UNICEF Youth Advocates 2021
Introducing UNICEF’s young partners from around the globe.
Meet the UNICEF Youth Advocates of 2021.
Our global cohort of young voices and faces comprises thought leaders with diverse goals. From bridging the digital divide in education to fighting climate change to championing LGBTQI+ rights and social justice, these young advocates are speaking out and taking action for children and adolescent rights.
Barbados: Ashley Lashley, 21
Ashley Lashley focuses on social development issues related to health, the environment, children, and women’s rights. She began her youth activist journey at the age of 16 when the Barbados Schools against Non-Communicable Diseases was established.
In 2020, Ashley founded HEY (Healthy and Environmentally-Friendly Youth), a global climate change and health campaign seeking to build bridges between youth in the Caribbean and around the world.
Schools against Non-Communicable Diseases and the HEY Campaign have both become major projects under the Ashley Lashley Foundation.
“Let no obstacle be greater than the cause.”
Barbados: Maria Marshall, 12
When Maria Marshall saw someone littering once, it moved her to write about it. She took it a step further and made an award-winning short film titled Little Thoughts on Big Matters, which addresses reducing, reusing, recycling and repurposing.
Maria also has a YouTube Channel of the same name and an Instagram page called Thoughts Squad by Maria. She continues to share informative, educational and thought-provoking content on social media. She also has a variety of interests including film, photography, music, art and going to the beach.
Maria has worked with UNICEF on several advocacy initiatives including World Children’s Day 2020 and Activate Talks. She believes that she will be able, in her own way, to fight climate change through educational content.
China: Yu Xinwei, 19
Yu Xinwei is from Shandong Province, China, and attends Beijing Normal University.
As a participant of the adolescent mental health programme, implemented by UNICEF and The National Health Commission of China in 2019, she has supported UNICEF China’s advocacy work. In 2021, she worked with three other young people and wrote the lyrics for Bu Kui Shi Ni (Stronger Mind, Stronger You), a song encouraging young people to be confident. She also represented youth in an advocacy event where she shared her experience in addressing mental stress through peer support.
Yu has a proven record of actively promoting adolescent mental health. During school closure amid the pandemic, she participated in online psychology sessions and learned about different ways to address mental struggles. She shared these methods with her online classmates and set up a learning group to help them deal with anxiety and academic stress. Yu has been a committed volunteer of public and community services since junior secondary school.
China: Zhao Chen, 21
Zhao Chen is from Beijing and is currently studying in College of Idaho in the United States.
At a young age, he lost his eyesight because of congenital myopia. Zhao struggled at first in school, but support at home and from school counselors helped him. These experiences prompted him to speak out about digital accessibility for people with disabilities.
In 2020, Zhao attended ‘Digital Youth: My Life, My Future’, an online youth dialogue jointly hosted by UNICEF China and Tencent at the UN China Youth Forum. At the event he presented a proposal for eliminating the barriers to digital technology to industry experts. He also spoke at the 2020 International Youth Day Dialogue, which was jointly hosted by the United Nations in China, Xinhua News Agency and Tencent, about inclusive digital accessibility.
Zhao’s insights and influence are well recognized by UNICEF and the UN Communications Group in China, where he has expressed a strong commitment to supporting UNICEF’s mission.
Côte d'Ivoire: Jessica Gnamien, 15
Jessica Gnamien is a high school student and child protection activist in Yamoussoukro. Passionate about child protection, she finds happiness through making others happy. Since her first years in high school, Jessica has been working for better conditions for the children, teenagers, and youth around her.
She is a young reporter and does not miss any opportunity to make the voice of youth heard in Côte d'Ivoire and beyond.
Côte d’Ivoire: Kouassi Kouadio Evrard, 17
Kouassi Kouadio Evrard is an activist for youth and children’s education rights. He is dedicated to making life skills and competencies accessible to youth. In his community in Soubré, he is the vice-leader of U-Report and the president of the Soubré children's council.
Côte d'Ivoire: Marie-Lucienne N’Guessan, 22
Marie-Lucienne N'Guessan strongly believes that now is the perfect time for youth to create great change. She advocates for the inclusion of young girls in science through training sessions. As a “Miss 2.0 2020”, she keeps her passion for technology illuminated. On her blog, she writes articles to motivate, inspire, educate, and bring more light to the minds of her readers.
Marie-Lucienne is part of the UNICEF Ivory Coast youth blogging community that fights against misinformation and online violence.
Côte d'Ivoire: Seri Rabet Uriel, 17
Seri Rabet Uriel is a high-school student in Dabou who campaigns for the rights of children, especially girls, to protection and education. A passionate reader and writer, Uriel has co-written a collection of short stories entitled Les destinées entremêlées. He is fluent in English and is an active member of the U-Report Dabou community.
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): Céline Banza, 24
Singer Céline Banza was appointed UNICEF National Ambassador for the Democratic Republic of the Congo on African Women's Day, 2021. Winner of the 2019 RFI Discovery Award, Céline uses her talents and fame to advocate for children and support UNICEF's mission to ensure every child's right to health, education, equality and protection.
Céline has been supporting UNICEF's, participating in the advocacy campaign "Girls' Well-Being and Empowerment: My Voice is Our Voice" during which she held discussions with adolescent girls and women across the DRC.
Through her music and her commitment to UNICEF, Céline wants to put the issues of child marriage, girls' secondary education, adolescent health, menstrual hygiene and health, and gender-based violence, especially in humanitarian crises, at the centre of the national debate.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Emmanuel Jidisa, 14
Emmanuel Jidisa got a chance to defend child rights in the context of global climate issues and to give voice to young people by participating in the documentary Young people and climate change, which reached around 26,540,000 people in eight African countries — Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Gabon, Mali and Senegal. He also contributed to a report featuring concerns around environmental and climate challenges.
Over the years, Emmanuel’s remarkable commitment has continued to inspire other youth and children.
"I am proud to be a Congolese child and to be a youth advocate," he says. "Young people need to prepare for their future. What is important to me is to be able to defend my country and our future against deforestation. Sometimes deforestation is necessary to live, but we absolutely have to plant trees. Trees help us breathe and they are important for the climate."
In his new role as a UNICEF Youth Advocate, Emmanuel will continue to support UNICEF's work in the DRC to advance the rights of the child, promote youth participation in decision-making and ensure that the voices of the youngest are heard, especially on climate and environmental issues.
Democratic Republic of the Congo: Ketsia Passou, 17
Ketsia Passou also spoke out on global climate issues by participating in the documentary Young people and climate change, which reached around 26,540,000 people in eight African countries. She also contributed to a report featuring concerns around environmental and climate challenges.
“In a world where the voice of young people doesn’t count sometimes, I wish to represent the Congolese youth,” she says. “I also wish to raise awareness and motivate young people to participate and to take their responsibilities. They must become superheroes to make things change, and notably to join the fight against climate change, for our future."
In her new role as a UNICEF Youth Advocate, Ketsia will continue to support UNICEF's work in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to advance the rights of the child, promote youth participation in decision-making and ensure that the voices of the youngest are heard, especially on climate and environmental issues.
Dominica: Russell Raymond, 18
Russell Raymond is a youth reporter from the Caribbean nation of Dominica. When Hurricane Maria made landfall in September 2017, it devastated his country, submerging streets, blowing roofs off homes and schools and forcing his family to seek shelter.
Just two weeks before the hurricane landed, Russell was among a group of 20 young people who were introduced to photography in a UNICEF-sponsored workshop. Since then, he has used photography to chronicle the impacts of the hurricane on the island he calls home.
Through UNICEF, Russell was featured in Voice of the Future and continues to be one of UNICEF's main youth advocates and leading voices on climate action in the Eastern Caribbean.
“Having shared my experiences with the world I hope to serve as a testimony to the future that is possible where climate change is less of a threat.”
Ireland: Beth Doherty, 18
Beth Doherty has been involved in the climate movement since February 2019 as an organizer of the climate strikes. Since then, she has been active in advocacy around policy, education and systemic change. She is driven by a desire to see change coming from the people for a better future. She attended COP26 this year and is currently studying Law at the University of Cambridge.
Ireland: Ruairí Holohan, 16
Ruairí Holohan came out as gay at the age of 13 and is an advocate for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community. Ruairí is deeply concerned that young gay people deal with the daily threat of violence – both physical and verbal. His aim is to build respect and disrupt the stigma that young people like him face every day.
Ruairí is the youngest of three brothers. He studies theatre as well as ballet, jazz, modern and contemporary dance. He has a passion for law, politics, theatre, literature and languages. His biggest challenge at the moment is balancing life as a youth advocate with school.
Malawi: Chisomo Banda, 23
Chisomo Banda is an active U-Reporter, researcher and innovator.
She is a researcher for the youth-centred organization Restless Development. She loves data and uses it to bring attention to the challenges that youth in Malawi face like unemployment, lack of access to loans for business, lack of financial inclusion and insufficient support in schools.
In her youth advocacy work, she draws inspiration from her own experience as a young Malawian. In her role as a UNICEF Youth Advocate, she plans to help boost digital literacy and online safety among children and young people.
Malawi: Lisa Banda, 22
Lisa Banda is passionate about the environment and climate change.
Through her role as Malawi’s Climate Change Young Leader, she has mobilized young people to participate in climate change adaptation activities. She also travels the country conducting environmental awareness talks in primary and secondary schools and is a regular guest on radio programmes on climate change. Currently she is an intern at Civil Society Network on Climate Change where she conducts community awareness and sensitization activities on climate change and monitors the progress of climate change advocacy initiatives in various districts in Malawi.
As a UNICEF Youth Advocate, she plans to amplify youth voices on climate change challenges.
Malawi: Zakaat Sambo, 19
Zakaat Sambo is a first-year student at Mzuzu University and has been involved in UNICEF-led youth engagement programmes since 2017 when he learned digital storytelling skills.
He uses his passion for digital storytelling to tell stories about the challenges that children, especially girls and the youth, face daily. In his spare time, he volunteers for community organizations that run clean-up campaigns in public spaces.
In his role as a UNICEF Youth Advocate, Zakaat plans to tell the stories of children, adolescent and youth in remote parts of Malawi.
Tanzania: Godlisten Boniphace Irunde, 16
Godlisten Boniphace Irunde is a student at Mtoni Secondary School in Mwanza, Tanzania. He is an advocate for fellow children and adolescents, a vice president of the Junior Council in the United Republic of Tanzania and a Chairperson of Mwanza Young Reporters' Network.
Apart from being academically driven, he participates in out-of-school activities such as math genius cup competitions and ward junior council meetings, and has met with many political leaders and celebrities. This exposure has helped him develop new skills and experience in areas including advocacy, ethics, volunteerism and communication skills.
He also enjoys playing football and video games, singing, reading books and mind-challenging activities. He is eager to get involved in even more programmes.
As a UNICEF youth champion, Godlisten will be advocating for key issues affecting children and the young people of Tanzania.
“I wish to have a best Tanzania with children who have self-esteem and useful for Tanzania's future and today's development.”
Tanzania: Nabiha Kassim, 18
Nabiha Kassim is a graduate from Lumumba Secondary School and a member of Youth of United Nation Association from Zanzibar.
Nabiha volunteers to combat many issues and challenges that face youth, such as HIV/AIDS and sexual reproductive health and rights. She also works with various organizations toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Nabiha is a Convention of Rights of the Children champion and during consultations with members of parliament in 2019, used her voice to address challenges in education for children and adolescents in Tanzania. She is also among the adolescents and young people who will be championing keys issues affecting young Tanzanians among various stakeholders, as a road map to the high-level event commemorating 75 years of UNICEF.
“I am very passionate about things such as helping people, motivating them, fighting against depression and raising my voice for child rights where required. My message for the people out there is: Be someone's sunshine when their skies are grey."
Tanzania: Najma Paul Ntob, 23
Motivational speaker and girls' empowerment activist Najma Paul Ntobi has been an active radio presenter on ONGEA, a youth-friendly radio series that addresses issues around education, sexual and reproductive health rights, HIV/AIDS and drug abuse. She highlights challenges that young people face and motivates children and young people to raise their voices.
Najma’s biggest goal is to change young girls’ mindsets to become the best versions of themselves. She has done this largely through her initiative Kovu la Thamani (Precious Scar) which deals with helping young girls overcome their fears and be confident, and through social media and public speaking events. She formed this initiative out of a passion to utilize and share her personal experience and knowledge to influence and spark hope amongst youth so that they can discover, love and evolve.
“Your confidence can push your doors of opportunity.”
United Arab Emirates: Saeed bin Omar Almutaiwei, 18
Saeed Almutaiwei is a committed young leader with a vision of a future for children and youth. He is a member of the Emirati Children's Parliament, the Emirates Planning Association and the Dubai Police Safety Ambassadors.
Saeed obtained a certificate from the Model United Nations Simulations Institute at Georgetown University in 2018 and a certificate from Al Jalila Foundation for effective participation in the Destination Medicine Summit in 2017.
He has contributed to and spoken at several events and workshops on leadership and empowerment including the UAE Government Leaders Programme, an Early Childhood Development Programme in cooperation with the Abu Dhabi Early Childhood Authority, and the National Technology and Innovation Festival of the Ministry of Education.
Saeed is fluent in Arabic and English and enjoys reading, writing, reciting classical poetry, mountain biking, swimming, and hurdling. He aspires to be a development expert and work in the diplomatic service.
United States: Anna Stacy, 18
Anna Stacy, soon-to-be first-year student at Case Western Reserve University, plans to study physics and pursue a career in medicine. She was previously a UNICEF UNITE Youth Representative for the Midwest Region and served as the Advocacy Chair and Vice-President of her high school UNICEF Club. She also started and led a local initiative called Project Read Aloud to improve the reading skills of elementary school students while they were learning remotely during the pandemic.
Anna is an avid rower and a volunteer tutor for younger students in her community.
United States: Ayaan Siddiqui, 17
Ayaan Siddiqui is a senior from Arizona at BASIS Peoria. Ayaan has been involved as a representative and state engagement liaison to ZeroHour, The Borgen Project, and ImproveTheDream where he has lobbied government offices to advocate for climate justice, increased USAID to severely impoverished communities and immigration reform. He has worked to help introduce two bills in the US House of Representatives and Senate supporting immigration reform for documented dreamers.
Ayaan has delivered oral arguments surrounding Fourth Amendment search and seizure in front of the Assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General and judges from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as being invited to meet with the full panel of the Arizona Supreme Court.
Through his appointment as a National Youth Council Member, he has given opening remarks for the State of the World’s Children Report on mental health.
United States: Carmel Alshaibi, 20
Carmel Alshaibi is a sophomore at Yale University studying global affairs. Originally from the State of Palestine and local to Florida, Carmel has been a volunteer with UNICEF since high school and now serves on the UNICEF USA National Youth Council.
As a Palestinian-American and the daughter of Palestinian refugees, Carmel is familiar with the challenges growing up as part of a diaspora community. She is committed to serving marginalized communities often excluded from political and social conversations. Through her involvement with UNICEF and other organizations, Carmel is focused on protecting migrant and displaced children and fostering a system where uprooted children are afforded a safe and prosperous childhood.
Carmel enjoys playing soccer, listening to podcasts and training as a student pilot. She enjoys working on UNICEF initiatives and hopes to leverage her agency as a child of the free world to continue building her career in the humanitarian arena.
United States: Diya Theodore, 18
Diya Theodore will soon be attending Williams College in Massachusetts as a political science major. After attaining her bachelor’s degree, Diya hopes to attend law school and to someday work in human rights or immigration law.
For the past two years, she has served as President and Co-Founder of her high school’s UNICEF Club. In 2020, she was able to work more closely with her regional UNITE Council where she served as the UNICEF Youth Representative for Southern California.
In her free time, she loves to read murder mysteries and practice Bollywood dance.
United States: Esha Singhai, 17
Esha Singhai is a senior at Dulaney High School in Baltimore, Maryland. She began her journey with UNICEF in her sophomore year when she founded a UNICEF chapter at her school. Since then she has grown the club as President and worked passionately to advocate for increasing climate literacy among children and improving quality education practices in underrepresented communities.
Esha has been an avid debater for four years and serves as an editor and staff writer for her school newspaper The Griffin. As a first generation Indian-American, she hopes to facilitate a strong Indian-American community across the country through her role as a local representative for Young Jains of America, a national non-profit organization.
Esha is excited to use her valuable experiences to strengthen the club’s programme and embolden the voices of children worldwide.
United States: Gheed Nafea, 17
Gheed Nafea is a high school senior from Cumming, Georgia. As an aspiring healthcare professional, she is dedicated to serving underprivileged communities. Her passion for child advocacy, specifically educational equity, is demonstrated through her work with UNICEF USA and her role as the CFO and Co-founder for the nonprofit organization Striking Summit.
Gheed’s experiences as a proud Iraqi-American and refugee drive her persistence in providing accessible opportunities to all youth. She values spending time with her family and looks forward to using her unique skillset to benefit underserved children.
United States: Gitanjali Rao, 16
Gitanjali Rao is a student-innovator who believes in using empathy to advocate for a people-centered approach to invention and problem-solving.
Gitanjali was named America's Top Young Scientist of 2017 by the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, for a patent-pending device to detect lead in water faster than any other current techniques. In 2019, she was recognized as a Forbes 30 under 30 for science, is a TED speaker and in 2020 was named TIME Magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year. She has been working with UNICEF on an anti-cyberbullying service based on artificial intelligence called Kindly.
Some of Gitanjali's hobbies include playing the piano, Indian classical dancing and singing, swimming, fencing and baking.
United States: Ishan Goyal, 17
Ishan Goyal is a senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, California.
He is passionate about developing assistive solutions for those with disabilities. He also has a deep interest in natural disaster relief and explores wildfire and flood mitigation systems through his research. As a returning National Council member, Ishan is energized by the power of youth coming together to tackle local and global humanitarian issues.
United States: Joey Chen, 18
Joey Chen is a first year student at Stanford University prospectively double majoring in political science and theatre. Joey's UNICEF journey began when she joined Key Club during her first year in high school. This sparked her deepening interest in youth empowerment, equity, children's rights and global citizenship, and she dedicated her various leadership positions within Key Club to fulfilling UNICEF's message.
Joey is a proud first-generation Chinese-American and as a passionate, creative and dedicated leader, is excited to bring her outsider’s perspective and advocate for young people globally.
United States: Rohan Menon, 16
Rohan Menon is a junior at LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, New York, and is excited to be a part of the National Youth Council.
Outside of leading his own UNICEF club, Rohan engages in competitive debates at his school, has his own YouTube channel with over 150,000 followers where he sings pop music covers, and leads voter registration drives at local high schools.
Rohan aspires to one day be a lawyer or a prominent activist.
United States: Salma Abdi, 17
Salma Abdi is a senior at Century High School in Rochester, Minnesota. She is a member of the Governor's Children's Cabinet Advisory Council, Minnesota Youth Council Representative, Co-lead of Southern Minnesota Youth for Climate Justice and Student Body president of her high school.
Salma is driven to make positive changes in all areas concerning young people. She is interested in educational equity, juvenile justice, climate justice and public health, focusing on the people that are affected first-hand.
Salma is an award-winning poet and is excited to continue using her voice to make a difference.
United States: Sharon Shenderovskiy, 20
Sharon Shenderovskiy is a junior at the University of Florida where she is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and criminology with a minor in Russian. Belonging to a family of Russian immigrants, she is a combined degree student also pursuing her Master of Science in management and hopes to become a legal advocate for minority rights.
Along with serving as a National Youth Council member, she currently serves as the President of the Gator for UNICEF club at the University of Florida, and previously served as a UNICEF USA Youth Representative for the South Florida region. Sharon’s advocacy efforts highlight the value of education in promoting gender equality and reducing poverty.
United States: Shubhi Sinha, 20
Shubhi Sinha is a junior at Indiana University Bloomington, majoring in molecular and cellular biology. Her advocacy work, which focuses on health, gender and education-equity, is influenced by her background as a first-generation immigrant who was born and raised in India.
An aspiring medical doctor, she hopes to provide immigrants, minorities and lower-income communities with access to quality and affordable care as a physician-advocate. In her free time, Shubhi works as an Emergency Medical Technician doing neuroendocrinology research and teaches graphic design.
Shubhi began volunteering with UNICEF USA seven years ago through her high school club, growing the club over three years as president and serving twice on the National Council. She’s since worked on mental health campaigns with Voices of Youth and currently serves as the United States representative on UNICEF’s Youth Advisory Group alongside other activists from around the world.
United States: Siddharth Satish, 16
Siddharth Satish is a senior at West Windsor Plainsboro High School North, New Jersey. Siddharth serves as the Youth Delegate to the United Nations and ECOSOC from Ariel Foundation International, the USA Canada Chair for the International Association for Political Science Students and is a World Humanitarian Forum Youth Council member.
Siddharth has advised multiple international entities (COP 26, G7, UNESCO, UN Secretary General Envoy on Youth), spoken at 10 UN events, the G20 youth summit, and has published 11 reports for the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.
As a national youth council member, Siddharth has spoken for the State of the World’s Children report on mental health and has worked to support club members in advocacy efforts.
United States: Sui Par, 19
Sui Par is a Chin-American from Myanmar. She is currently attending Indiana University double majoring in international law and political science. Her journey to the United States as a refugee inspired her to advocate for and help individuals embarking on the same journey.
As a Chin American, she has witnessed the injustice her people have faced due to racial discrimination which further inspired her to work towards fighting injustices and racial discrimination. She has worked alongside politicians to ensure such issues are not neglected.
Sui is a co-founder of the Chin Community of Indiana Youth Council which plans to further educate and inform other communities on the Chin community. Currently, she is working with community leaders and politicians in the United States to address the ongoing crisis in Myanmar and help those affected. She hopes to one day either become a politician or a lawyer.
United States: Tirsitemariyam Gessesse, 15
Tirsitemariyam Gessesse is a junior attending Bellevue High school in Washington. Her advocacy centres around children's rights to nutrition and education.
Along with being the secretary of the Bellevue High school UNICEF Club, Tirsitemariyam is a member of her local district student advisory board working to improve the educational experience of students in her community.
Tirsitemariyam helps in fundraising and website management for a Seattle-based Ethiopian non-profit and is currently a National Youth Council Member for UNICEF USA.