New York Seminar

Participation at the global level by Emma Melgarejo

In this section we take a look at aspects such as the dynamics of participation in the global context: the United Nations, aspects that made the YOUTH ACT Seminar on democratic values and participation in New York on 19-24 June a very unique event

The Preparation

On June 19 to June 24, 2022  selected youth leaders from  Youth Act  were ready for their exposure to global participation  with the planned  United Nations seminar in New York, an activity  cut short in 2021 by the pandemic   As soon as the United States opened its doors  to the public, Youth Act USA started the preparation to host  their   colleagues from Europe and Latin America.

Tickets and accommodations were secured.  Visas were sought with all the protocols followed to the letter.
Despite all the efforts, three youth leaders from Bolivia and Peru could not come.  This did not impede them however to join the group who did all the necessary setup for the latter to connect online to share the presentations of their projects and their take on a national issue and an international issue that have most impact on their respective countries or regions.

Passes for UN Headquarters were  obtained for the first possible date available , appointments’  to permanent missions (embassies) and related NGOs  were confirmed,  venues were arranged for the seminars that allowed the integration and sharing of  the four day experience, and a plan of cultural and
local sites relevant to the theme of  “participation and democratic values” were mapped.

Welcome to New York

From Spain, Belgium, Italy, Portugal Mexico, Chile and Brazil, the youth leaders were met at JFK airport by EDIW (Education for an Interdependent World) management, the coordinating entity of the project based in Brussels. All were filled with excitement as to what the week will bring with the first ones to arrive welcoming those who came in later, at the forefront of it all was Youth Act Chicago and Miami.
After dinner and a short orientation from EDIW management, Youth Act Chicago gave an overview of the days ahead.
Geared with a notebook, a pen and a tote bag, the group of 20 people , early the next day, June 20 th walked from Times Square to Murray Hill to the UN Headquarters in New York a 20-minute walk from the carefully selected budget hotel where the group found accommodations at the Big City.
Entering the UN grounds, the group went through intense security , a usual procedure in entering the headquarters then exacerbated by checks to insure against Covid contagion. The iconic building of the Secretariat lined by the flags of nations, the skyline of New York and the embankment of the East River greeted the group as they walked in the UN building.

The United Nations

In 1945 the UN Charter was signed by the first 50 peace-loving nations worldwide with only one aim … peace to prevent the outbreak of another world war that devastated and stretched from Europe to Asia, to Africa and to a large extent to the Americas and Australia. It was provoked by the experience of outright violations of the fundamental rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness of millions of people. They were victims of the Holocaust because of their race, their religion, the color of their skin, their physical features , disabilities or societal marginalization.

On the 26 th of June 1945, 50 sovereign member states voluntarily said … “never again”. There will be a world platform where the moral voice of humanity will be heard through their rightful governments which without being coerced, would commit themselves to uphold the principles embodied in the UN Charter.

Focal points for reflection, integration and sharing throughout the seminar: 

The United Nations: is it an icon for global participation and democratic values today? 

Diversity and inclusion: How are they challenges in   participation? … The impact of 9/11 … the lessons of Ellis island

Addressing local, national and global issues:   independent or interdependent concerns and involvement  

A commitment to build, to speak, to participate back home!

At the UN Headquarters.
On the main floor of the Secretariat Building is a Room of Quiet” , the UN meditation room, inspired by the 3 rd UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjöld, reminding those who enter the meaning of this place with his words.

The UN meditation room

In respectful silence, each one taking a place in this sacred space, listened to the words of Secretary General Dag Hammarjold at the dedication of the UN meditation room.

“This house, dedicated to work and debate in the service of peace, should have one room dedicated to silence in the outward sense and stillness in the inner sense.
It has been the aim to create in this small room a place where the doors may be open to the infinite lands of thought and prayer …”
People of many faiths will meet here, and for that reason none of the symbols to which we are accustomed in our meditation could be used.
… The material of the stone leads our thoughts to the necessity for choice between destruction and construction, between war and peace. Of iron man has forged his swords, of iron he has also made his plowshares. Of iron he has constructed tanks, but of iron he has likewise built homes for man.
The block of iron ore is part of the wealth we have inherited on this earth of ours. How are we to use it?
…There is an ancient saying that the sense of a vessel is not in its shell but in the void. So it is with this room. It is for those who come here to fill the void with what they find in their center of stillness.“
With these words in their minds, the youth leaders went on an interactive tour of the UN premises led by a very knowledgeable young tour guide from Mozambique.
While walking through the different rooms of the UN and the functions and activities of the Security Council, the Secretariat, the ECOSOC, the Trusteeship Council and finally the General Assembly were explained, realizations of the limitations of the UN were eclipsed by the good it does throughout the world
… with the refugees, in countries devastated by hunger, drought, poverty, climate change, illiteracy, conflictive interests among member states exploding in various wars in different parts of the world with Ukraine coming into fore at this moment of our history. The General Assembly , the organ where all
member states are considered equal, continues to be the moral voice of the world and through the different agencies the UN acts on behalf of humanity … UNICEF, UNESCO, UNHCR, WHO …
So much learned and still much to internalize. The scenic balcony of the UN surrounded by iconic gifts from many nations specifically the gift from Italy, a Globe entitled “Sphere within a sphere”, and symbolic of the emerging new world born of the old, added more food for thought. Some chose to explore the exhibits of photos depicting humanity in all its faces and expressions.
Gathered in small groups to further articulate their learnings and insights, the youth shared their synthesis with all. “Is the United Nations an icon of global participation and democratic values today?

New York: A microcosm of a diverse world with its hopes and challenges
The experience would not have been complete if the sites of the Big Apple, a microcosm of diversity, werenot explored. Youth ACT USA, who also acted as tour guides, planned a cultural itinerary choosing thoseplaces connected with the themes of the seminar … diversity, inclusion, democratic values, participation. First, exploration of TIMES Square, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Rockefeller Center, the New York Library,the ever popular Macy, even a taste of hot dogs, roasted nuts, ice cream from mobile food stand and theintricacies of the NY subway. Second, Ground Zero 9-11 and third, Ellis Island and the Statute of Liberty.Free time was given for jogging at Central Park and a night walking on the Brooklyn with its marvel of

engineering and architecture as one of the most spectacular suspension bridges of the city adorned with the lights that turned it to a real point of architectural marvel at night.

Visiting three permanent missions: meeting with UN diplomats

Member states are represented by their permanent missions in the United Nations. They are thecounterparts of their countries’ embassies, in UN headquarters in New York, Vienna, Geneva and Nairobi. They represent their government’s positions on issues brought to the UN for deliberation. Therefore, to explore global participation at this level, Youth ACT was privileged to be granted a face to face meeting with the missions of Spain, Mexico and Italy. On the 21st, Delegate Ambassador Maria Bassols and her team from the Spanish mission received the group.

In the afternoon, the Coordinator for Social, Economic and Humanitarian Affairs represented the Ambassador of Mexico, Mr. Fernando de la Mora, to meet with us. On the 22 st , the group was received by Diplomat Diego Cimino of the Italian permanent mission. Their demeanor as diplomats was simple yet

spoke of presence worthy of representing their governments. Youth Act was their first face to face audience with civil society. All three encouraged young people to consider the diplomatic path in their choice of career.

Among the many issues discussed, climate change, refugees and migrants and the immediate concern of placement for those fleeing their lands, took precedence. The efforts within the European Union towards a united action was also highlighted as well as attempts to address the veto power in the Security Council. Amazed and happy of how they could achieve something that was almost unachievable, they spoke …
builders of hope, collaboration, appreciation of each other, perseverance, one vision, solidarity, mission … dreams that would turn to realities when they go back home, sharing the experience with the group waiting for them back home.

Reaching out to Groups on the Peripheries

An essential component of Project YOUTH Act is reaching out to a marginalized group in one’s own city. The youth were tasked to embark on a project that would make it possible, as much as time and possibilities would allow, to work with a marginalized group and bring them closer to participate in the democratic process that may bring about change in their respective contexts. Some chose to work with abused women, others with the elderly, still
others with different groups of homeless peoples and with children in conflict area through simple digital education.
Youth ACT Chicago chose to work with the homeless youth of the city and Youth Act Miami with the undocumented students. A visit to the Covenant House for the homeless youth in New York was arranged and another group to a student center serving students from New York University to meet with undocumented students specifically those considered under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). These include those children that entered
without proper documentation, lived, studied and even worked in the United States but are denied legal residency in the country.

Internalization and Integration and Commitment as YOUTH ACT

Within the packed schedule of this 4-day seminar, it was necessary to find time for at least two afternoons to meet to talk about national and international issues considered to be of most impact by each group … affecting important premises of global participation … of choosing isolationism or independence or solidarity and interdependence.
National concerns such as the lack of water, violence among women, gun violence, limitation of the new normal came to fore with concerns of climate change, migration, wars, hunger coming out as international concerns considered as having the most impact. Is the approach one of independence or interdependence, of isolationism or solidarity, of competition or collaboration?
June 23 was the last day packed with the visit to Ellis Island in the morning and in the afternoon the sharing of projects each group had prepared. As we cross the water to Ellis Island, and seeing the Stature of Liberty, images of inclusion, immigration, diversity came ro fore again. Is participation really possible with these challenging realities? On the last day, the youth leaders from Peru and Bolivia were able to join by zoom. 

With appreciation for the work of each group, the reporting for the work done for the fourth quarter of the project was completed. From Chicago, a bag filled with Legos of different shapes and sizes became the tools that would materially demonstrate the commitment each one should bring back home.

The task was to build with the Legos each received the highest structure possible closest to the ceiling making use of resources at hand. And so they built … each one contributing his idea of how to build higher … removing, replacing, relocating Legos very carefully moving each piece to prevent the structure from collapsing. They built … higher and higher until every Lego piece was at its place.

Amazed and happy of how they could achieve something that was almost unachievable, they spoke … builders of hope, collaboration, appreciation of each other, perseverance, one vision, solidarity, mission … dreams that would turn to realities when they go back home, sharing the experience with the group waiting for them back home.

From the words of each participant …

Brahim Lehbib Mohamad from Spain, says :“From the word go there was a connectedness among us… perhaps because we all shared the same objectives, the same spirit : our common desire to contribute to making this world a better place for all … even in spite of our diverse origins, ethnic background and

“The UN Headquarters tour was a favorite of mine. I was very moved to learn of the UN’s immense amount of work they do on a daily basis. It is impressive that it is the only forum in the world where peace and security, human rights and development are debated by all countries in the world. I was
excited, honored, and humbled to step into the same space where all countries come together.” says Lizelle Marcial from Chicago, USA.
“ It was an incredible experience…I was inspired by the work of these diplomats. It was clear to me that they are skilled and well prepared to take on the task set forth by the countries they eachrepresented” says Eli Ampo, from Chicago, USA.
And Allen Bueno Magsino, from Italy concurs: “Thanks to the face-to-face meetings we had with these diplomats, I understood better what the role of the UN in our society is, and learned that we cannot have any effective action without a continuous dialogue”.
Clara Medeiros from Brazil comments: … “The information we access forms our opinions and the decisions that affect our own lives and that of others. This is why is so important to develop critical and analytical thinking, to process the information by checking the data and the sources …The
invitation of the Ambassador to confront misinformation, reminded me of the work we have done in Youth Act , as I realized the importance and the challenge to be well informed, to analyse carefully and to pass information in a coherent and responsible manner”. “it was an encounter of different realities, different cultures, different generations… an ongoing invitation to seek the necessary changes towards a more just society, knowing that all efforts – individual or communal – are worthwhile, as we are in touch with so many, in so many parts of the
world.” Andrea Sanhuenza, Chile.
And Laura Pulido from Chicago, USA says, “I enjoyed meeting with diverse persons, from across the globe all of whom were very interested in making an impact in their respective communities”. And Sara Cascais from Portugal says:“ We went back to our countries more empowered and with more
hope… It was a moment to recognize that the future of our world is in our hands, and that it is important to walk together”.
“This Seminar among other things, helped me to realize the importance of the role and participation of an organized civil society to lead in the necessary changes for the good of all. We cannot leave everything to governments, but we need to participate actively … we must promote a culture of
encounter, of embracing diversity. Esther Villacetin Estrada, Mexico. “If I had to summarize this experience, I would say: New York is the city BEYOND COMPARISON, UNIQUE. We enjoyed wonderful days filled with opportunities for learning. We discussed different aspects of democracy, immigration, and the role of the UN in the world… No doubt that experiences like this, open for us countless future opportunities which will help us to grow individually and with others as well, in realizing the fundamental responsibility we have in our society, helping to build a society which has values and who is committed to the common good.” Alba Maria Rubio Rosa, Spain. it was a moment of strong vibration, among the participants and with the city itself” , says Sara Cascais, from Portugal. ”This seminar was once in a life time, learning experience, living the processes and procedures of democracy at the global level, and exchanging ideas, encouragement and knowledge with my peers. I look forward to applying all I learned at the local level, so that I may positively impact my own community”- Karina Crespo, Miami, USA.

Thanks were expressed to the organizers, EDIW, and especially to the European Commission for co-funding the project and making experiences like this possible.