NAE-UNICEF Summit 2021: Sustainable recovery from COVID-19 and advocating for change In this blog, Eisa Faisal Iqbal, a student at the British School of Kuala Lumpur, talks about his experiences at the NAE-UNICEF Summit 2021 earlier this month.
In this blog, Eisa Faisal Iqbal, a student at the British School of Kuala Lumpur, talks about his experiences at the NAE-UNICEF Summit 2021 earlier this month.
On an early morning two years ago, I was sitting in the theatre of my school, the British International School of Kuala Lumpur, listening to attendees from the 2019 NAE-UNICEF Student Summit in New York as they discussed their experiences from their amazing trip.
“Wow,” I thought to myself. “This sounds really exciting... but if I wanted to do this, I would have to be a part of the school’s eco-club, do a plethora of community service, and be more involved in the school’s extra-curricular programmes. It sounds like too much work, so just forget about it.” But after that day in the theatre, I chose to challenge myself by joining some of the activities I had previously found daunting and in May 2021 my hard work paid off as I was selected to represent my school at the 2021 Summit.
There was nervous excitement coursing through my veins as I waited for the virtual Summit to start! Day 1 began with powerful words from Andrew Fitzmaurice and Shannon O’ Shea who talked about the importance of the younger generation in the bettering the communities ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We began by discussing the importance of the four main priorities for the summit: climate change, mental health, immunisation, and education, and then begin strategising how to combat these issues through advocacy. We were split into smaller groups, and I was very impressed by the intelligence of my peers. In my group, discussions mainly centred around the stigmatisation of mental health in certain regions, setbacks in education due to COVID-19, and the rapid deterioration of our environment.
Soon came Day 2 where we gained useful insights from UNICEF representatives about how to achieve a goal by implementing strategic advocacy, followed by panelists from Eco-Circle Int’l and BMBK Philippines sharing their struggles and goals as youth activists.
We were then given an opportunity to look at a case study and create an advocacy plan around an issue. This exercise was incredibly eye-opening for me as I was able to understand how many communities and groups are affected by a certain goal, and how challenging it is to develop strategies to appease all the relevant stakeholders. Through this, we learned to set “SMART” targets (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-Bound) to effect impactful change.
On Day 3, the focus was UNICEF’s flagship event, World Children’s Day and we learned about this annual event coming on 20 November. We began by creating plans for our individual schools to support and advocate for children’s rights based on our school’s specific needs. Different regions chose different priorities like vaccine administration and equity, tackling the learning crisis, combating climate change, and promoting children’s mental wellbeing . We had in-depth discussions about different advocacy strategies ranging from school podcasts to painting murals in support of children’s rights across Nord Anglia schools.
On Day 4, there was the renowned High Level Political Forum (HLPF) event where all of us student ambassadors were able to hear the stories of how youth advocates around the world strived for environmental sustainability, healthcare equity, gender equality, and to prevent child trafficking.
I was inspired by the countless hours of effort put in by each student advocate to achieve social justice and it motivated me to lead similar social change in my school and local region based on their experiences, successes, and setbacks. Student speakers then had the opportunity to voice their concerns about the future to Paloma Escudero, the UNICEF Director of Communications, and Sandra Astete, representing the UNICEF Spanish Committee. The HLPF concluded with a striking poem by Te’ata Robinson, a Nord Anglia International School Dubai Student Ambassador, titled “White Dwarf Stars” about the importance of the youth in bettering our future, as well as an impactful musical piece by Sing For Hope.
Day 5 marked the end of the Summit and served as a day of reflection as we split into our groups to discuss what inspired us the most during the conference and how we can incorporate the skills and values we learned during the week into the constantly changing contexts of our everyday lives.
The Summit concluded with moving statements from Shannon O’ Shea and Dr Elise Ecoff who both stated the vitality of the younger demographic having a part to play in decision making for the future and how we should not limit our imagination. Dr Elise Ecoff presented an uplifting metaphor of the children’s novel “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and how us ambassadors should act as the embodiment of Harold, who draws his own world however he wishes to live it.
“Harold imagines the world the way he wants. Then he creates it.”
As part of the event this year, I also acted as Student Journalist, which involved me creating social media content for Nord Anglia’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitter channels to provide daily updates about the conference for the world to see.
So, as I sat there following the event, I remembered that day in the theatre so long ago. Did I expect to ever attend the NAE-UNICEF Student Summit? No, but I was able to join and I’ve learned so much about advocacy. And do I now feel motivated to change the world? Absolutely!