UNICEF Next Generation is an incredible group that provides young professionals with the unique opportunity to contribute their time, funds and energy towards helping the world’s most vulnerable children. I have been involved with NextGen for almost five years now, and I currently serve as the Vice Chair of the New York Steering Committee.
I dedicate much of my free time towards NextGen’s goals and initiatives through hosting fundraisers, contributing to programmatic events and recruiting new members. One question I frequently get asked is, “Why UNICEF?”
In the past, my answer consisted of: “UNICEF is an international organization that puts children first. No matter what the politics are, no matter how dire the situation — UNICEF works with local governments to make sure that children are being taken care of. I am a first generation Iranian-American and appreciate the international component of the organization. To add to that, my mother has been highly involved with UNICEF for years, which allowed me to develop a relationship with the organization from an early age.”
Over seven days, I traveled through Indonesia, specifically Jakarta and Kupang, with UNICEF personnel and NextGen members, and have formulated a more in-depth answer to the question above. What makes UNICEF special is not only that it is an international children’s organization that saves lives every single day, but that it has an incredible reach and array of activities.
Indonesia is considered a “middle-income” country, which means although there are very impoverished areas, there is decent business activity and a growing economy (notably, the second largest in Asia). During our seven-day excursion, we visited UNICEF programmes that spoke to Indonesia’s vast inequality.
On the first day, we visited health clinics in the outskirts of Jakarta. The clinics were run by volunteers supported by UNICEF who provided an array of services for children in the “neighborhood.” The services ranged from polio vaccinations to malnutrition assessments. Over 500 mothers visited the clinic that day. Children were crying, people were squirming, and it was clear that poverty was still a major issue in Indonesia despite its “middle-income” status.
The following day we had a very different experience. We visited a number of youth programmes that are supported by UNICEF in a completely different capacity. The programmes were led by adolescents ranging from 18 to 25 years old. Most everyone was educated at a university level and had a social issue that they felt strongly about: child marriage, gender equality, etc. UNICEF’s role was to encourage the youth in their endeavors and support them to achieve policy change.
I was enlightened to learn about the youth programmes mentioned above. I always knew about UNICEF’s work on the ground in under-developed communities such as the water and sanitation programmes, the fight against malaria and polio, the malnutrition initiatives, etc. However, I knew less about the advocacy work we do. UNICEF not only addresses the basic needs of children in dire situations, but it also works hand-in-hand with educated youth and local governments to achieve long-term solutions and change in a country. The ultimate goal is for countries to be self-sustainable. Like Casey, the founder of NextGen, always says, “UNICEF is constantly working to put itself out of business.”
I am so utterly grateful for my time in Indonesia. Hearing stories of success from mothers’ first-hand and seeing their gratitude towards UNICEF’s work was incredibly inspiring and rewarding. I can attest that every dollar donated to UNICEF is helping save children’s lives and advance the child-friendly policies of local and national governments.
A handful of Next Generation members travelled to Indonesia from the United States recently to see up close how the money they helped raise for UNICEF Indonesia’s Innovation labs is making lasting change. Below are their first-person accounts of their time in Indonesia: Part 1, Part 2