Armed with Awareness, Spring into Action — An Interview with Amy Topchik

Shivani Chimnani
Nov 4, 2018 · 7 min read

Continuing with our series of Student Ambasaddor Interviews, in this blog post, we talk to our ever-so enthusiastic and headstrong American student ambasaddor, Amy Topchik.

  1. How would you best describe yourself?

I am an enthusiastic, passionate, and ambitious 16 year old from Maine. I am always busy with school, musical theater, dance, various clubs, and super cool organizations like Seeds of Peace and Letters of Love. When I have a spare moment, I love to snuggle with my crazy beagle, Henry, listen to music, and hang out with my friends.

2. When did you first become aware of the Syrian situation?

I distinctly remember sitting in my social studies class in the fall of my 8th grade year. At the beginning of every class, we watched CNN Student News, a simplified and fun program to engage school children in the news. One day, there was a segment on Syrian refugees. It briefly explained the conflict in Syria, what the refugees have had to go through in their effort to finding safety, and why many countries were hesitant to offer refugees asylum. I was heartbroken as well as furious. As a 13-year old living comfortably in a suburban Maine town, I had little understanding of the horrors so many of the world’s citizens face. More overwhelming than my sadness for these innocent people, was my anger at my country, the United States of America, for not doing more. Why wasn’t our government opening up the borders and helping these people? I thought my classmates would feel the same way I did, but after a class discussion, I realized how wrong I was. Throughout the year, there were continuing segments on the refugee crisis, and my fury only grew. Unfortunately, I thought there was nothing I could do. I had no money to donate and I couldn’t even vote! I felt like I had no control, so I just sat back and did nothing. Fortunately, a couple years later I found out about Letters of Love and was empowered to take action!

3. Could you tell us about your first rendezvous with Letters of Love?

I heard about Letters of Love from the founder, Pooja Pradeep, when I got back from Seeds of Peace Camp. It was all over her social media and I absolutely loved the idea. I have always wanted to make change in the world, but have often felt too overwhelmed to do anything. There were so many problems! How could I, a teenager from Maine, someone who can’t even vote, make an impact on the world? Letters of Love taught me the power of an individual; if we all do whatever we can, wherever we are, with whatever we have, the world WILL be a better place.

4. Under the aegis of Letters of Love, what is the kind of work you have undertaken until now? What specifically prompted you to take action?

My first big project with Letters of Love was writing valentines for children in refugee camps. I invited my entire Key Club, a branch of Kiwanis International which gives high school students various community service opportunities, to engage in this activity. We collected pink and red construction paper, stickers, markers, glitter, and more fun supplies to make creative and colorful hearts. We all held up these hearts in our pictures that we sent to the children, along with a personal message wishing them a happy Valentines Day. I also helped to organize a drive sending letters to the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, led by the Letters of Love American ambassadors. I was definitely wary to present this activity to my school, considering the highly partisan and emotional issue that gun violence is. However, every student poured their heart into writing letters and prioritized humanity over politics. I was so proud of my peers for standing up and doing the right thing! Finally, I was fairly active in organizing the Letters of Love video in honor of World Refugee Day. I interviewed my family, friends, and classmates about the refugee crisis. It was incredibly empowering to see the passion they all had in helping Letters of Love. The video turned out to be absolutely amazing; it moved so many people to become more aware about the crisis and to engage in Letters of Love.

5. Why do you think it’s important for persons of all ages living in peaceful and privileged societies to be aware of the crisis in Syria and other conflict areas?

It is crucial that all people from peaceful and privileged societies are aware of the crisis in Syria and other conflict areas. Western democracies, such as the U.S., have the power to help people in crisis all over the world. Therefore, we have a moral and humanitarian responsibility to aid refugees. There is also so much that civilians can do, and the bare minimum that they should be doing is educating themselves. In contemporary society, people have a tendency to be apathetic. If we all can pay attention to the crisis of the world, we can learn empathy, and thus be inspired to do more to help those less privileged than ourselves.

6. What do you think are the moral obligations of a civil society when societies in other parts of the world are facing a crisis of this magnitude?

Civil societies have the responsibility to do whatever they can to help when societies in other parts of the world are facing a crisis of this magnitude. We must supply aid to refugees, we must open our borders and offer asylum, and we must do our best to work for peace in the areas facing conflict. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that we are all people. Refugees are simply looking for safety, something so many people in a civil society take for granted. It is our job, as people living in civil societies, to guarantee this basic need to those who need it.

7. If you had to give a message to the leaders of the world, what would it be?

Your actions, your policy, and your decisions have lasting impact; impact on the world, and specifically on the youth. Generation Z is doing our very best to create change. We are mobilizing, we are working together, and we are creating an impact over social, environmental, and global issues. However, we need your help! We need you, as adults, to think about us! We want a peaceful world, and you need to do your part to make that happen for us. We need you to put humanity before politics.

8. What are your plans for the near future?

Next semester, I am embarking on the craziest adventure of my life and studying abroad in Valparaiso, Chile for 5 months! I will be going to a local high school, living with a host family, and getting a glimpse into the life of a Chilean teenager. I am beyond excited to improve my Spanish, meet new people, and participate in a cross-cultural exchange. Until then, it is important that I continue to focus on my academics and the various clubs and teams I am committed to. Between the opening of my school play, the SATs, and preparing for my time abroad, it sure is to be a busy semester! And of course, I plan to stay as involved as possible with Letters of Love and the incredible work they support.

9. What is your vision for the world?

It may sound foolish, but in my perfect world there would be complete peace. Every human on earth would work together and help each other. Famine, poverty, wars, and violence would be eradicated. We would all focus on making our lives and our world better, and have secure opportunities to education, healthcare, and housing. While this vision may be impossible, I know for sure that our world can progress. We can end wars. We can lower rates of poverty and violence. We can make a change! It starts with us, as individuals, doing whatever we can to improve the societies in which we live.

10. What would be your message of love to fellow citizens of the world?

Never doubt that your actions matter. Never doubt that YOU matter! You are so incredibly competent and capable of achieving whatever you set your mind to. If we all just do whatever we can, with whatever we have, wherever we are, I promise that the world will be a better place.

Letters of Love

An international humanitarian non-profit organisation that…

Letters of Love

An international humanitarian non-profit organisation that makes a difference to global refugee crises through empathy, education & empowerment.

Shivani Chimnani

Written by

Apprentice Lawyer, Expert Satirist, Nonconformist, Pragmatist, Part Altruist. Okay, now I’m out of prefixes to support my favourite suffix.

Letters of Love

An international humanitarian non-profit organisation that makes a difference to global refugee crises through empathy, education & empowerment.