This week the Peace Boat US interns participated in an educational tour of the United Nations to learn about the history of the organization and their current projects for international peace and sustainability. While on the tour, they saw areas of the UN such as the Council Chambers for the Security Council, the Trusteeship Council, the Economic and Social Council, and the General Assembly Chamber, along with the Hall for Disarmament, exhibits on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Peacekeeping Missions, and a short talk on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Here are a few of their impressions about the UN Tour:
“I thoroughly enjoyed the entire tour and loved the experience of getting to see the Council Chambers. In particular, I found the Wall Exhibition on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights especially moving and beautiful. Even though I knew about the UDHR, written in 1948 by a committee headed by Eleanor Roosevelt, and knew several of the articles, it was still moving to see such a beautiful and conspicuous display devoted to them. It was both sad and uplifting to read the articles again, knowing that as a world we have come so far and yet still have so far to go to achieve universal human rights.
Two articles that seemed particularly relevant to me in today’s political climate were Article 14, about how all people have the right to seek asylum in another country if they are being persecuted in their own, and Article 25, concerning how everyone has the right to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their family ‘including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.’ In times when these and other rights expressed in the Declaration are being threatened in various ways, it is our duty to protect and advance the implementation of them instead. There has been an enormous amount of progress towards achieving the goals stated in the Declaration since it was written in 1948, especially in the realms of education, healthcare, and the elimination of discrimination. However there are still so many people denied the rights set forth in the document, such as the right to affordable and quality education and the right to have an adequate standard of living for the health and well-being of themselves and their families, and it just illustrates how much we still need to do.”
“Our guide took us into a hall of the UN that is dedicated towards disarmament. She categorized all of the weapons in the world into two main categories: conventional and weapons of mass destruction. During her discussion of conventional weapons, she focused on the long-lasting effects of landmines. One would think that something as fairly complex as a landmine would cost hundreds of dollars to make, but the opposite is true: landmines only cost a government $2 or $3 to produce. Because of the cheap cost, there is a huge number of mines that were used in a combat zone yet never detonated. For two nations in particular, Afghanistan and Cambodia, upwards of 70% of their land is uninhabitable because there are many undeployed mines buried in the soil. Children are the main victims as a result of this; they have not learned the difference between a landmine and a toy. Unexploded landmines also make it extremely hard for refugees to return to their homeland since the land is unsafe. Seeing all of the unintentional destruction that can be caused by a government spending $2 made me further recognize the need to find diplomatic solutions to issues instead of immediately turning to violent measures.
Then our tour group moved to looking at exhibits from Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The UN has a statue from a church that was 500 yards away from where the atomic bomb detonated in Nagasaki. The front of the statue is still intact because it fell face forward, but the backside of the statue is covered in a different pattern from the rest of the statues because it was exposed to the heat and pressure from the atomic bomb. I had not seen this statue before; it was sobering to see the extent of damage to solid rock from the pressure and heat of the blast. There were also some small household items that had been greatly warped and broken due to the pressure of the blast. I never thought I’d see a sturdy glass bottle warped in such a way.”
“While on the tour, our guide discussed the Sustainable Development Goals with us. The United Nations has 17 of these goals, all of which are incredibly important: quality education, zero hunger, good health, and gender equality are just a few of these goals. But the most basic and important goal, in her mind, is the sixth SDG, “Clean Water and Sanitation.” Every year thousands of people die around the world because of different bacterias in the water that they drink and use daily. Because of a lack of infrastructure and general development, it is very hard to clean the water in these countries. Most young female students are unable to go to school because they have to help others collect and clean the water. So by working to solve this problem, people also simultaneously make a significant impact towards achieving the goals concerning general health and wellbeing as well as providing quality education for girls and boys.
Before our guide shared her thoughts with us, I thought that there were other SDGs that held a higher priority than Goal 6, but now I can see how important achieving this goal is. Water is one of our basic needs and our need for it affects everything we do; among other uses, we drink it, use it to wash our foods, and use it for cleaning and sanitation purposes. Without basic cleanliness and sanitation, so many of the other goals cannot be achieved. So I am definitely in agreement that the change should start with helping people get clean water, a goal that organizations like UNICEF have made significant progress towards achieving.”
“Taking a tour at the United Nations for the first time was a unique and special experience for me. I was inspired to be in a place where many efforts have taken place to resolve conflicts and to promote peace and sustainability. Visiting the different councils, such as the General Assembly (where all 193 Member States meet to work on international issues), reminded me of the importance in cooperating with people around the world in order to attain international peace. While on the tour, I came across a quote on a wall that impacted me. It read “The world is over-armed and peace is underfunded.” This is an unfortunate truth, yet one that gives me hope because such a statement does not have to be true. Knowing that the United Nations is working on projects to mediate conflicts and to make sure that catastrophic events like Hiroshima and Nagasaki never occur again gives me the desire to help make the world a better place. It also provides me with the motivation to educate myself more about peace and sustainability, and to participate in activities that promote peace.”
“I’ve always wanted to go to the UN – the center of international nations that continuously strives for peace and cooperation. My first visit today met and exceeded any expectations I had. It was extraordinary to learn just how interconnected not only the UN member states and organizations are, but feel it in practically every corner. From the diplomatic gifts from other countries to learning about different nations’ contributions to the construction of various Council Chambers, it was a mesh of connectivity that I knew defined the United Nations, but didn’t really understand the extent of until my visit. One of the most impactful moments from the tour was in the disarmament hall. I’ve been aware just how underfunded peace operations are, but it was illuminating to see such a stark comparison to just how overfunded armament and military action is in relation to peace movements. It was also horrifying to know that only about $2 is needed to buy a mine, which plagues nations like Afghanistan and Cambodia. This, along with other vital information that was shared, reiterated the point that so much work is needed if there’s ever a chance of having a peaceful and healthy world.”