Huda Ahmed was 13 when Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, becoming the youngest Nobel laureate at the time. It was also when Yousafzai became a personal hero for Huda. So, when a friend heard that the application process was open for the inaugural Malala Yousafzai Youth Leadership Award, created by the youth advocacy non-profit Youth Will, they encouraged her to apply.
“I was the type to indulge in the news more than cartoons, so seeing this 17-year-old Muslim girl from a country in a similar state as mine, fighting for the rights of education for all, inspired me,” said Huda, a Somali-American Muslim woman.
“She depicted the representation I wished I saw more of as a child, and her efforts ignited my dreams into passions. She’s my icon.”
With her passion and record of community leadership from a young age, Ahmed was recently selected as the winner of the award, which honours one youth leader, age 18 or younger, who is creating change in their community. Her community work has included everything from working with NGOs on access to healthy food and affordable housing, to homelessness and education.
Huda, 18, will start university this year at UC San Diego, in the US state of California, where she plans to study human biology, with her sights set on becoming a trauma surgeon.
She talked about her work in the community and winning an award named after her icon. Some answers have been edited for brevity.
What does winning the award mean to you?
It means everything. I am incredibly honoured to be receiving an award named after one of my icons. It’s almost surreal. This only inspires me to accomplish so much more, and to do it while I am still young. I’ve just turned 18 this year and only recently graduated high school. I’m ecstatic to tread along the journey set out before me and see how far I can truly create, impact, and instil change.
How did you learn about the award?
A friend who was familiar with Youth Will’s events thought I’d be a great fit because of the immense amount of work I did within our community. I applied but never expected to win. What started off as a nod of recognition from a friend has truly become one of my greatest achievements in life.
What did you say about yourself in the application for the award?
I proudly shared my work in [my neighbourhood] City Heights, including a farmers' market youth research project I conducted in partnership with the UC San Diego Youth Advisory Council, as well as the affordable housing advocacy I’ve done in conjunction with the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans.
Why do you think you won the award?
I think what mainly set me apart is the wide range of social issues I address in the community. Name any kind of issue happening in San Diego and I have advocated for it, whether it be the housing crisis and homelessness, to food insecurity and education, I care. And I believe, with balance, we can advocate for every social issue that touches our lives.
What kind of work have you been doing over the years?
In high school, I led food drives with my friends to feed those in need around City Heights. I then joined the UC San Diego Youth Advisory Council to advocate for food affordability and accessibility within low-income communities and helped push a state bill to support providing healthy foods in schools.
I’ve also advocated for California AB 392 (addressing the use of deadly force by law enforcement) here in San Diego through advocacy within our City Council.
Additionally, I’ve advocated for affordable housing and fought against housing discrimination through canvassing and helping with campaigns throughout the years.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Know your limits.” As a youth leader, I want to go as far as I possibly can to achieve my goals, but knowing my limits gives me clarity in recognising what I can and can’t do.