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.

You Could Be Heading to the United Nations.

Photo: The General Assembly room at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. 

The United Religions Initiative has a longstanding relationship with the United Nations and this year we are proud to sponsor URI North America members to travel to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to celebrate World Interfaith Harmony Week!

To apply to participate, fill out the form below or click here

Want a better idea of what this trip could mean for you? Read through some of the reflections from last year’s delegation to the United Nations:

 

Details of this Year’s Trip: 

  • The trip to New York will include an experience at the United Nations with URI UN Representative Monica Willard. It is likely that this will include a public opportunity for participants to share about the work of their Cooperation Circle. 
  • URI North America will provide a trip for three members of three different North America Cooperation Circles or Affiliates to the United Nations in New York, NY. 
  • We plan to fully fund the trip for participants. The details, will be announced privately to trip participants.
  • The duration and exact dates of the trip have not yet been determined; however, the general time frame is February 1 – 13.  
  • Participants will be selected by members of the URI North America Leadership Council – Priority consideration will be given to youth. 

Requirements:

  • The applicant must be a member of a URI North America Cooperation Circle or Affiliates.
  • The applicant must have celebrated International Day of Peace 2016. 
  • The applicant or someone from their Cooperation Circle/Affiliate must submit a report of this celebration at: http://urinorthamerica.org/web/idp_report_2016/
  • This application form must be submitted by December 13  at 9am (PST). Applicants will be notified of the results by January 6

Please email northamerica@uri.org with any questions.  

Cooperation Circles celebrate women this March

March is Women’s History Month in the United States and some North American Cooperation Circles are celebrating! These celebrations also coincide with United Nations International Women’s Day on March 8.

The purpose of International Women’s Day is “to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities,” according to the day’s website.

The theme of 2015 is “Empowering Women – Empowering Humanity: Picture It!

If your Cooperation Circle of URI North America Affiliate is celebrating but not highlighted here, emails Regional Coordinator Sari Heidenreich at northamerica@uri.org.

Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada

Las Vegas, NV

Event: “What is Christian Science? Who is Mary Baker Eddy?”

More information.

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Rothko Chapel

Houston, TX

Event: Mending Bones: Walking a Bone Labyrinth

mending circle“To commemorate International Women’s Day, step inside a unique labyrinth on the Rothko Chapel plaza and engage in the ancient practice of walking contemplation. Installed by artist Jo Zider, this labyrinth is composed of ceramic “bones” that invite participants to consider violence against women, and what role we might all play in compassionately ending it. In the center of the labyrinth, place a bone in the healing circle as a prayer or indication of your intention. The labyrinth is available during Chapel hours.”

Event: From Dictatorship to Democracy

“Learn the skills and methods needed for nonviolent political change from the people who trained the leaders of the Egyptian, Burmese, and Georgian revolutions, among many others. Jamila Raqib, Executive Director of The Albert Einstein Institution leads a workshop in the Rothko Chapel with extensive opportunity for dialogue and networking; lunch is available for purchase. The Albert Einstein Institution was founded by Dr. Gene Sharp in 1983 to advance the study and use of strategic nonviolent action in conflicts throughout the world. It has been responsible for the translation and dissemination of some of the most influential texts on nonviolent action, including Dr. Sharp’s From Dictatorship to Democracy, which have been studied among resistance movements worldwide.” More information.

Event: 17th Annual Women’s Interfaith Seder

“The Passover seder is a ritual meal that recounts and celebrates the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and their journey to freedom. This Haggadah or liturgy is a feminist text, focusing on the women of the Exodus and notable contemporary Jewish women. Some Biblical scholars believe that Jesus’ last supper was a seder because Jesus was Jewish and the event occurred during Passover. More recently, the story of the Exodus figured prominently in the American civil rights movement. The seder themes of oppression, liberation, and remembrance are universal and timeless, so women of all faiths will find this to be a meaningful experience.” More information. 

Event: Women’s History Month Dinner Series

“We’ve organized a series of small dinners to take place during Women’s History Month. Guests will gather in the homes of women of Muslim faith background to enjoy a meal and conversation. Women of any age are welcome!” More information.

Voices for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons CC

original_GenderVoicesInitiative: With the support of the URI Multiregion and United Nations Association of San Francisco, “the UNA Gender Crosstalk is an online community where the crowd-sourced voices of the genders will weave a tale of love and wit, remaking humanity’s vision of itself in the process. Through this new lens, the human race will see itself as the intelligent, generous and capable species that we are, giving us the trust and confidence we need to cooperate on pressing global matters…Participate yourself by writing a short message (150 words or less) to be voted on by others.” Join in!