On a scorching hot afternoon several years ago, Misha Ahmad, senior in LAS, was visiting her family in Pakistan. Ahmad, who was 13 at the time, was going to the mall with her family.
A young boy, who Ahmad presumed was the same age as her, approached her family to try and sell cloth. At the time, her aunt decided to go into the store without buying the cloth. About four hours later the two had finished shopping and gone out again. The boy was still there.
Ahmad said it was right after eating a big meal that they saw the boy. She remembers feeling so content after eating, and yet the boy was still there — hungry.
“When you reach that age, you’re more aware about the world around you,” Ahmad said. “That’s when I started to see certain situations that made me feel like I wasn’t doing enough as a person.”
As they walked toward the car to leave, Ahmad recalls hearing the boy say, “Please help me, I’m hungry.”
She said the words touched her, and in that moment, she felt like a hypocrite. That moment is what inspired Ahmad to join the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF.
Ahmad got involved with UNICEF her freshman year of high school and has continued it into college.
She has been active with the organization both on and off campus, from planning the annual gala event last January to being part of the Campus Initiative Program and the UNICEF National Council. This year, she is the president.
UNICEF, a United Nations program, is a human rights and development organization. Its mission is to put children first.
At the University, UNICEF is part of the Campus Initiative Program.
“The Campus Initiative Program is basically rooted in the belief that we as college students play an extremely vital role in empowering others to become loyal UNICEF supporters, and to play a large role in helping the world’s children and in aiding UNICEF’s mission,” Ahmad said.
Ahmad said the Campus Initiative Program is one of the most important aspects of the organization. She said if UNICEF can grab students’ attention at the University, it will gain loyal supporters who will help the charity after they graduate.
“I think right now we are at a point in our lives where we are learning more about the world,” Ahmad said. “There is so much going on in the world, and this is our chance to become global citizens and to have a voice.”
In order to make an impact on campus and in the community, UNICEF focuses on three areas: fundraising, educating and advocating. It hosts various events throughout the year, from volunteering at college football games, to restaurant fundraisers, to hosting bake sales and unique events such as the annual UNICEF gala.
The UNICEF at UIUC Gala was held on Jan. 20 of this year. The theme focused on the issue of the Syrian refugee crisis. It was co-sponsored by other RSOs, consisted of various speeches, an inspiring video, a silent auction featuring local artists’ work and a culminating dance.
“It’s a great opportunity for more people to know about how serious the problem is,” said Tingting Rui, sophomore in Education and head of the gala committee. “We didn’t know how it would turn out. We had more people than we estimated. Not only our gala committee, but all the people in UNICEF, they were really proud of the event. It was a great experience.”
Next year’s gala will be held sometime in February and will most likely focus on the recent hurricanes, another global issue that has directly affected children.
Abdu Roussi, senior in Engineering and treasurer of UNICEF, said a challenge in bringing the organization’s initiative to a small town is educating and engaging others.
Roussi said they try to focus on educating people about topics that are prevalent in society and satisfy current needs.
“It’s just a matter of getting them in a room and just talking to them,” Roussi said.
Ahmad said she personally tries to connect with her audience through simulations that allow them to put themselves in other people’s shoes.
“I strongly believe in having simulations, talking to members personally about their own family, kind of making them connect on a personal level with situations,” Ahmad said. “I know it is easy to say that ‘Yeah, but we’re not in that situation.’ Yeah, you’re not, but there’s so many children out there who don’t (want to) be in that situation, it’s just that they don’t have a choice.”
Although UNICEF at the University definitely wants more passionate individuals to join, Roussi said students do not necessarily need to be members or come regularly, but they should focus on being educated and aware.
She also said there is no specified amount of time one should dedicate, but that people need to feel as if they are doing something.
Ahmad encourages students to find what they connect with personally.
“Ideas develop in your mind for a reason. If you feel a connection in your heart with a certain cause or seeing a certain injustice in the world, that is your conscience speaking with you,” Ahmad said. “That is an indirect way of saying, ‘OK, this is the situation, now do something about it.’ When these ideas develop, refine them into your own reality.”