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UMBC’s UNICEF club reaches out to students

Cold weather and high winds didn’t prevent UNICEF Club’s most recent bake sale in the Breezeway. Freezing, they set up their table and organized their merchandise: succulents, socks and sweets. Their blue flag depicting the official UNICEF logo of a mother and child surrounded by olive leaves threatened to leap off the table it was taped to with each gust of wind. In fact, several of the patterned socks the club was selling for five dollars took flight and had to be chased down by the club’s members. The UNICEF Club’s members willingly put up with all of the weather’s inconveniences so they can fundraise for the organization they align themselves with. 

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, better known as UNICEF, was created through the United Nations Grand Assembly in 1946 to provide emergency aid to children and mothers affected by World War II. Seven years later, the organization changed its name to the United Nations Children’s Fund after getting a permanent spot in the United Nations to advocate for the long-term needs of children. 

UNICEF runs a program called UNICEF Clubs which allows college students to advocate for the voices of children within their own communities. There are only two colleges in Maryland with a registered UNICEF Club, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has one of them. 

“UNICEF is really transparent,” the club’s vice president Celena Dang, a junior double majoring in biology and psychology, explained why she is so supportive of the organization. “86 percent of their funding goes to their cause, which is higher than most [charities].” According to UNICEF’s website, the remaining 11 percent goes to administration and fundraising costs. 

“We didn’t do that many events,” Fatimah Shaalan, a junior majoring in financial economics and math, recounted about the beginning years of the club. “But it got better. Now we’ve added a new board position, event coordinator, just to have more things on campus and raise awareness of our club.” Shaalan joined as a freshman when the UNICEF Club was only two years old. She began serving as the club’s president this semester. Her role includes overlooking the meetings, fostering connections with different organizations on campus and raising the awareness of the club and its goals. 

One of the events that the UNICEF Club oversaw this semester was the International Day of Peace celebration on September 23. They handed out short positive messages written on colorful pinwheels and had activities such as cookie decorating to peak passing students’ interest. Later this semester, they plan to host a cultural fashion show to embrace diversity and to engage with more students on campus. 

The club’s major event for this semester is their annual Masquerade Gala, which was held on Oct. 18 in the Skylight Lounge. Last year’s Gala had a small turn-out, which Shaalan credits to a miscommunication between the club and Student Government Association (SGA). This year, however, SGA provided funding for the Gala, which enabled the UNICEF Club to smoothly organize the event. The UNICEF club created 120 free tickets for UMBC students that were all claimed before the club even had time to promote the event. “I’m really scared that it was just a problem with the website and no one will actually show up,” Shaalan joked the day before the Gala. 

In addition to events dedicated to raising awareness and funds, the UNICEF Club focuses on volunteering in UMBC’s local community. This year, the UNICEF Club worked in collaboration with the Shriver Center to create a volunteer mentorship program at the Children’s Home, a residential care facility in Catonsville for kids aged 2 through 18. Members build bonds with foster children and offer help and guidance. 

The UNICEF Club plans to connect to form more connections on campus to raise awareness and spark change. “We are always trying to find ways to be more engaging with our members and other student organizations,” said Shaalan.