by Derek Gumb and Allison Hess, Interns at the UU-UNO
Youth and young adults from around the world met at the UN last week for the 11th Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations. Twelve interns, staff, and UU youth attended the conference and represented the Unitarian Universalist UN Office. The Youth Assembly was addressed by around 40 panelists and speakers over the course of the three days, focusing on work being done right now for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and action youth can take to make a difference and bring their ideas and passions into fruition. We got the chance to hear from some amazing leaders and innovators, to exchange ideas from our peers around the globe, and even to visit some permanent missions to the UN, including Liechtenstein, Angola, and Antigua and Barbuda. Throughout our experiences, we realized how the principles of UU and the UN dovetail together so well and below we reveal to you some connections we made between our experiences at the Youth Assembly and our UU faith.
The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, along with the rest of the United Nations and its affiliates, promotes global citizenship and understanding for a more peaceful world, along with the sixth UU principle: the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. One way to work towards this peaceful world community was brought to light by Mrs. R.N. Ramgoolam, the Consul General of Trinidad and Tobago. She suggests creating peace through cultural sharing. In order for all peoples of the earth to get along and understand one another, we must learn about each other’s cultures. Youth sometimes feel powerless; since we have not yet developed career skills, we feel as though we have nothing to share with the world. Mrs. Ramgoolam proposes that youth in fact have much to contribute to the world community. While we still have much worldly knowledge to acquire, we do know our own cultures and can share our cultural songs, dances, art, food, stories, etc. with others that we meet. In this way, we all broaden our horizons by learning about a different way of life, and our perspectives can change from local and secluded to global and welcoming. Through this exchange of cultures and ideas, we create a community that covers the whole globe and we can work together to build a world where all people cooperate and are treated with justice and equality. In the Youth Assembly, we met participants from six continents and had the opportunity to mingle with them, discuss plans for the future, and make new friends. Derek was even given a beautiful gift of the official mask of the Shanghai Opera inside of a fancy box! It was amazing to be around so many people our age from all over the world who care a lot about social change and to hear their ideas. This was a wonderful chance to learn from youth from different countries and backgrounds and to think about how we can keep in contact and cooperate in the future.
A key aspect of building a global community is acting with justice, equity, and compassion in our human relations, the second principle of Unitarian Universalism. This means listening to and respecting everyone’s thoughts, collaborating, and upholding the truth and what is right. Forming partnerships to work for important causes that promote justice and equality is an effective way to further these relationships. At the Youth Assembly, we heard about several very impressive collaborations. One of these is the We Can Be Heroes campaign, a partnership between several non-profit organizations including Save the Children, and the Justice League (Warner Bros). These organizations are all working together against the current hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, some providing knowledge of on the ground needs and resources, while the other provides funding, publicity, and other essential help. By collaborating on this project, the organizations can accomplish far more than any of them would be able to do on their own. Another effort is the Half the Sky movement which is collaborating with several media companies including PBS to bring justice and relief for oppressed women and girls worldwide. It was encouraging to hear about relationships being built on the international level between local- and global-scale organizations. Additionally, as youth we were inspired to build intergenerational relationships in our own communities to further empower ourselves and give us opportunities to make a difference.
One panelist, Roland Rich from the UN Democracy Fund, discussed the growing need for democracy in the 21st century. As Unitarian Universalists, we cherish the right of all people to be represented equally in their communities and we thus uphold our fifth principle: the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large. Mr. Rich spoke about the advancements in global society that make it so that the government can no longer expect everyone to follow blindly under an authoritarian rule. As we move towards a world where more and more people have the ability to share information and opinions on the web, governments will be criticized and citizens will make demands of them that they will be obliged to follow. Access to technology and information was certainly a prominent theme throughout the Youth Assembly, as we discussed ways in which people across the planet communicate and share ideas with one another. It is important for everyone to be at liberty to share their thoughts without fear, so democracy is necessary for peace on earth and the protection of everybody’s human rights. Mr. Rich stressed that authoritarianism is no longer appropriate or acceptable in our world.
Another theme of the youth conference was respect for the environment and a call to action to stop global warming. Peter Wolfe, Vice President of ARCADIS US, gave a speech about climate change and how it will affect energy consumption and allocation. He said that decades ago engineers created infrastructure in order to spur economic growth. However, in the coming decades, engineers will be the ecological pioneers who will design unique solutions to technical and scientific problems of resource allocation and energy conservation. One such engineer is Laurence Kemball-Cook, the founder of an English green-energy company Pavegen. Laurence spoke about how his company produces and markets floor tiles, which, when stepped on, turn the kinetic energy of footsteps into storable, usable energy. Pavegens have been installed in schools, companies, and most recently at a London underground station in time for the London Olympics. The energy accumulated from the footsteps have been used to offset the electrical energy used for an entire school, the street lights in the underground station, and the energy used in the company. Another unique engineer, Illac Diaz, has found revolutionary new uses for plastic bottles. His organization, MyShelter Foundation, is a non-profit organization that fills plastic bottles with mud and uses them as bricks to rebuild schools in the Philippines. His most exciting venture is 1 Liter of Light, which is providing a sustainable lighting solution to the millions of poor houses across the Philippine region that have no electricity and are thus very dark. This organization has adopted the idea of filling up one-liter water bottles with water and installing them on the tops of tin roofs. The effect isliterally brilliant: the sun hits the bottle, travels through the water, and refracts out into the home, creating clean bright light for the entire day.
We really enjoyed the approach this conference took. Instead of simply listing depressing facts about global warming or warning us to drive less and reuse plastic bags, the speakers inspired us to create practical, unique inventions or partnerships that have a worldwide reach and applicability to solving global warming. As Illac Diaz said, “Enough awareness, let’s actually DO something!”
Hearing this conference through our UU ears, we made connections with the last UU principle: respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. Humans, animals, nature, and our climate are simply parts of the organism that is the Earth. Each part is interdependent and interconnected, so changes in one part produce effects in others. The major theme of this conference was that humans are now more interdependent and interconnected than ever before in human history (87% of the 7 billion humans own cell phones and over 1/3 have access to the internet). Youth, who have grown up with and are adept at using technology, are uniquely positioned to utilize social media and the internet to connect people and ideas in new ways. We are at the dawn of a technological revolution, with the youth at the helm, and we can become global citizens and do more for our world, while simultaneously keeping true to our UU principles.