By: REYNA IWAMOTO / MANAGING EDITOR
A new group of students at LIU are leaving their mark on the community, making strides to incite change, advocating for children’s rights.
The UNICEF club is new to LIU, started by sophomore Abdullah Akl this school year, and is one of the fastest growing student clubs, now boasting 70 members.
The club is part of a system within UNICEF USA called UNICEF Unite, which according to the agency’s website, focuses on mobilizing volunteers throughout the country to “ensure a better world for every child.”
UNICEF Unite clubs allow for young students across the country to advocate for children here in America and throughout the world. The UNICEF club at LIU is one of more than 100 organizations formed on college campuses in the U.S.
“We mobilize and engage young people and students to learn about children's rights issues that are happening and also to take action in supporting those children,” Akl said.
Akl, the president of the club, has been involved with UNICEF USA since high school, serving as a UNICEF Youth Ambassador.
For Akl, joining the organization at such a young age and seeing the impactful work it does to help young people, inspired him to bring UNICEF to LIU.
“We're really going to be able to engage a lot of students because there aren’t too many programs that advocate for children's rights,” Akl said. “There might be programs that advocate for adults and civil rights issues, but rarely do we ever receive programs that advocate for children's rights and tell people how to get engaged — creating the UNICEF club is able to do that, so I’m really excited to have it come to LIU Brooklyn.”
Junior and UNICEF club vice president Mirna Elsheemy wanted to become involved in the club to feel connected to the surrounding community and help improve quality of life.
“Being a part of this club means being a part of new change. Being a part of the change means being out there as a responder to help assist children for accessible health, nutrition and education,” Elsheemy said.
Like Elsheemy, for junior Klinti Hoxha, being part of the UNICEF club at LIU means being able to leave a “positive footprint” on the world.
“I always wanted to help out in my community and UNICEF was the right fit for me,” Hoxha said. “Its core values, “care, respect, integrity, trust and accountability” fit in accordance with the morals I stand for. Advocating for the protection of children’s rights also interests me because I want children across the world to reach their full potential.”
Hoxha, the treasurer of the club, heard about UNICEF USA through social media and the organization’s missions throughout the world.
“Being part of this club resonates a desire in me to do good. It makes me feel like I am part of a bigger team all with similar morals,” Hoxha said.
As the UNICEF club gears up for its events for the school year, the club leaders emphasized the group’s mission to not only educate but engage students with working toward a better future for children.
“As UNICEF is still a new club at LIU, it’s our goal to spread the message as we work on multiple community service opportunities and work together to defend children’s rights,” Elsheemy said.
The UNICEF club’s goal to educate students about children’s rights issues pertains to children in the international community along with those in the local community in New York.
“Some of the main problems that are affecting children here include homelessness, malnutrition, or even unsafe water to drink, like in Flint, Michigan,” Akl said. “[We want to ensure] that students are able to educate themselves about those issues while also [taking] action and [mobilizing] together on these issues.”
Elsheemy told Seawanhaka that for the club to help assist children with accessibility to health, nutrition and education, they plan to organize and take part in events throughout the year such as fundraisers, speaker events, collaborations with other clubs and marathons.
“I’m looking forward to the multiple collaborations with clubs as well as hosting events,” Elsheemy said. “It’s all for charity and with the help of LIU students we can for sure make a big change.
Hoxha expressed similar sentiment to Elsheemy, adding that he also looks forward to making connections through UNICEF and bringing awareness to the organization’s goals.
“I hope that this club spreads awareness on worldwide issues regarding children’s rights and brings about an uplifting attitude towards it,” Hoxha said.
Despite being a new organization on campus, the club has already established an efficient and open system that allows for any member to take something they are passionate about, create a committee within the club, and create events and programs surrounding this specific issue.
“I think that’s what makes UNICEF unique — it’s that students, regardless of how new they are to the club or what position they are, able to run with ideas on their own and really have UNICEF’s resources, support, and this long-lasting relationship there to back them,” Akl said.
The UNICEF club held its first event of the school year, with a table set up in the Breezeway on campus from November 1-2, 2021, to encourage students to vote in the general election on November 2.
“We hope to encourage students and young people to go vote,” Akl said before the event.
The club gave away free goodie-bags to students who voted on November 2, voted early, or was able to encourage a friend to vote, regardless of the state the student could vote in.
“This [event] connects with UNICEF because one of the most important factors for youth to be involved in decision making within government (one of UNICEF’s priorities) all starts with voting” Akl said.
Looking to the rest of the school year, some of the initiatives the club is currently working on include an upcoming blood drive and a project to increase accessibility to feminine products for homeless women in the community.
Akl explained that while some of the group’s events may not advocate specifically for children's rights, it creates a space for children’s rights to remain in the discussion.
“A lot of these [events] really bring young people to the table just to really start the discussion because really the stage that we are at right now is that children’s rights are not in the discussion — we rarely hear about it, so our main goal right now is to create the discussion and then start moving forward with the actions that relate to that,” Akl said.
Making Their Mark
Unlike many of the other members of the club, Akl’s journey with UNICEF began at an early age, showing him the significant influence one can have.
In response to why Akl wanted to become involved with UNICEF in high school, he replied that it was “just the idea of being part of something bigger.”
“Really whether you’re in a small UNICEF club on your [college] campus or in high school, you're able to make an impact on the larger world stage where you are able to interact with other children from across the world and really advocate for them in your own way,” Akl said.
While the student organization has quickly grown in membership, Akl said that these students are all “pioneers” of advocating for children and being representatives for them at LIU and beyond.
With a future full of opportunities, Akl aims to keep the group’s mission in mind through their efforts: “Even when we aren’t talking about UNICEF, how are we able to include children's rights in our daily interactions with children? How can we keep them in mind when we’re working with them?”
“That’s what I hope we can be — a [group] that provides resources [for] children's rights and issues, [advocates] for them, [and] empowers students to feel like they are advocates for children,” Akl said.
For more on the UNICEF club at LIU and the organization’s upcoming events, follow them on Instagram @UNICEFLIUBrooklyn.