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World Youth Day: The up-and-coming Insta star inspired by WFP

Moved by the tragedy in Yemen, 20-year-old Nicola Parfitt decided to make her voice heard — and gained 12,000 followers
, Mert Er
Post from Sweden in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Posted on 07/07/2020. Photo: Nicola Parfitt

Meet Nicola Parfitt, aged 20, born in Sweden. She spent the first few years of her life growing up in Arusha, Tanzania, where her father was a wildlife photographer and mother a graphic designer and safari tour guide.

They returned to Sweden when she was five years old and what she remembers most vividly about Tanzania, she says, is the nature, especially the wildlife.

Aged 12 in 2012, Nicola and her family returned to their home in Tanzania to both visit friends and see the incredible wildlife once again.

But she was astounded by how things had changed. "It was obvious that there had been a huge decline in many animal populations since we were last there, in 2005. It was for example a lot harder to find herds of elephants or prides of lions in areas in which they were once common," she says.

Thus, her interest in the environment was born and she decided to study biology at Lund University in Sweden where she is about to start her final year.

Another of Nicola's passions is drawing. The combination of her interests has resulted in an inspiring profile on Instagram — with 12,000 followers.

"When I started illustrating," she says, "I felt quite lost in myself and in life, even though I am aware that the life I live is a very privileged one and I am extremely grateful for it".

Posted on 14/07/2020. Illustration: Nicola Parfitt

She adds: "So I started by just posting small handwritten texts/poems with small sketches next to them and hoped that I could be like an extra friend to anyone out there who might also feel lost, lonely, worthless — and hopefully remind them that things do get better and that they are worthy and enough."

Nicola had long been keen to have a platform dedicated to spreading awareness on global issues. If we want to protect nature and create a sustainable future for the whole community, she says, we can't focus on just one thing. Climate change, human rights, racism, education, wildlife conservation and food security should be tackled in tandem, she adds.

Health workers assess a girl in a WFP-backed clinic in Aden, Yemen in February. Photo: WFP/Mohammed Awadh

So, Nicola was drawn into global issues regarding "environmentalism, human rights and self love". In the beginning, she doubted anyone would like her illustrations or care about what she had to say. But what inspired her?

The devastating situation and ongoing conflict in Yemen made her despair and feel helpless, she says.

"I'd been using WFP apps like ShareTheMeal and Freerice for a while," she says. "I thought it was such a shame that more people didn't know about these apps where you even can help for free, which is so amazing, as not everyone can afford to donate."

She thought, "Why should I not take action and let people know what is going on in Yemen — even if it only reaches one person.". That led to her ‘6 ways to really help Yemen' post.

Posted on 17/06/2020. Illustration: Nicola Parfitt

"I didn't think it would reach that many people but I went ahead and posted it anyway because I wanted to at least try to help," she says. "I realised that I actually do have a voice, we all do, and every single voice matters."

When she issues calls for action, does she see herself as a leader? "No," she says. It's important to move away from the idea of only having one leader and embrace the diversity of collaboration. "The only reason that my post reached so many people is that others shared it," she says. "Without sharing, it would be pointless."

Posted on 17/07/2020. Illustration: Nicola Parfitt

Nicola thinks that we should stop comparing ourselves to others and work together, "lifting each other up". We all can have an impact because "we all have different realities and abilities".

We can't change the world alone, she adds — that's as true for governments as it is for individuals.

"One day, I want to see that every child around the world has the opportunity to go to school, has a home that they feel happy and safe in, and doesn't have to worry about food insecurity," says Nicola.

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