The Asia-Pacific region is extremely vulnerable to climate change, with young people experiencing frequent, significant losses and damage to lives and livelihoods all around them (UNDP, 2022). Without their active participation, the climate crisis will only worsen. The next generation has a key role in building the movement by inspiring, encouraging and training their peers. This is where UN Volunteer Serena Bashal comes in. Her assignment responds to an urgent need for young people from vulnerable countries to participate in climate action at all levels.
Serena Bashal (United Kingdom) serves as an international UN Youth Volunteer Adolescent and Youth Environmental Engagement Coordinator with the East Asia and Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO) of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). She volunteered in civic climate action spaces for several years, with youth organizations and youth-led networks to UN agencies, before kick-starting her UN volunteering journey in August 2022.
As part of her assignment, Serena represents UNICEF in the Youth Empowerment in Climate Action Platform (YECAP), a joint initiative established in 2020 by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in collaboration with UNICEF, the British Council, YOUNGO, Movers Programme and 2030 Youth Force. YECAP is a safe and inclusive space for youth to meaningfully engage in climate action in Asia Pacific.
Young people will suffer the most from the climate crisis, despite having contributed the least to creating it. Thus engaging them has been the most gratifying part of my assignment. I hope to continue building on this experience through my career, beyond volunteering. --Serena Bashal, UN Youth Volunteer with UNICEF, Thailand
Serena supports UNICEF staff across the region to enhance the development and participation of young people in their programmes. She also engages and builds the capacity of young people directly. She works across various sections, offices and organizations, due to the cross-cutting nature of adolescent and youth climate action.
Recently, Serena developed a solar power technician training programme for marginalized adolescents in Southeast Asia. She curated this initiative with support from UNICEF’s Office of Innovation and piloted it to a cohort of students in rural Cambodia.
Consultations with the 30 adolescents who participated in the training demonstrated an increased interest in renewable energy jobs, whilst consultations with various other stakeholders (such as village leaders, energy companies and ministries) highlighted a definite need for such an initiative. The programme is soon to be tested in other countries across the region, as well as be integrated into EAPRO’s new regional capacity-building project, the Solar Hub.
My volunteering experience with UNICEF has solidified my interest in working on climate change and young people within the UN system. It has given me the opportunity to work first-hand with young people who are experiencing climate change disasters in the region. --Serena Bashal
Last year, Serena represented UNICEF EAPRO at the 27th annual Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. She was able to connect with young people and key stakeholders from Asia Pacific, host regional youth briefings, support youth lobbying and advocacy, create communications content and elevate youth voices from such a crucial, yet under-represented, region. After COP27, she debriefed UNICEF staff members on the event and is now supporting the designing of EAPRO’s COP28 strategy.
UNVs are a vital part of any UNICEF team. They bring new skills, new perspectives and a lot of energy to the team. They personify UNICEF’s renewed commitment to being a youth-powered organization. Serena, in particular, has bought knowledge, insight and a focused approach to climate action. Her contribution has helped shape how the regional office will work with young people on climate action in more meaningful and sustainable ways. --Ticiana Garcia-Tapia, Adolescent Development Specialist at UNICEF EAPRO and Serena’s supervisor