Each year on October 24, UN Day offers the opportunity to celebrate the work of the United Nations, the lives it has impacted, and the problems it has solved. UNA-USA chapters hosted over 100 events nationwide to bring together those passionate about such work.
I had the pleasure of traveling to my hometown of Orlando, FL to celebrate such a joyous day with family, friends, and a community I can truly call my own. I was thrilled to visit the University of Central Florida (UCF), where I had the privilege of speaking to students who are members of the UNA-USA chapter at UCF, and the Orlando UNA-USA community chapter.
As my mother and I got closer to the UCF campus, I was mystified to see hundreds of students who looked like they were ready to hit the beach. Blake Johnson, the President of the UNA-USA chapter at UCF, explained that it was the annual University Spirit Splash, an event that brings thousands of students together at the Reflecting Pond to jump in and celebrate UCF’s Homecoming Week. I thought, “How could I compete with the Spirit Splash??”
To my surprise, the room was filled with UCF students eager to hear about the UN. In contrast to my experience at the Third Committee, where suits and dresses are the standard, students donned swimsuits and flip flops in true Florida fashion. Whether in swimsuits or business suits, I was reminded that young people share a common cause and a shared passion for the UN-- and that’s all that mattered. We discussed issues of gender inequality, especially in the lens of the Middle East, and I was invigorated by their genuine interest and thirst to learn. I knew then that I was in a room filled with the future of our country’s support to the United Nations, as each and every student understood the organization’s importance to building a better world.
Energized by the UCF event, I went on to speak to the Orlando chapter of UNA-USA. It was everything I had expected and more! There were over 100 individuals in the room, and over half of them were under the age of 25. As the Youth Observer, I was excited to see that the majority of people there to celebrate UN Day were youth themselves. These students and young people were not only listening, but asked the majority of questions and sparked dialogue on imperative issues that require the participation of the next generation, such as institutionalized racism and the intersectional nature of gender inequity. I met students who are in the same World History class taught by the same teacher that I had while at Dr. Phillips High School, and it really embodied the importance of education for our youth. We must continue educating our generation, those before us, and those to come about international issues and how we can get involved as a global community.
Florida isn’t the first place that comes to mind when I think of the UN. But on my UN Day trip, I was reminded that like the 50 states, our country is a part of a larger collective-- an international community that is interdependent economically, politically, socially, and technologically. When refugees have nowhere safer than water to go, the other countries are affected. When thousands are impacted by the outbreak of a deadly virus in West Africa, everyone is at risk. When hundreds of innocent civilians are either killed or wounded by extremists in Paris, people everywhere worry for their safety.
Our country is a part of a larger chain of people and events; the United Nations is at the heart of this operation, working to solve the world’s greatest problems. Here are a few compelling examples:
- The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has placed tens and thousands of refugees in homes while providing others food and shelter.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) worked quickly and effectively to respond to the Ebola outbreak and treat those infected.
- The UN Security Council just passed a Resolution on Youth, Peace and Security, recognizing the important role young people play in countering violent extremism.
As young people and the generation that will face such global issues like terrorism, it is important that we know, care, and work together for solutions to problems that affect us all. If UN Day left me with anything, it was faith in our youth and their resolve to sustain hope for our world’s future.