12 Dec Becoming the Change
Stéphanie’s Journey from UNICEF Ambassador to Red Cross Volunteer to Gender Activist to Environmental Jurist
When I was contacted to tell my story, I had no idea how I should write about my life-changing experiences. I looked for inspiration from people I admired the most and I knew I had to find my own words. There are just so many words you can borrow from someone else. I am a 25-year-old student in International and European Environmental Law. Throughout my studies, I have sought out relevant experience to make a difference in my community. I have always believed (and I still do) that dedication could lead me anywhere I needed to go.
I became a young UNICEF Ambassador when I was 16, right after taking part in the Junior 8 Summit in Heiligendamm (Germany) in 2007. UNICEF and the Morgan Stanley Foundation used to organise a Junior 8 Summit to bring together young delegates from each G8 country to prepare and present a communiqué to G8 presidents on relevant issues such as climate change and energy efficiency, HIV/AIDS, Africa’s economic development and corporate social responsibility.
I was so inspired by the energy stemming from the 74 young people I met back then. Once home, I decided to save some of that inspirational energy I had in order to give it back to my community, to pay it forward. I became a UNICEF ambassador and organised UNICEF days and gave empowerment speeches at my high school. I knew the feeling I had when I was at the Junior Summit could inspire others to get involved and be the change they wanted to see in the world.
Later on, at 22, I joined the Croix-Rouge Française (the French Red Cross) to help the homeless in my community. When I was 10 years old and writing up my family tree for a school project, I found out that my great grandfather lost everything during an economic crisis, became homeless and eventually died on the street during the 1976 heatwave in Europe. From that moment, I would notice the numerous homeless wherever I went and I knew that when I was old enough, I needed to do something about it. Each homeless person is someone’s brother, father, grandparent or great grandparent and no one deserves to be ignored. I knew I may not be able to reduce the number of homeless but I decided that just acknowledging someone’s existence is the beginning of restoring their dignity— acknowleging the fact that still in 2016, living on the street is still an unfortunate reality for many. Talking to the homeless— getting to know them— made their nights just a little better and their lives just a little less painful. They may go back to their shelters but some of them will remember that that evening they were not ignored, they were acknowledged.
Throughout my studies and alongside my extracurricular activities, I took part in other international summits to get practical skills and organise projects with fellow young leaders. That’s how I became a French delegate at the G(irls)20 Summit in Paris (2011) and a Clim’Advocate for the British Council (as part of the Challenge Europe Programme). I filled out many applications and I remember always adding my personal touch, a quote, which has always been my inspiration: “Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one”.
I organised flash-mobs as part of the One Billion Rising movement in my community. The weeks before, posters were displayed and flyers were distributed. I decided I wanted to gather more young people (and not merely women) in the fight against gender-based violence. Therefore, I spoke out in different classes gathering students from very different social, cultural and educational backgrounds to get different opinions on how the project should be led. They felt heard and part of a bigger project and I believe that’s why so many dedicated people came on board. Do not hesitate to speak up and with your heart about what you know and what is right. We have all taken actions when inspired by someone’s work, words or ideas. Inspire those around you!
As a recent graduate in environmental law, I would repeat that small actions matter: recycling, using public transportation, saving water and energy, not throwing your cigarette butt on the streets, etc. As an example, one cigarette butt can actually contaminate 500 litres of water if thrown out in the street. Public transportation can lead to meeting new people and you get to observe what you would be too busy to see when driving.
When I walk in the forest near my home, I always carry a bin bag so I can collect litter. Change happens when your individual actions shows that you care a lot more about living in a community than your personal comfort.
I am confident that I can change things. I never underestimate the value of making small changes and raising awareness. One person aware and willing to make a change is all it takes to make it happen. I would end by saying that you need to be surrounded by dedicated people who share your ideas and beliefs. Building your network is very important to get the support and inspiration you need (especially when you encounter struggles). You also need to think carefuly about your gifts and passions. Find an area in which you would like to get involved or a “battle” you believe is worth fighting and then… create change !
Stéphanie David recently graduated in International and European Environmental Law from Aix-Marseille Université, and is currently working as legal intern at the United Nations Environment Programme in Nairobi, Kenya. She was previously awarded a scholarship from the French Embassy in Brasília to undertake research on the protection of the environment for the Brazilian federal environmental protection foundation, FATMA. As well as her voluntary experience with UNICEF, the Red Cross, and One Billion Rising, she was a Model United Nations scholar in Serbia, a legal scholar in Italy, the French Delegate to the Girls20 Summit in 2011, a Clim’Advocate for the British Council, and a Junior 8 Delegate for UNICEF.