Fayaz Amiri, '14G (far left), and Fatih Aktas, '11G (center), stand with the rest of their club after winning their respective UNICEF awards. Fayaz Amiri was awarded "Best Public Speaker" and Fatih Aktas won "Best UNICEF Member". (Courtesy of Fayaz Amiri and Fatih Aktas)

Students win national awards at UNICEF summit


Graduate student Fayaz Amiri, ’14, grew up in war-torn Afghanistan. He came to Lehigh for college and joined the UNICEF club, which was founded at Lehigh in 2014. In February, he was one of two Lehigh students to win an award at the UNICEF Student Summit in Washington, D.C.

Amiri was voted “Best Public Speaker 2015-16″ at the summit, which was held from Feb. 19-21. Fayaz was also the vice president of UNICEF at Lehigh in 2014.

Fatih Aktas, who also won an award at the summit, is a graduate student and doctoral candidate from Turkey studying comparative and international education in the College of Education. Aktas received the “Member of the Year 2015-16” award from the UNICEF national committee.

Both winners said they were driven by experiences in their native countries to join the UNICEF club at Lehigh.

“I was curious about children and I cared about them,” Amiri said. “Coming from a developing country, that was my passion.

“I wanted to do something because as a child, I suffered back there from bad schooling, a war torn country and more. All those things matter, and that’s where my passion was. I got into it and wanted to do something, so I started working with the UNICEF club here at Lehigh.”

UNICEF, which stands for the United Nations Children’s Fund, is a humanitarian organization run by the United Nations. Lehigh’s sect of the organization has made efforts to promote awareness within the Lehigh community about the suffering of children around the world by creating events and volunteering. Eleven students traveled to the summit to participate in discussions and scenarios.

“As a part of UNICEF Campus Initiative, (the Lehigh) UNICEF club’s primary focus is to work to support UNICEF’s mission — namely advocacy, education, and fundraising for the protection and survival of children locally and globally,” wrote Cecilia Lesomar, ’14, a graduate student and president of the UNICEF club, in an email.

Lesomar wrote the “Best Public Speaker Award” is given to an individual who demonstrates outstanding presentation and speaking skills throughout the summit workshops and program sharing. Amiri believes he won the award by asking important questions, actively contributing to the discussion and pushing the idea of sustainability.

Lesomar wrote “Member of the Year Award” is given to a person who actively participates as a leader and member by contributing and sharing their club activities to the UNICEF National Council activity. Aktas said his persistence and desire to constantly be involved at a national level led him to win the award.

“We are very proud that the two students who won these awards are graduate students in the Comparative and International Education (CIE) program in the College of Education,” said Alexander W. Weisman, an associate professor and program director of comparative and international education in the College of Education. “Their innovativeness and involvement in the UNICEF club is a reflection of their commitment to the CIE program.”

The UNICEF club has collaborated with Lehigh in the past to host events to benefit children and Lehigh’s local community. Its current efforts include raising awareness about the Zika virus and working to end child trafficking. The group holds Advocacy Day every Friday on the second floor of the University Center to raise awareness about important issues, Lesomar wrote.

“We are hoping that, through this recognition, not only are we bringing awareness to our club on campus,” wrote Tanairy Ortiz, ’19, the social media committee chair of the UNICEF club, in an email, but also the issues children go through on a daily basis everywhere around the world.”

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