By Gabriel Brackman

Blair Brettschneider, a 2009 graduate of the journalism program, was selected by the U.S. Department of State to represent the United States at the 7th United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization Youth Forum held in Paris. 

Youth from more than 80 countries offered their voice at the forum on how UNESCO should address global problems that affect young people. The main theme of this year’s forum: How youth drive change. The United States sent two youth representatives.

There are so many people and organizations around the world working to
address similar issues - girls' empowerment, for example,” said Brettschneider, 22, of Chicago. “I want to find a way to better connect these organizations so they can share successes and ideas, which would strengthen their work worldwide.”

A former managing editor for UM’s Distraction magazine who also interned at U.S.A. Today, Brettschneider runs her own nonprofit organization, GirlForward, which is a mentorship program for adolescent refugee girls in Chicago. She also works for the nonprofit organization Heshima Kenya, which has shelter and education programs for adolescent refugee girls who have lost their parents in Nairobi, Kenya.

Brettschneider said she loves her work. The young refugee girls, who have been through more trauma than most can imagine, struggle to learn English and support their families, yet their aspirations soar, she said.

“When I listen to them talk about their plans to go to college to become doctors, lawyers and journalists, I just want to give them the world,” she said. “Their dreams are not only for themselves – most of all, they want to succeed so that they can help their families and their communities.”

Brettschneider said she used the knowledge gained as a journalism major for her video application to the forum.

“I had to answer the question, ‘What’s the biggest challenge in youth today?’ and I believe gender equality is a huge challenge,” she said. “Because I work with young refugee girls, I know they epitomized the issue. I had the photojournalism knowledge to know that their images would create a perfect story for my application video.”