These past two weeks have been very busy as an intern at the United Nations World Tourism Organization in New York City! I spend my time attending meetings at the United Nations (about 6-7 hours/day), networking with new colleagues, and of course enjoying the city as much as possible. Since I moved to New York City, I have felt an overwhelming sense of liberation and optimism. The city has also helped me grow more independent and concrete about my future plans. While it did take me some time to get adjusted, especially after losing hours of sleep due to the traffic noises and getting lost every other day, it has been a beautiful experience throughout. The city definitely has its ups and downs, but as Le Corbusier puts it, “a hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times: It is a beautiful catastrophe”.
The first day of my internship at the UNWTO felt surreal. It really did not hit me I was an intern at the UN until I swiped my ground pass at the security checkpoint to allow access inside the United Nations Headquarters. That first day was a mix of emotions and thoughts – from being confused as to where to go, excited to learn about the UN system and the UNWTO, and even anxious for the unknowns of the next two months.
My First Day of Work in the News Building where the UN Women and UNWTO offices are located
I found relief and sense of peace after my first assignment which was to attend and write a summary report for the UNWTO on the Coordination and Management Meetings for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Everything that I have studied and read about sustainable development and my research of the Sustainable Development Goals, was finally right in front of me.
ECOSOC Coordination and Management Meeting
This meeting opened up with the first panelist, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Jan Eliasson, which stated how the present global society has seen improvements in longevity due to advances in medical science, economic growth, and healthier lifestyles. Yet, some countries have not progressed in these areas, but continue to worsen. For example, women in many countries still face extreme limitations in their socio-economic environments. These limitations in conjunction to the new challenge of climate change will affect not only the poor but the rich and future generations to come.
The second panelist, former president of Chile Eduardo Frei, brought up similar statements in his speech while also explaining how Latin American countries have reduced poverty to the greatest extent, yet continues to fail to fix the structural and economic inequality in comparison to other nations. At the same time, there is also a great need globally for public policy to address the failing markets, social stability, and sustainable development.
Throughout the meetings, various panelist discussed the limitations of the Millennium Development Goals such as not achieving progress in gender and income equality issues. As one of the panelist stated, the Millennium Development Goals goals and targets only cured symptoms rather than the actual problems. Lastly, how the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations will need to address these shortcomings.
My second task of the first week was to attend the 8th Session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Throughout the three days of the conference, there was a consensus by the NGOs, panelists, and State Parties on the shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals for persons with disabilities. Based on the general debate, it seemed that these goals overlooked disability which ultimately continued to leave this vulnerable group invisible from policy decisions.
8th Session of the Conference of State Parties to the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
There was also an overall consensus that the new Sustainable Development Goals will need to reflect the perspectives of persons with disabilities by incorporating the vision of social inclusion, economic growth, and environmental systems. The last consensus of the conference was that each State Party needed to conduct proper data collection to understand the needs of persons with disabilities correctly in order to produce results. Especially, for research that links to dollar amount lost and societal costs for leaving persons with disabilities without their human rights and fair opportunities, then policy makers will be more inclined to create public-private partnerships and policies.
I found this conference to be extremely eye opening for me because I had never critically thought out the economic impact on society when persons with disabilities are ignored. It also encouraged me to network with various NGOs that were in the conference who work to implement strategies such as accessibility, built environment, communication, and transportation for persons with disabilities. This got me thinking about my concentration and hospitality background, “How many tourist resorts have I been to that accommodated a blind or deaf person in their activities and facilities?” Sustainable tourism does take into account the social aspect of the local community and its guests, but is it still leaving out the most invisible vulnerable community group?
For my second week, I attended and reported on the Third International Conference Financing for Development drafting meetings which included delegates giving proposals on the document while the facilitators tried to compromise with all the suggestions made. The real conference will take place on July 13-16 of this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but it is prepared through these informal consultations at the United Nations Headquarters. The purpose of the conference will be to gather high-level political representatives such as the Heads of State and Government, Ministers of Finance, Foreign Affairs and Development Cooperation as well as other key stakeholders that include business sector entities and NGOs. The conference should end in an intergovernmental agreed outcome for the support of the post-2015 development and Sustainable Development Goals.
Financing for Development
As for life in New York City, it has been blissful. I have found it very easy to meet new and interesting people while strengthening bonds with old friends. I even feel spoiled that I’m able to enjoy life in Manhattan and the occasional Brooklyn trips to the fullest. It has also felt like a luxury not having to rely on a car as my only source of transportation. Instead, I get to explore the city by walking to destinations. Even my workouts have taken me to fun spots! Fortunately, I live very close to the Brooklyn Bridge, so I jog across the bridge, all the way to the Brooklyn Bridge Parks. Hopefully, this weekend I will take the metro to Central Park to go running there. New York City has even made me a little more spontaneous in the sense that I can’t really plan what each day will bring because each day is full of new experiences. For example, one day I watched how a film crew shot a scene for the movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Two while on the way to dinner.
Filming of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in Soho
There are jazz bands playing in the metro. People-watching never gets boring here; there is always someone that stands out from the crowd! Also, going out in New York is the best. The two weekends here have been quite eventful. So far my favorite area to go out in is the meatpacking district because of the High Line Park and bars. I really enjoy the view of Manhattan from The Standard Hotel Rooftop Lounge Le Bain. Another highlight of the weekend was bonding with one of my roommates. Last Sunday we walked the Brooklyn Bridge to attend a food tent festival called Smorgasboard, where over a 100 food vendors from all over the city sell food by the Brooklyn Bridge Park. New York City has a lot to offer and I’m eager to keep exploring new spots and events!
Lunch with Colleagues. Mr. Sarbulan Khan, Senior Counsellor of the UNWTO. Yumna Khan, Intern at UNWTO. Mr. Rafeeuddin Ahmed, Special Representative of the UNWTO
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Well, that concludes my first two weeks here. I am looking forward to the rest of my time here. Ciao!