North Carolina High School Partners with the Red Cross to Aid Australia Fire Relief

I first heard about the devastating and expansive fires in Australia the same way most of my fellow Generation Z students discover the happenings of the world around us: through social media.  I saw heartbreaking photos of scorched koala bears, statistics showcasing the rapid increase of communities affected by the fires, and a growing number of celebrities posting hashtags like #pray4australia online.

Sitting in my dorm room from across the world, through some Googling and scrolling through my feed on my phone, I became intensely aware of the immense problems the Australian fires were bringing and became determined to do something to help. During my next United Nations Association meeting at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (UNA-NCSSM), I asked club members to brainstorm ideas for projects we could take on to aid those affected by the fires. The multitude of ideas and enthusiasm that came from our chapter was amazing. As news of our soon-to-be project spread, many students outside of the chapter became eager to help as well. I asked James Li , a student who wanted to contribute to the project, why he went out of his way to help although he was not originally involved with UNA-USA. Li said: “I decided to help because I felt like I had an opportunity to have an impact on a catastrophe happening so far away. It’s pretty hard to reach people and animals in need when they are literally on the other side of the world.”

Li had made a good point. Our initial idea was to hold a drive and collect items to send to Australia, but we soon realized that paying for shipping to Australia would be more expensive than the items we were initially planning to collect. After more thought, we decided to start an online fundraiser by partnering with both our local Durham Red Cross as well as the Australian Red Cross. We partnered with the Red Cross specifically to ensure that our donations would make the biggest impact they could. Faith Koesters, one of the volunteers who helped with the fundraiser, stated, “The Red Cross plays a huge part in healing global disasters and local crises. Working with the Red Cross ensured that the money we collected would be used to help as many people and animals as possible.”

The Red Cross provided us with a customized link that we could use to track the amount of money we collected and see exactly where it was going. It was up to us to promote the fundraiser in an effective way and spread as much awareness as possible. Our first step was a photo campaign outside of our school’s cafeteria that promoted both our fundraiser and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“I think that the photo campaign was a valuable opportunity for UNA-NCSSM to promote the SDGs of Life on Land, Good Health and Well-Being, and Climate Action,” said Ainsley Ogletree, a member of UNA-NCSSM. “Hopefully, we led students to start thinking about these goals and how they connect to the immediate and future consequences of the Australian bushfires. It was truly inspiring to see students taking the time during their lunch to stop by our table, contribute to the photo campaign, and show others why they care.”

We stood outside the cafeteria with a whiteboard, a dry-erase marker, and a camera, asking students passing by to write down why they cared about what was happening in Australia. We got written responses that ranged from heart-felt to humorous, and were also able to spark meaningful conversation around the table. “Imagine having a whole continent going up in flames and people keeping their eyes wide shut, just because the smoke isn’t hovering around their heads,” said Tyler Xia, a volunteer at the table.

Our second step was to create a video from the images we compiled and use it to promote our fundraiser through social media. We posted the video on NCSSM Facebook groups and personal social media pages. The response was overwhelming, and we even exceeded our goal in donations. When Nina Nair was asked why she supported the campaign, she responded, “The photo campaign and fundraiser are avenues through which NCSSM students can express their support for Australia. With every donation and every voice of support, we help lift up our global community.”

I have learned some very important lessons from this experience that you too can apply to your future chapter events:

  • Partner with local and international organizations that have the same goals as you. Our partnership with the Red Cross was a vital component in our project.
  • Use social media to your advantage. No, I’m not telling you to become a full-fledged Instagram influencer, but social media can be a great tool to connect with people who otherwise might not know how to help.
  • Try to apply multiple Sustainable Development Goals to your projects.
  • Utilize the larger surrounding community outside of your club or group of friends. Without the larger NCSSM community, we couldn’t have made as great of an impact as we did.
  • Make an effort to remain aware of the problems both inside of your local community and also around the world. Know that no matter how young or far away you might be, you can always make a difference.