A SMALL BUT POWERFUL VOICE
Inspired by the works of special envoy for the United Nations, Angelina Jolie, a local youth decided to change his life and make tiny changes to this little world of ours.
By: Naomi Francine Alex
Photos: Eddie Duane Alvarez
“She has the vision to change the world and make it a better place for the less fortunate to live in, that’s what inspired me most,” said Eddie Duane Alvarez, 22, in reference to Angelina Jolie as his inspiration.
At the age of 19, Eddie decided that he was going to pursue a path that most youths would not consider. He joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and became a humanitarian ambassador and activist.
As a humanitarian ambassador, Eddie interviews refugees from countries such as Somalia and Ethiopia who are seeking asylum in Kenya. Besides interviewing these refugees and displaced people, Eddie has to understand their needs and replay their situations to the board of members above him in the UNHCR.
“I have no power in making any decisions at the end of the day, but I have the power to change their minds. I have the voice to speak for them and I will do anything in my power to help them,” said Eddie.
In two and a half years, Eddie has visited countries such as Egypt and Kenya. Born and raised in Singapore, Eddie now lives in the United Kingdom, where he attends meetings with the UNHCR.
The full time stockbroker makes an effort to go on his humanitarian missions at least three to four times a year. In these missions, the 22-year-old has crossed paths with Somali and Ethiopian refugees trying to seek legal asylum in Kenya.
Eddie has been voicing their stories with great passion, trying his best to raise the awareness on the seriousness of the refugee crisis to the people around him and the UNHCR directors. Through his experience, some stories have made a greater impact on him.
MEETING THE REFUGEES
“I met an inspiring and strong Somali woman with eight children surviving on just US$1 a day. These women and children live in slums where toilets are being shared with 10 other families and they have no access to clean water. Her children are all under the age of 18, the oldest being 14 and youngest being three. None of them have the privilege to go to school,” said Eddie.
This family is an example of the many families who go through their daily lives not knowing what is going to happen the next day.
He added: “They do not know if they would have enough to eat the next day. That is what saddens me the most, it is to think of the pressure a parent has to face every day.”
He remembers speaking to an Ethiopian refugee during a mission in Kenya. The refugees told him that if he were to visit this place at night, he could see just how dangerous it is. Additionally, they live in darkness with no electricity.
He said: “I was not allowed to visit after dark as much as I wanted to experience this for myself. This was for my safety and security; I could only imagine how terrifying it could be.”
AMBITIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF THE REFUGEES
When asked about his personal goals, Eddie’s one hope would be to see a world with no refugees. That war would come to an end and for everyone to live comfortably. He wants to see children being presented with the opportunity to go to school and attain proper education.
“Children as young as 11 to 12 years old are forced into prostitution by their own parents. This is their only way to earn some money. 'Some' could make as little as 50 cents or even less,” he pointed out.
The young humanitarian recalls how he had met a 19-year-old teenager who has two children. “She was begging me to help her get back to school. She told me she was a very smart girl and always obtained good grades. All she wanted to do was to go back to school for a better future.”
“These children are supposed to be in school but due to their will to survive, they are forced to live a life no child should ever be exposed to.”
When asked how being a humanitarian ambassador has affected his life, Eddie admitted that this entire process has definitely changed him in many ways."
He has a better understanding on how difficult it is to survive on the other side of the world.
“I have always been that person who wanted to do something for the better and I am glad that I have made the choice to work with the UNHCR. After all that I have accomplished so far, I am proud of myself and I will be looking forward to many more missions. This experience has also made me a person of acceptance. To love another no matter where they come from or what colour their skin is and to not matter about what religion they choose to believe in,” said Eddie.
“Spending time with these refugees around the world has been the greatest life lesson I could ever receive”
Eddie has never regretted his choice to join the UNHCR. He knows that the people will listen to what he has to say and the issues he raises on the table. He feels a sense of appreciation when people listen to him and it makes him feel like his voice matters.
“That is all that matters to me - that people listen to what I have to say,” said Eddie.
Even though Eddie does not have the same amount of fame and money as his inspiration Angelina Jolie has, he will continue to be the voice of these refugees for as long as he is able.
“The only think I can possibly do is to pray and have faith. To hope that each and every country in this world could have its people living comfortably without having to flee their homes due to the fear of losing their lives. I hope there won’t be any more war in this world, which is primarily the reasons why refugees exist. I really hope poverty will come to an end. I am no god or celebrity and I am nowhere in any position to stop war. There’s nothing much on my side I can do to achieve this goal as much as I wish I could,” Eddie concluded.