How my trip to the UN changed me

Jaxon Washburn traveled to the United Nations as part of a URI North America-sponsored program for young adult interfaith leaders. This trip occurred during World Interfaith Harmony Week. Washburn is the founder of The World and Religion Tolerance Society, a high school interfaith in Arizona and a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative. 

Recently, I had the tremendous fortune of traveling to and attend the 55th Commission for Social Development at the United Nations in New York City.

This took place as part of a celebration for World Interfaith Harmony Week put on through a grassroots non-profit organization that I am a part of called the United Religions Initiative. The whole journey was an unreal experience and greatly expanded my own perspective on the world, youth engagement, and of course, the increasing importance of the values of interfaith in the world today.

World Interfaith Harmony Week is celebrated during the first week of February, and my trip was the first three days of the global week of interfaith observance. After a long, yet occupied plane ride in anticipation of the impending experience, I touched down in New Jersey at the Newark Airport. From there, I took a shuttle bus directly to our in Times Square. During the ride, I was happy to engage in some conversation with a group of Belgian tourists, the topics ranging from where we had traveled to relevant politics. Already at that point, extreme diversity was completely apparent everywhere I looked. After reaching the hotel, I explored Times Square and the bustling city surrounding me.

New York could only be compared to some massive organism that never slept and was always on the move, breathing in and out massive crowds of cars and humans alike.

Culture shock is a highly accurate description of the feeling I experienced at that time. No matter where I set my gaze, a myriad of ethnicities, persons, and languages were present. Having an internal radar of all things religious, I often found myself guessing or identifying nearby individuals according to their faith. Whether walking or driving through the city, one could easily spot many Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists. I was in awe, both of the towering edifices crammed in such close proximity to each other, as well as the multitude of hosts they contained. New York could only be compared to some massive organism that never slept and was always on the move, breathing in and out massive crowds of cars and humans alike.

After being very much overwhelmed by the change of scenery, I joined with the small group of other youth representatives I was staying with, and after getting dinner in an Irish pub, we retired for the night.

The next day, we all awoke bright and early and took off to get our proper identification for our impending day at the United Nations. Our hotel being on 41st Street, we walked several blocks through the city, even passing through Grand Central Station, before we got to the identification building so that we could get certified to enter the United Nations itself. After a process of handing over our papers and getting temporary lanyards with our official U.N. ID’s, we went through various security checkpoints to get properly screened. Being the foremost center of international diplomacy, the security was far more intensive and rigorous than I had ever before experienced.

After briefly surveying the inner room, we quickly walked to the meeting room where we would observe our first of two meetings. This session was titled “Promoting Integrated Policies for Poverty Eradication: Youth Development in the 2030 Agenda” and was attended by various representatives from all over the world.

Finally, stepping out of security after being deemed clean of any contraband items, we stepped into the central courtyard of the United Nations. The morning air was crisp and after a brief photo shoot in front of the various symbolic statues and outdoor works of art, we stepped through the grand entrance of the main UN building. After briefly surveying the inner room, we quickly walked to the meeting room where we would observe our first of two meetings. This session was titled “Promoting Integrated Policies for Poverty Eradication: Youth Development in the 2030 Agenda” and was attended by various representatives from all over the world. They all spoke about how their country was focusing on increasing socioeconomic development in their youth and women through social programs, education, and various empowerment projects. China, Madagascar, Portugal, Uruguay, Iran and others all voiced their reports on the development of such efforts in their respective countries.

Afterward, our group got a quick lunch in one of the cafes in the building and then took part in an interactive discussion regarding youth delegate programs in the United Nations. There, various youth representatives from countries such as Australia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, the Netherlands and others were able to share some of the successes, challenges, highlights and obstacles they had faced in taking part in their country’s Youth Delegate programs.

We toured the remainder of the United Nations building that we had access to. We were able to view gifts and international artwork, as well as exhibits.

Afterward, we toured the remainder of the United Nations building that we had access to. We were able to view gifts and international artwork, as well as exhibits dedicated to the history of the United Nations, tragedies such as the Holocaust, and modern epidemics such as sexual violence and the conflicts in the Middle East. Every item had a story, and every story made a special impression on those who experienced it, myself included. Following a full day there, we soon retired back to our hotel rooms for a few hours before joining together again to end the night with a group dinner at a local Italian restaurant.

The final day as the other members of my group departed, I was finally able to really tour New York and make special visits to its foremost tourist spots. The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Memorial for the World Trade Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the New York Public Library, the Holocaust Museum, and Central Park were all destinations I quickly make stops at before finally catching my shuttle to the airport and embarking on the plane ride home.

I returned from New York, the United Nations, and the trip as a changed individual. While there, my perspective became more global and my worldview enriched, with several meaningful relationships fostered with those I had spent time with there.

Jaxon (2nd from right) with other URI members visiting the United Nations for World Interfaith Harmony Week.

In the end, I returned from New York, the United Nations, and the trip as a changed individual. While there, my perspective became more global and my worldview enriched, with several meaningful relationships fostered with those I had spent time with there. I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to take part in this trip. The experiences I had and the impact it has made on me are something I am confident can only come once in a lifetime. With the help of the United Religions Initiative, I will forever remember World Interfaith Harmony Week in reference to the lasting relationships I created, and the meaningful lessons I learned while there.

Now, more than ever, I am committed to working towards a more inclusive, global, and understanding society. These are values I believe in, and thanks to organizations, such as URI and the United Nations, those values have a chance towards changing many more lives, just as they have my own. In the end, I am confident that we are all better together and I know that together, it is truly possible for peace to prevail on earth.

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Read reflections from other trip participants here and here.

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