Sr. Catherine Prendergast writes, “I thought I would take the approach of adding the voice of a young person to our sharing.” So here’s Michael O’Driscoll…
When you pass through the gates of that Iconic building which houses the United Nations in New York, you find yourself standing in a plaza of sorts.
Magnificent pieces of sculptural art grace this area…gifts from member states.
My eyes were drawn to a stark piece over on the banks of the East river. Skeletal, gaunt figures emerging from a ship. You could discern the relief etched on their sunken features but their pain was also there for all to see.
It was the Irish famine memorial and how it resonates for today’s world of displaced peoples and the many victims of famine and injustice.
The next image which caught my eye was a large colourful banner—red, green, blue—primary colours, announcing “ 17 GOALS TO TRANSFORM OUR WORLD.”
These are the sustainable development goals and it was the Irish Ambassador-HE David Donoghue who along with the Kenyan ambassador achieved an historic UN agreement on a visionary set of goals aimed at the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, fight against corruption and the transformation of the global economy towards a sustainable growth path.
As part of transition year [year 4 of the secondary school cycle in Ireland], students are encouraged to explore the varying organs of our society and in doing so, gain a greater appreciation of ourselves, others and the world we live in.
I was extremely fortunate to be accepted at the DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY mission to the United Nations. Sr. Catherine Prendergast and Sr Margaret O’Dwyer are the representatives and they, along with other humanitarian and religious NGOs, work as advocates for the dispossessed, the displaced and those who are ‘voiceless ’[Previuosly, Sr. Catherine worked in the north inner city of Dublin and Sr Margaret spent 10 yrs in the Cook Islands of the south Pacific.]
They work closely with The Vincentian Fathers and Brothers and during my days in their office it was clear to me that they are tireless and inspirational advocates for people they serve.
On the first day of my placement I learned all about the different branches of the United Nations and how the NGOs interact with the political delegates. Later in the week I attended a workshop on “Advocacy Skills.” This very interesting and interactive group discussion advised the NGO representatives on how best to approach and inform the member state delegates as to what is really happening on the ground. Through diligent gathering of data and stories the plight of the oppressed peoples can be illuminated to government officials in order to advocate their case.
Among the issues highlighted were how the multinational mining companies violate the human rights of indigenous people by failing to fully implement the United Nations principle of free, prior and informed consent. The mantra of this advocacy group was “DO NO HARM” and by patiently persevering and repeating their message at every opportunity, they earned the moniker ‘the do no harm group’. It struck me how powerful, effective and recognizable these three little words had become.
The Daughters of Charity at the United Nations have been very effectively involved with the Commission on the Status of Women [CSW]. This aims to eliminate and prevent all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls and the achievement of gender equality by 2030.
I have always taken my “documented identity” for granted—it shocked me to learn that this is one of the key issues being highlighted and advocated for by the Daughters of Charity. In their submission to the Secretary General on the CSW they write: “we urge all governments to register all births and issue a birth certificate and identity card to every child free of charge.”
During the week I met many interesting people. I spoke with “Memo,” a Vincentian priest who had to flee Columbia for fearlessly speaking out against a corrupt regime. I talked to Carol, a student of occupational therapy who hoped to work with the UN peace Corps. It was surreal to sit inside the iconic chambers of the United nations building.
The overriding feeling at the end of the week was a feeling of being challenged…my awareness of the injustices which are tolerated had risen to a whole new level.
I was introduced to concepts, language and ways of thinking with which I was not previously familiar. Although often criticised, I could see how powerful social media can be when used properly.
The NGOs at the United Nations perform a vitally important role and I witnessed at first hand their commitment to raising awareness of issues that impact catastrophically on the lives of those that are vulnerable and sometimes forgotten by our society. It became very clear to me that each one of us can advocate to reach OUR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS FOR 2030.
(eds. note: #MichaelisVincent)