When Stranger Things was such a popular TV show, I was obsessed with Millie Bobby Brown, the British actress and model. One day I was scrolling through Instagram, and I saw on her page that she had been selected as UNICEF’s youngest Goodwill Ambassador. That really caught my eye because she was 14 at the time—the exact same age as me.
I didn’t know much about UNICEF so I went to their Instagram page and read about the organization. That led me to the UNICEF website, where I spent the day learning more. I realized I probably wasn’t going to be the next goodwill ambassador, but I still wanted to get involved. So, I decided the best way would be to start a UNICEF chapter at my high school.
Now here I am, three years later, and I have the chance to speak at UNICEF’s first Global Forum for Children and Youth. I’m super excited about this virtual event. I’ve never been given the opportunity to speak on something this high level and to advocate for something like climate literacy. In preparing my speech, which I will give online December 7 at 10 a.m. EST, it’s been interesting to learn about why climate literacy is so important and how to integrate climate education into curricula across the globe, and I’ve enjoyed being able to do the groundwork and teach others about the topic.
My involvement with UNICEF began when I started the club in my sophomore year of high school, but I credit National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) with getting me more active in environmental issues. When I was vice president of my NJHS chapter in eighth grade, we held several events. One of them involved fixing up a community garden at our school. We raised funds, added plants, and made it a place that students and community members use a lot. That project really inspired me, and it’s also one reason I got involved in National Honor Society (NHS) in high school.
That’s the same year I started the UNICEF chapter at my school. It was difficult because many students had not really heard about it, so there was a learning curve to educate them. At first it was just me in the chapter. Then, within a few months, my elected UNICEF club officers and I convinced about 15 people to join. Now in our third year, we have almost 70 members working to educate people about UNICEF and advocate and fundraise on its behalf. It’s such a great organization, and now that I’m part of the UNICEF USA National Youth Council I get to work on even more exciting projects.
One project I’m really excited about, and that I’m hoping to start at our school, is a partnership between NHS and UNICEF to raise money to build schools made out of bricks from recycled plastic in Côte d’Ivoire. Something I love about this project is that it’s entirely led by women, which is amazing because it empowers them and will help bring more families out of poverty, while addressing plastic waste issues. That’s especially important because about 90 percent of the plastic waste in Côte d’Ivoire ends up in low-income communities.
When I speak at the forum, I hope to jumpstart a conversation about integrating climate education into schools. The point is not to create a whole new class but to integrate climate literacy it into existing courses, such as environmental science and history. I want to show representatives at the forum how easy it is to include a focus on climate education, even if only for a few days, in the curriculum. There’s no need to change how schools are structured.
I know integrating climate education is not going to happen right away, but we must begin talking about it and then build initiatives over the next few years. And if young people elsewhere in UNICEF and NHS can also share the importance of climate education with their communities, that would be great a place to start.