Human rights and youth leadership conference in USA
(First published date: 2006/2007 )
The UNESCO Chair & Institute of Comparative Human Rights at the University of Connecticut invited 30 young human rights leaders from around the world to participate in an inter-generational educational conference held on August 7 – 13, 2005, at the University of Connecticut, in Connecticut, USA.
“It was a great experience because there was a different point of view shared and on the other hand, it was quite difficult for us since they had different styles with work and organising presentations different from mine. One of the things that fascinated me was how they organised the presentations. Most of the presenters were very experienced academic people who allowed us to go deep into the information they were sharing. Nevertheless, we as participants needed to make a great effort because the schedule was very intensive, and we had to be ready at 8 am and most of the days finished at 10 pm.”
This phrase is not only Ms Aida Pena Celis’s expression after attending the conference but also represents all participants’ views. I have picked up this expression from the email list of the UNESCO chair. In this project, young people engaged through dialogue with experienced and older human rights practitioners to gain management skills and techniques and a greater understanding of human rights issues on a global level. The principal objective was to nurture individuals to be influential leaders in human rights.
The conference sought to promote sharing of experiences and understanding, provide an impulsion for the empowerment of youth leaders, and enable them to play a crucial and constructive role in developing human rights in their communities. The conference provided tools and a platform for open debates about policies, programs, activities and processes necessary for promoting human rights leadership. In addition, conference facilitators served in an ongoing capacity as mentors to the young conference participants upon their return to their home countries.
On 1st August 2005, I was at JFK airport in New York. On 7th August, I was scheduled to go to Connecticut for the conference. So a UNESCO bus came to pick me up at JFK airport around 2:30 pm in New York. Even before the bus came, I went swimming in the sea with a brother with whom I stayed in Queens. I remember the beach was near JFK airport. I had a wonderful time there because I enjoyed swimming in the sea for the first time. Unfortunately, even though I didn’t want to leave, I was late for the airport.
To be familiar with each other before the conference, we should have an introduction session and make a successful conference. We have facilitators’ training, which we have done after breakfast on Sunday.
After American lunch and a fantastic walking tour of the campus, we attended a leadership workshop, an essential tool in our lives. We must be discussed its characteristics like creativity, social understanding, charisma, sense of humour, ambition, intelligence, polity, confidence, generous and hard-working nature and many more. Many friends had a similar problem at lunchtime since we were not used to American food. I am familiar with European and American food but have adjustment difficulties. Sometimes it created problems for me because there was no alternative to pork and beef. So I always used chicken and potatoes instead of those.
In the evening, we had a welcome ceremony with dinner. After the conference, it was time for recreational activities where we could play indoor games. These types of activities developed a good relationship among participants. But I wanted to stay quiet. On Monday, after breakfast, we had a team meeting involved in developing a project. Dr Amii Omara-Otunnu, UNESCO Chair-Holder, addressed a keynote speech on human rights. He empowered youth on human rights issues. I realise that human rights as a tool for social change.
It’s time for the open forum, where we share our experiences and perspectives. I shared my few years’ experiences on human rights, youth and ICT campaign issues. I talked about the current situation in Nepal, where democracy had collapsed, and a power struggle was going on between the king, the political parties and the Maoists. I still remember; that Nepal is a country where rural girls are sold by their families for money. It pinched my inner heart. I realised that I have much more to do in this area too.
Picnic makes an excellent impression. The organiser had organised a breeze in a forest near the university. We even went hiking on a small hill. There was also a lake where some boats were floating, but there was no permission to swim. We played a stone-throwing game on the lake. In the forest, we chatted and sang songs too. We returned to the picnic and had boiled maise, fresh almonds, watermelon, and the BBQ.
Dr Amii talked to me about Nepal’s current issues. First, he said he was surprised at the 1st February 2005 royal takeover. Then, he opened an almond packet and added, “Nepalese people should develop a mechanism for a peaceful movement that never attacked democracy”. I agree with him; democracy is not a thing to give from someone. First, I played volleyball; there were two teams, male and female. I enjoyed playing it.
Similarly, we played coco ball; but I needed more ideas to play well. Baseball is my favourite game. We were exhausted. Games keep fitting our bodies.
Young people must be discussed current global issues like Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Human Trafficking, Gender Discrimination, and the plight of children and be aware of leadership skills for tomorrow. Usually, the human rights events had a workshop on Communications/organisation (Coalition Building, Advocacy, NGOs/Civil Society) and the use of the media in human rights reporting. So we have also attended that.
The informal meeting had ended by 10.00 pm, after which participants retired to their rooms. It was beautiful that nobody was willing to sleep. Lots of friends were hanging around in the standard room. We even made tattoos on our bodies. Some people were in the computer room because the computer room was opened only after 9 pm. After surfing the Internet for some time, I went to sleep at 2 am.
Our breakfast time always started at 8.00 am in a different building. Because of the late night, sometimes we woke up late, missed breakfast, and ran to attend the workshop starting at 9 am. Likewise, Dinner time was fixed at 5.30 pm onwards, and we always had to be on time. We had to do everything on time. Sometimes some of my friends also missed dinner. Some areas of campus were not easily accessible to people with disabilities, so you can request to contact the accessible van for transportation around campus. This service proved how much they care for differently able people.
Whisky! Mr Valery, A Russian friend who is a lawyer, invited us to test Russian whisky in the standard room around 10.00 pm. Some friends collected ice and cup from the university kitchen. Barbara, a Polish girl, served whisky with ice for all my friends; I had also taken a cup and tested it very slowly because I am not used to whisky. I finished it very fast and shared my experience that Russian whisky is like water. After that, she gave me a full cup. That was real whisky, which was rolling my head. It was the first time I drank whisky as water; it relaxed us.
We visited a university’s agriculture farm. There were lots of cows and buffaloes. They used advanced technology to get milk. Animals are brought to care more than three times a day. “Farm animals got better care than me’, my dear Mr Sarada, a Cambodian friend, joked. That area was rolling green hills. The farm manager not only briefed us about its activities but also provided us with ice cream.
I had taken chocolate ice cream. Since we had no time to eat it there, we ate it on the bus. Ms Sreyashi, an Indian girl, who was already on the bus with vanilla ice cream, requested me to stay with her. She sang the Nepali song, ‘Kanchi ho Kanchi…’. Indian girls are practical and have a good sense of humour. We both had finished our bus trip with a good chat, but not ice cream. Since we had taken the medium size, it was challenging to complete. I didn’t eat chocolate ice cream later, but I wanted that moment.
Their respect inspired me for a time, and it’s important to them. We were attending a workshop on land rights issues till 6.40.PM; the organiser informed us we must finish dinner before 7.00 pm. All the friends quickly finished dinner because they were interested in the open mike and culture night. Already lots of friends were involved in the rehearsal. This type of platform provides cultural exchange among participants.
Wow! Everyone wore a national dress and expressed their culture and clothing that day. Unfortunately, due to the organiser’s late information, I still needed to get my national dress. By the way, I had a postcard, banner and interactive CD provided by the Nepal Tourism Board. I distributed it. The programme provided ice cream, cake, juice and drinks (not more than coke). We all liked Aida Pena Celis, the Columbian girls’ performance. Finally, we all danced together.
Participants only sleep after an official workshop. With the end of the culture programme, around 10.00 pm, we started our campaign. At the university, we went to the bar and took beer in the open sky. Some friends came with pizza and KF chicken. Either boy or girl, all youth participated equally there till 2.00 pm. I was late checking my emails, so I went to the computer room and wished everyone a good night. Now, the current Global trend is peace. Every person needs peace. So, we discussed peace education, conflict resolution, politics, and NGOs.
The Interesting point was that we had four groups to make an action plan. Our group had made an action plan for the “child armed conflict in Nepal”. We all had different exciting fields during a proposal presentation, but most were for children. We had discussions about its implementation and formulation. In the evening, we had a farewell dinner and closing ceremony. That was the best, where the organiser provided the student’s participation certificate and remarks.
After the official closing ceremony, again, our campaign started at a bar. On this day we had lots of friends for drinks. Happy birthday, happy birthday…happy birthday to our dear friend Hassan Mousa… we all got notice of the party from the bar. They were celebrating Mr Hassan, an Egyptian boy’s birthday. We also had discussions about our further goals at midnight at the bar. Lots of friends were lawyers there. I asked Ms Nkaozer, the American girl who is a lawyer, about her interest in law. She told me, you know, Americans never become poor; it’s my hobby.
That day I couldn’t sleep; I was rolling and rolling in the bed. Just thinking about this university environment, does the bar distribute the education? Do you know if it is required at the university? I was inspired by this culture of drink, dance and study.
It’s our day, 12th August, International Youth Day; we had taken a boxed breakfast and started a bus trip to the United Nations Building in New York. We had an enjoyable bus trip. Ms Ethel, A Canadian girl, who knew about Hindi songs, handed me a CD player. I talked with our group leader Jane Francis Alowo. She encouraged me to keep in touch with this network for our action plan by introducing donor organisation representatives. A university lecturer in Uganda further added that developing countries and youth have many things to do. You can do it.
Our bus driver was well informed about New York, explaining the critical areas. The gap shopping centre was where I bought some clothes. After visiting Times Square, we all met in the UN building. I feel that New York security was crazy after the 9/11 attack. The organiser had already registered our name. So we visited the UN library, a place of the UN’s general assembly and more. We had lunch in the UN cafeteria. The UN building is situated in a lovely area close to the East River. We could see the statue of liberty and the island.
I was part of International Youth Day Activities at the UN, where many people showed their performances and speech. In addition, there was the UN general secretary, Mr Koffi Annan, to empower the youth. After participating in UN international youth day in the evening, we returned to Connecticut. I was surprised when everyone was concerned about Nepal’s current situation. Everyone had the same question about democracy, human rights, freedom of expression, and Maoist activities. In addition, the country of Mt. Everest, Lord Buddha’s birthplace, was falling into war. All wanted to know about the solution and what to do next.
On 13th August at noon, we departed for New York and then to our countries. Indeed great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget, my conference friend is fantastic, and I can’t forget at all. Lastly, The most important thing is that this conference gave me national & international identity & recognition; furthermore, it’s empowering and encouraged me and other youth to do something more in youth and human rights agendas.
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