Widespread outreach is something that senior Laura Nguyen takes very seriously. The community health major is currently doing an internship in Washington D.C. to help advocate for fleeing refugees, notably in the Syrian crisis, through the GenUN initiative of the United Nations Association (UNA).
Currently, Nguyen works as the UNA’s youth engagement intern at the United Nations Foundation. Her work started through a dual-internship with the Community Health Program and Public Policy Internship Program at Texas A&M University.
“My main job during my time here is to develop tools and educational material that helps the foundation better engage with youth members and UNA chapters on UN issues,” Nguyen said. “We provide a unique platform for U.S. citizens to voice their ideas and mobilize their communities and congressmen to take action, raise awareness and donate for the cause.”
A Country in Crisis
“There are currently more than six million Syrians who are displaced due to violence and conflict,” Nguyen said. “That means men, women, and children are living in refugee camps under deplorable conditions without a means to provide for their family or send their children to school.”
At her core, Nguyen said she has always felt a sense of connection and urgency to the needs of refugees. ‘Refugee’ is a term that carries preconceived notions of inferiority, illegality, and terrorism — something Nguyen says is not true.
“I have a special connection when it comes to issues regarding refugees because both of my parents were Vietnamese refugees as a result of the Vietnam War,” she said. “I grew up hearing about their harrowing experiences while trying to escape Communism and seeing their mistreatment as a result of them being refugees in the U.S.”
As a result, she became an advocate for refugee rights and found ways to immerse herself in organizations that deliver multiple forms of aid.
“When the opportunity to intern with the United Nations Foundation became available, I saw it as a way to learn more about the United Nations and their initiatives to solving the current refugee crisis.”
Nguyen’s outspoken attitude about the Syrian refugee crisis work is a strong platform for her message. It has allowed her to connect with other UN affiliated organizations including the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Nguyen recalled an emotional photo of a young Syrian boy who drowned and washed ashore on Turkish waters following a failed fleeing attempt by the boy’s family. She said the photo resonates with her still.
“That is why we can’t ignore these cries for help because what if that was someone we loved being washed ashore due to circumstances out of our control,” she asked. “The photo is only a small glimpse of thousands of innocent lives lost due to unjust deaths and brutality.”
She urges others to get involved as much as possible on similar issues. She said a good place to start is at the local level.
“I encourage students and younger people to educate their campuses on the refugee crisis and why it impacts them and the community,” she said. “The refugee crisis isn’t something which can be solved in six months or a year. The process of relocating refugees and finding a solution to end the conflict will continue to be an ongoing effort.”
More information about the GenUN and the refugee crisis can be found on the GenUN website.