What I learned as Youth Observer to the UN

By Nicol Perez - June 10, 2017

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When I became the U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations, we were in the midst of a chaotic U.S. election. Tensions around the country were incredibly high, and I desperately wanted to do something about all the news headlines that were splattered across newspapers, crowding my social newsfeeds, and circling my head on a daily basis. Like many young people, I often felt the problems of our country and the world were too big for someone like me to tackle. As Youth Observer, I’ve had the privilege of traveling the country to learn about the issues young people are most passionate about and representing their voices at the UN. Speaking to other young people has given me a renewed sense of hope for the future of our country, our world, and has ultimately proven that young people can and are making positive changes in their communities. I’ve spoken with people like Sarah Whipple, an 18-year-old from Texas who works with the International Rescue Committee to help resettled refugees assimilate into new communities; or Ziad Ahmed, a 17-year-old high school student who started his own non-profit to help build empathy in communities around the world; and Kat de la Rosa, a young college student who partnered with her university to tackle food waste on campus. Throughout my journey in this position, I’ve met many other students of all ages who have tackled issues that at first might’ve seemed too big to conquer.

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I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it’s easy to take action. Young people are among the most vulnerable in the world and are disproportionately affected by issues like poverty, unemployment, and food instability. We are constantly told we need to “wait our turn,” that we don’t have enough experience, and are often stripped of our confidence and ability to think outside the box. Yet, despite these challenges, young people are finding opportunities to get involved, make big changes, and defy the stereotypes that describe us as “apathetic” or “slackers.”

After speaking with many young people around the country this past year, I’ve learned three simple, but important lessons I’d love to share with you: 

  1. You can’t do it alone. If you want to solve a problem in your community or around the world, you must partner with others. This includes identifying mentors who can help you focus your efforts, finding friends who are willing to work with you, and organizations that can help you scale your efforts.
  2. The power of a story can move people into action. If you want others to get involved in your cause, tell them a story they can relate to. Telling compelling stories helps build empathy and spark action, and we have powerful tools on social media that can help us connect with others we might not have reached otherwise. Cat memes and selfies are great, but we must constantly brainstorm new ways to leverage these ever-changing tools to create good.  
  3. Never be afraid to ask questions. Don’t let anyone stifle your curiosity. Humans are filled with wonder, and, for some reason, I think many people lose this natural instinct as they grow older. Don’t let that happen. Asking questions helps you connect with others; it leads you to crack open a new book and to go down paths you might’ve never discovered.  

We are the largest youth generation ever, and we will be carrying out many of the decisions being made at the UN today. So why should we wait for a seat at the decision-making tables? The answer is, we shouldn’t. If you don’t like what you see around you, DO something about it. Nothing in this world is somebody else’s problem.

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Serving as the U.S. Youth Observer to the UN has been the greatest opportunity of my life, one I’ll remember forever. All I can say is THANK YOU to everyone who has engaged with me in person or online, to those who have shared personal stories with me, and to those who are working towards making the world a better place in your own ways. I want to give a special thank you to Anna Mahalak (UNA-USA) and Cain Harrelson (U.S. State Department), without whom, this program would not run. You have all inspired me immensely, and I cannot thank you enough. Let’s continue to work together towards a more just world we can be proud to call home.

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After my term, I will continue with my job at Instagram. Outside of work, I will be working on growing GIRLZ, FTW, a mentorship program I started for high school and college girls, inspired by women and girls I’ve met throughout my time as U.S. Youth Observer.  If you’re looking for a mentor or would like to mentor a girl, check www.girlzftw.com and follow along on Facebook for updates on our next round of applications! You can also engage with me on my personal Instagram @nicolandreap. I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation with all of you!

All the best,

Nicol

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