UN Reps and Global Issues

United Nations Youth Assembly in New York, August 2016

By Samuel Witt (son of Susan Witt, AWC Hamburg)

Hi everyone! My Name is Sammy and I had the enormous pleasure of representing FAWCO at the UN Youth Assembly. I thought I should make use of the opportunity of being in New York and so I arrived a week early. During this week I looked at all the fine art and culture NYC has to offer. Walking around NYC just got me more and more psyched for my 5 days at the UN. I checked into Pace University, where I would be staying for the next few days. Pace campus is located towards the south end of Manhattan and happens to have a lot nicer air conditioning than the Airbnb that I had spent the last days at. (woohoo!) I spent the rest of the day sightseeing.

In the evening, there was the first meeting, where the schedule was explained to us and I had a first opportunity to meet other visitors of the Youth Assembly. It was a super fun and diverse crowd with people from all over the world.

The next morning we got up really early. After having had breakfast together, we went to the UN. At the UN we were all welcomed in the general assembly hall by David Hill, the Director of Friendship Ambassadors, the organization in charge of organizing the entire event. We also heard speeches by diplomats, philanthropists and people working for NGOs. After seeing a music video by the UN Band, called “strong UN - Better World“, we also were, most notably, welcomed by Dr. David Navaro who read us a message from His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the UN.

The focus of this youth assembly was entirely on the Social Development Goals (SDG) Agenda until 2030. There are 17 SDGs that cover a broad spectrum of achievements which we all hope to implement. What makes the SDGs interesting is that they have a more universal approach to problem solving than for instance the Millennium Goals the UN had agreed on. Former Agendas have always been focused on developing countries, while the SDGs also tackle problems the so called first world is dealing with. Goals include making education affordable for all, ending gender inequality and stopping people from dying from curable illnesses. I believe it’s easy to understand how these goals also include us westerners changing our own ways.

The best example is gender inequality; it's a huge problem all around the world. Forcing women to stay home doing reproductive jobs leads to less economic growth, meaning more poverty, resulting in a lack of taxes to build infrastructure. This lack of funds prohibits the supply of clean water for all, resulting in people getting ill and dying unnecessarily. As you might understand now, all the goals are interconnected, so you can never only speak of an isolated SDG. When speaking of one Goal you also need to speak of the other 16. Because you need to start somewhere, we all listened to a panel about ending poverty together, in the general assembly hall before splitting for lunch and later continuing with smaller workshops and panels. I decided to learn about ending curable illnesses. There are illnesses that we could extinguish entirely, just as we’ve eradicated small pox. There are also many illnesses we can’t erase entirely but could strongly reduce, such as HIV. All it takes is proper sexual education and condoms and we could save many, many, many lives.

To be honest I’m pretty pessimistic about the future of humanity, or the world as a whole for that matter. Some goals, like ending illnesses, I find realistic, but others I’m worried will never be achieved. The next workshop I visited was about ending climate change, something I think might actually be impossible at this point. But is this even possible? I kept asking myself throughout the entire event. I have to admit all these encouraging speeches I heard throughout these days didn’t make me much more convinced of whether or not I could do the things I wanted to, but seeing all these passionate people around me did give me hope for change. Maybe we do have a chance to save the environment…

After spending the day thinking about all the depressing things going on around us, needing to be changed, I did get to finish the day in the most pleasant way possible. All the participants of the core package that I was in met up for a culture night. People dressed in traditional clothes from their home country and some performed. There were people doing tap, Irish folk and swing dance; they even took the time to instruct us on how to do it ourselves. They were followed by a couple singing in Chinese and an American girl singing as well. A group from Ethiopia rapped and danced with the crowd. My favorite came last, a group from Newcastle, Australia. They showed a movie and made music alongside it, imitating birds with flutes and their voices. They had more of an avant garde vibe than the other performers which, I have to admit, I appreciated.

The next day I took part in a workshop about ensuring clean water for everyone. It was organized by Life Straw, a company leading the fight against the Guinea Worm. The Guinea Worm is most likely to become the second disease to be completely eradicated. The concept is simple. Life Straw produces straws with filters in them. These straws are sold to nature enthusiasts in the US and Europe for a relatively high price and a lot of the money spent on the straw is then used to finance a supply of the straws to people and villages in parts of Africa with contaminated and unhealthy water. We came up with different strategies to ensure clean water supplies and discussed corporate involvement in charity and problem solving of this kind.

I then met up with Valia Mitsaki, the UN Youth Representative for FAWCO who lives and studies in New York. She is an amazingly friendly person. We attended a panel on gender equality. I didn’t feel like I learned very much I hadn’t heard before, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t impressed by some of the speakers. One of the speakers MoniCa Singh, was the survivor of an acid attack, and now gives motivational speeches and runs 2 different NGOs. I felt like one of the main points of such events is to introduce us, the youth, to people like MoniCa who have overcome terrible obstacles and let us know that anything is possible if we’re ambitious enough. Especially now with society shifting towards being more accepting of diversity and women achieving their dreams it’s important to let everyone know it’s not only possible for young people of all facets to take over, it will happen.

After having a lovely lunch with Valia I went to visit the UK embassy just around the corner from the UN HQ. Now with the Brexit having been decided on and the UK political future being uncertain, it was super exiting to go there and talk to the British ambassador. He told us all about how UN policies are made and the drama that goes along with diplomacy. Even though I definitely do not agree with most of what he said, he indeed was one of the politest people I’ve ever conversed with, so cliche would’t you say?

My final day at the UN started with a panel about Youth Involvement at the UN. The UN apparently thinks of “the youth“ as the most important resource on the planet. We indeed are the largest generation to have ever walked the earth, so I guess they have a point? There are several internships at the UN for young people and different individuals whose job only consists of thinking about strategies to involve youths in politics and UN related topics. Many of the participants seemed very interested in talking about how to involve marginalized people and all those who have been left behind in the past. Which I think is fantastic, because that’s exactly what I came to New York for. I wanted to learn new strategies for creating equality.

Valia and I met up again and walked to a workshop about ensuring quality education for all, but not before visiting a stained glass window by Marc Chagall. After more discussion of everyone's future and education I had the opportunity to spend my lunch break doing something super fun. I got a guided tour around the UN HQ. Not only are there like a million cool gifts from all 193 member nations but also a few exhibitions about the UN’s work. My personal tour highlight was a Sputnik replica given by the USSR. After the tour and a super fast lunch there was a closing ceremony with all the speakers from the opening ceremony. We were then visited by Monique Coleman, known for her role in High School musical. She is also a UN Youth Champion and a very inspiring speaker. The closing ceremony was finished by a few different performers. The next morning I left to return to Germany.

I appreciated the opportunity to visit New York and represent FAWCO and hope to continue my involvement in all matters of equality. I would also suggest to any young, politically interested person who wants to make a change, to do a UN Youth Program!

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