Freshman Brings Message of Peace from the United Nations to ESU Campus
Having a seat in the classroom means everything to East Stroudsburg University freshman Leila Bouchekouk. The chemistry and Spanish major’s belief in the importance of education and standing up for social responsibility began in 2013.
It was the summer between her freshman and sophomore year at East Stroudsburg High School South. Her social studies teacher, Michael Healey, invited her to attend Malala Day with him at the United Nations in New York City. It was Malala Yousafzai’s first public appearance after the Taliban attempted to take her life for speaking out for the right of education in Pakistan. The powerful emotions Bouchekouk felt that day, being surrounded by hundreds of young people passionate about education, has never left her.
She joined her high school’s chapter of the UN Academic Impact student group, ASPIRE, which stands for Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education.
Since that day, Bouchekouk has returned to the United Nations eight times. Twice she was invited to speak. The first time she spoke, she was inspired by Malala’s message and talked of the impact of her own education and her personal identity. Bouchekouk’s parents emigrated from Algeria long before she and her siblings were born. They left behind their education and families to flee a civil war. They came to the United States in hopes of giving their family, which didn’t yet exist, a chance at the American dream. As a young, female, first-generation American, Bouchekouk knows the first step toward making that dream come true is education. “There are 130 million girls in this world who are out of school,” Bouchekouk said. “I have a seat in the classroom. I ask myself all the time, ‘What will I do with it?’”
On September 16 Bouchekouk returned to the UN for International Peace Day 2016. She heard speeches from United Nations Messengers of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Douglas, Jane Goodall, Midori, Stevie Wonder and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Goodwill Ambassador Sunny Varkey. “They all spoke about topics that are important to the world right now,” said Bouchekouk. “Leonardo DiCaprio spoke about climate change and showed the trailer to his new documentary.” Bouchekouk then learned she could apply to have an early screening of the documentary, “Before the Flood.” She applied on behalf of ESU and the school was given permission to screen the film two days before it premiered on the National Geographic channel.
Bouchekouk explained her motivation to get involved and stay involved with organizations that strive for change. “My parents taught me to never be comfortable,” she said. “They told me to never let motivation stagnate.” Bouchekouk is far from stagnant. She is looking for more ways to get involved at ESU and in the community.
For Bouchekouk it isn’t just about one cause. Whether she is advocating for education, screening documentaries about climate change or setting up walks for the JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) to raise funds and awareness for Type 1 Diabetes, a disease she and her siblings have, she knows that no fight should be fought alone. “We are all stars, and you can see the constellations form when we all work toward the same goal.” For Bouchekouk that goal is a better, safer, cleanlier, healthier world where basic human rights are guaranteed to everyone.