time was that every aspect of the experience pointed to this concept of “oneness” where racial and cultural barriers disappeared, bringing everyone together to take charge as one human race on one planet. Something else I noted was that everyone seemed to radiate deep love and compassion for people, talking about disparities in lifestyle and the definition of privilege. Virtual reality headsets were being passed around, allowing viewers to experience the stories of people across the globe, such as that of a girl living in a refugee camp in Jordan. What I remember from my virtual reality experience is the impact it had on me emotionally- how it reminded me of the people we’re fighting for and the life circumstances that we have the power to change.
I was given the honor of meeting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President of the General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, Helen Clark, Anthony Lake, and not to mention my favorite Youtuber Louis Cole. That Thursday a couple days later, we met Nicole Scherzinger and two men from the Building Bridges Foundation who biked from Amsterdam to Cape Town in six months. Other than the overwhelming feeling of meeting really important individuals, there was an understanding that the reason for their being there and the reason for the opportunity to meet them was because of the equal significance of everyone’s place in this process. Meeting teens from Sierra Leone, Zambia, India, Pakistan, and around the U.S. was equally incredible as we exchanged ideas about the world and life.
The point of this push to activate social media is to keep every world citizen aware of their rights. The Global Goals website says, “You can’t fight for your rights if you don’t know what they are. You can’t convince world leaders to do what needs to be done if you don’t know what you’re convincing them to do.” The response I saw from sharing my experience with those around me in person and through social media was quite astonishing, and it really highlighted the importance of individual contributions and participation. The reason for my involvement came from people simply seeing value in me being myself, and for many that was surprising.. I’ve been able to spread awareness around my school and community by opening opportunities for discussion, in many cases with those who were unaware altogether about the goals let alone the vital role they need to play in support of them. As I wasn’t involved with UNICEF prior to the event, I’ve joined the UNICEF club at my school not only to legitimize and make official my support of its cause, but to inspire others to see the fruits of taking action on a local level. Without local action, the reality of these goals and improving life everywhere is essentially non-existent and pointless. So for teens everywhere, start a UNICEF High School Club! Be active! Everyone needs to be on board and even the smallest contribution of any kind goes a really long way! The reason for my involvement came from people simply seeing value in me being myself, and for many that was surprising
To wrap this up, I’d like to mention about how this experience most impacted my more personal life and how it falls into place with my story. A year ago as a high school sophomore, I began my last year of obligatory Spanish classes, entering with a really closed mindset dreading another year of what I thought to be pointless work towards something I didn’t love. Like many other students, I’d started Spanish in sixth grade, and after a while deemed it as boring and irrelevant. I got good grades and my teachers were always nice, but I had no concept of the world or of the importance of language. So starting Spanish again, I didn’t think that would change. Within little time however, the class became the highlight of my day and my eyes were opened to the beauty of the language that I’d been blind and resistant to for years. Suddenly, all the barriers around me fell to the ground, and I realized that THE WORLD IS BIGGER THAN NEW YORK!! I’d always been so caught up in life as a student and was closed to concepts of the world, as ironic as that seems living in the city where all cultures collide. So from that point on, I started picking up the language in class and through countless hours of Youtube listening to natives. My ears on the train, bus and street opened up to listen in on every Spanish conversation or sound I came into contact with. I started spending free periods in the LOTE (Languages Other Than English) department at school around Spanish teachers, and interacting with Spanish-speaking friends. What an incredible journey it’s been.
Fast forward to the week of the UNGA 2015. I’d gotten to my first UNICEF event the prior week through that same Spanish teacher from sophomore year, and in literally no time, there I was at the UN. Having just discovered and conceived the concept of the greater world, there I was standing in the place where nations’ representatives gather to come to agreements and solve global problems- the place that has EVERYTHING to do with the world. It continues to blow my mind.
So what’s the point? Be aware. Be open to the world. Join UNICEF and take action in schools and communities. Love people and see the value of working towards the bettering of lives everywhere. Being a part of it has changed my life, and words can’t describe my excitement for the future.