Students raising money for change
By the time you finish reading this paragraph, one child under the age of five will have died due to lack of access to safe water and basic sanitation. According to UNICEF statistics, that child will be one of 5,000 lost today, a number which the organization aims to reduce through efforts to build water pumps and create proper sanitation facilities.
The UNICEF Canada Student Challenge aims to improve water infrastructure worldwide through the fundraising efforts of university and college level students from ages 18 – 25. Teams will raise money in pairs from Jan. 26 to Mar. 22, with each $500 raised purchasing one water pump, and allotting the team one ballot in a draw for a three-day trip to UNICEF’s headquarters, in New York.
“It’s a major issue across the world,” explained Muneeb Syed, the community engagement coordinator for UNICEF Canada, on why the focus was placed on water issues. “Because UNICEF has a long-term history in being involved in water and sanitization projects across the world, we thought it [was] a good fit for the program.”
He continued, “It basically provides students … [the opportunity] to engage with UNICEF Canada, and to basically work with UNICEF Canada to make sure we can provide long term, sustainable solutions to kids around the world.”
A pilot program was tested in Ontario last year to great success, inspiring the organization to expand for 2012.
Fourth-year York University student Alisha Pawa raised approximately $2,000 with the help of her teammates in 2011 and was one of the Student Challenge winners. Her team of four was given the opportunity to travel to Panama to view some of the work UNICEF had done as part of the Global Parent program.
The trip was an eye-opening experience for Pawa.
“I’ve seen images of children who are malnourished, but to actually see a child eye to eye, it gave me a different impact, and it gave me more of a reason to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing in sociology,” she said. “It taught me that just as an individual that change is possible.”
Pawa was able to share her understanding of the significance of UNICEF fundraising with volunteers for York University’s UNICEF campus club, which she is currently still a part of.
The drive to create more student involvement came from the source itself. Students who participate in UNICEF campus clubs across the country, Syed claimed, have been looking for ways to get more involved.
“We thought, let’s build something formal to give them an opportunity to work with UNICEF,” he said. Notably, the Student Challenge is not only directed at those already involved with UNICEF, but is open to any students who wish to participate.
Water pumps will be built in communities worldwide, with placement determined by level of need. All of the money raised will go toward the pump installation.
Syed assured, “$500 equals a full water pump from ‘point a’ to ‘point b,’” and includes associated costs such as shipping and labour.
Student Challenge organizers hope that each group will be able to fundraise enough to cover the cost of one water pump.
The three-day, all-expenses-paid trip to New York was described by Syed as both “fun” and “unique,” and a particularly valuable experience for students interested in building a career in international development.
The winners will have the opportunity to network with and learn from UNICEF staff, and will also be given a private UN tour.
“The opportunity to be able to meet with UNICEF staff in the headquarters is something which you cannot access on a regular day basis,” he said.
“We’re just excited for this, and we’re hoping it’s as successful as it can be.”