On Friday, January 30th, 2015, two interns from the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office attended the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations at the UN Secretariat. Danning Zhang and Brieanna Scolaro, both who are graduate social work students, were excited to attend the conference and share their thoughts and reflections below with you.
Having interned for five months at the United Nations Church Center, right across the street from the UN Headquarters, I never considered myself well educated about the UN’s history, structure and its functions. When I receive comments like, “The UN is just a bunch of people doing nothing but having meetings all day,” I never knew the most effective response. Sometimes I would say things such as, “We need to come to solutions to the world’s problems by engaging in dialogues”, or “Things take time to change.” However, things have changed since my attendance to the Committee on Teaching about the United Nations on January 30, 2015. I can now give a better, more comprehensive answer to the question, “How does the UN work?”
United Nations is a change agency itself. For developing countries such as Sri Lanka and Palau whose resources and technology may be limited at times to fully promote the social welfare of their citizens, the UN comes to help them implement programs to increase the literacy rate, reduce infant mortality, and provide support for disaster relief. With the collaborative effort of different sectors of the UN and many non-profit organizations that are affiliated with the UN, school lunch programs are implemented so that less school children are hungry; teachers are sent to the most impoverished areas of the world so that children living in poverty can have a brighter future through education; protocols on reducing carbon emission are signed so that people can breathe clearer air.
The United Nations is not only a symbol for peace, but a meaningful message to be carried on from generation to generation. A central theme of the CTAUN conference included the idea that in order to reach peace, we need to teach peace. Many schools and teachers are building peace by carrying the UN’s spirit of peace in their daily curriculum to their young students. Two teachers at the United Nations International School, who won the “Best Practice Award”, implement daily peace and mindfulness activities with their students. Two PS 119 teachers, the other winners of the “Best Practice Award”, create a culture of peace that their students live in, by facilitating peace marches, peace games, and other forms of activities that promote the message of peace – a seed planed early can grow big and wide.
The United Nations is a mission. Kenneth Payumo, Chief of Peacekeeping Operations Support Section in the UN Department of Safety and Security, is a peacekeeper in South Sudan that risked his life to protect thousands of innocent civilians that would have otherwise been harmed by armed forces during political riots. Others, like Pamela Falk, UN Resident Correspondent, fight continuously for freedom of expression and justice for journalists who have been killed. Individuals such as Payumo and Falk continue to inspire individuals in the community, such as myself. Inspired by the CTAUN conference, I now have developed a better idea of who I am and what I want to do with my future peace building career. More importantly, I am certain that regardless of what I do with my life and how I want to achieve my career goals, I will always bare the peace building mission in my mind.
For me, the most intriguing part of the CTAUN conference was the opening discussion of the United Nations history. Bob Clark, Deputy Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, provided us great insight into how the UN came to be a result of the passion and values of FDR. Similar to Danning, I had never fully understood the roots of the UN – how it relates to the League of Nations, how other presidents have attempted some sort of international diplomacy effort but were not supported by the citizens. I was never aware that only two weeks before the first UN meeting, FDR had passed away, leaving Eleanor Roosevelt to bring FDR’s dream to reality. It is interesting that everyone doubted Eleanor and did not know exactly what to do with her – despite this, she became a champion of change. Eleanor’s efforts and passions are something that we all need to keep in mind when considering and advocating for the role of women in developing a sustainable world.
I felt excited to be in a room full of teachers, current and past, that so directly connect with our youth on a daily basis. I agree that in order to have a peaceful world, we need to teach and practice peace. How can we build peace if we cannot sit with ourselves and find inner peace? The conference reminds us to look inside ourselves, explore ourselves, find similarities with others, and to celebrate diversity in the world. The UN explores issues such as women’s rights, freedom of speech, the role of social media in development, nuclear disarmament – they have been working towards the The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions, and are currently developing the next set of goals, the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals. I challenge you, the reader, to ask yourself what world you want to live in. What should be at the forefront of our world’s next set of priorities? In addition, I would challenge those of you who already engage in social justice and global human rights to consider how we can continue to act locally but think globally.