Becoming a Youth Advocate

(From Left) Ayaan, Gheed, and Nikki at a Congressional Meeting at the White House

Nikki is a UNICEF Youth Advocates and UNICEF USA National Youth Council member.

From an early age, my parents took me on yearly summer trips to our family's hometown in India — a small village located in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. Amidst the rejoicing and reunion with my extended family, I also learned of their hard sacrifices to meet their bare necessities. Here, I repeatedly saw firsthand the stark dichotomy in living conditions between my home in Atlanta and India.

Year after year, I saw an unending cycle of generational inequality. Similar to my parents and grandparents, my cousins walked three miles in the sweltering heat to go to school. I learned how, still, the girls in my family were denied the opportunity to pursue education after middle school, and pushed into early marriage instead. I solemnly noticed how they diligently completed their homework under dimly lit conditions without electricity, rationing their scarce pencils and papers amongst each other. They didn’t have their own bedrooms like I did back home; six or seven people slept in one small room. I learned of their dreams to be doctors, lawyers and professors and how those dreams had to be pushed aside due to the lack of financial support.

I realized that my family’s marginalized status in India had disproportionately prevented them from accessing vital educational opportunities to help them achieve their dreams.

My time in India sparked a fierce desire in me to take action for my family — by working for others in similar positions in my local community in the United States. I wanted to become an advocate for them, so they could have access to the same opportunities needed to reach their full potential.

But my youth advocacy journey is still ongoing. My family's obstacles in India, such as poverty, child marriage and educational inequality, are still prevalent in many areas today, even here in the United States.

I decided then to partner with SEWA International: a refugee and disaster relief focused nonprofit. With their help, I got in touch with newly resettled Bhutanese refugees in the Atlanta area and worked to launch the program “Get Inspired.” To empower and educate refugee children, we provided comprehensive, individualized educational support and career resources for each child that joined us. Through tutoring services, free transportation to clinics and field trips to the zoo or aquarium, I was able to equip these children with some of the resources they need to excel in academics and beyond. But even more, we were able to give them a nurturing place of community, belonging, and stability.

But my youth advocacy journey is still ongoing. The obstacles my family faces in India, such as poverty, child marriage and educational inequality, are still prevalent in many areas today, even here in the United States. Joining my high school's UNICEF Club and then being named a member of the UNICEF USA National Council gave me the platform to further learn and advocate to address some of these issues. In the future, I hope to continue advocating for underserved patients in my career as a doctor.

For any aspiring youth advocate, I advise you to identify your passion, do the research necessary to broaden your worldview and be patient and persistent: your voice truly matters in contributing to positive change in your community.


On a March 2023 visit to Washington D.C., Nikki, a UNICEF USA National Youth Council member and student at Vanderbilt University, stood on the steps of the Capitol building after lobbying for the MINDS Act (HR. 3988/S.2105) in Congress. The Mental Health in International Development and Humanitarian Settings Act supports the integration of mental health services and psychosocial support activities in foreign assistance.
United States of America