Giving a speech at the United Nations
In September 2016, I travelled to the USA to work with 360 young change makers with the common purpose and goal of creating action plans for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. This opportunity was provided by World Merit, an NGO that gives youth a platform to contribute to the UN SDGs.
World Merit is in official partnership with the United Nations. I am very fond of World Merit, it is an organisation that embodies voices that are not heard and holds values of integrity and dedication for sustainability. I am currently a Global Council member of World Merit.
Back to 2016. 360 of us all applied for a specific SDG. There are 17 UN SDG’s. For more information about the SDGs, click here. I was a part of SDG 16 at that time: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. I was part of a group of 24 individuals from 19 countries ranging from the ages of 18 to 29. I was 20 years old at that time.
As each team member was from a different nation state, hence holding different political opinions expressive of different cultures and religions; we debated a lot on which peace and justices issues we would focus on. As ‘peace and justice’ acts as an umbrella that covers many issues, it was very difficult to hierarchically place one over the other. For example, for a member in the group who is from Thailand; human trafficking was a central issue. For a girl from Mexico, drug cartels. For a young man from Pakistan, the issue of a lack of woman rights especially in sex abuse cases. For African states, corruption. For a boy in Syria, civil war. Hence it was was crucial for me to listen to each person's point of view in order to effectively and diplomatically engage with the group and create a holistic approach in finding common goals as a community. To be honest, this was the first time in my life that I sat back and hardly said a word. I just listened. It gave me a neutral and impartial take on how to solve everyones issues.
What happened next was life changing. Whilst working on the first component of our action plan, I was working with a young man in our group from Syria and we became good friends instantly.
Bearing in mind this was only the third day of the summit. Whilst working, he received a phone call that was passed on to him by a member of the British Council who was at the Pennsylvanian camp we were all at (where we were creating action plans for the UN SDGs.)
This phone call brought the heartbreaking news that his best friend had been killed in an attack back home in Syria. Even more unfortunate and traumatic was that his friend was supposed to be with us, but his visa was rejected. I studied the complexities of the Syrian Civil War briefly at university as part of my curriculum. We hear on the news of many innocent civilian deaths, numbers soaring in the hundreds on a daily basis. However we have created this dehumanisation attitude towards these death tolls, that simply just become another number. It was a totally different experience for me to first hand see the pain that swept across his eyes. It was the first time I felt a human connection to the atrocities of what is going on in Syria.
My friend has had a tough life to put it lightly. He has been through so much. Lost many people he knows, lost his home. And yet the fire of hope in his soul did not die and he was determined to actively do the best he can to fight for peace, not through warfare and machinery but through diplomacy and engaging with other people from around the world, who too were passionate about justice. This was a very emotional time for me. I have always been brought up to be grateful for what I have, however, at this moment I realised how much I took for granted in my own life. The simple fact that I never heard machine guns and the sound of drones in the sky. The simple fact that I had never lost any family members or friends to war.
This sparked an unparalleled experience, to nothing I have ever experienced before. After this misfortunate event that happened to my friend from Syria, the group decided we would sit in a circle, place a plastic water bottle in the middle that signified a ‘microphone’. Whoever felt comfortable enough could pick up the microphone and share their story. It was incredible to see the ripple effect that occurred once my friend from Syria shared his story. Next, almost every member of the group, began sharing their own individual stories and experiences.
We bonded on an emotional level, where suddenly our different country issues no longer became the number one priority. Instead, our number one priority became actively finding a solution for ALL our countries. This simply happened because we ‘shared our stories’ and began to respect and understand each other on a much deeper level.
As a consequence our focus worked in sync specifically on justice issues related to NGO transparency and accountability as well as equitable public access to information.
My team and I created an action plan dedicated to achieving the indicators of SDG16. I was then elected to pitch this on behalf team in the Trusteeship room of UN in New York. This led to the creation of an NGO called 'Peace is Simple' to which I am now the President of the Board of Directors and is still undergoing legal incorporation in the Hague, Netherlands.
Our main aim is to give as many youth a voice possible as we learnt that together we are stronger, our voices are more powerful AND we stand for inclusion and representation of all societies, cultures, religions, nationalities and backgrounds. I wish I could tell you all about Peace is Simple, but that will come when the timing is right. I encourage anyone reading this who wants to be a part of the UN SDGs to apply to World Merit and join incredible, passionate, intelligent and powerful young leaders who are devoted to positive societal change. Please find World Merit’s website page here