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 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 organizing presentations which were different from mine. One of the things that fascinated me was how they organized 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 it represents all participants’ views. I have picked up this expression from the email list of 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 effective leaders in the field of human rights.
In my view, the conference sought to promote sharing of experiences and understanding and provide an impulsion for the empowerment of youth leaders and to enable them to play a crucial and constructive role in the development of human rights in their communities. I am confident that the conference provided tools and a platform for open debates about policies, programs, activities and processes necessary for promoting human rights leadership. I believe that conference facilitators served in an ongoing capacity as mentors to the young conference participants upon their return to their home countries.
On the 1st of August 2005, I had been 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 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 the first time, I enjoy swimming in the sea. Even though I didn’t want to leave, it was late for me to go to the airport.
Well, 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 wonderful walking tour of the campus; we had attended a leadership workshop, a significant 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 I have adjustment difficulties. Some times it really created problems for me because there was no alternative to pork and beef. I always used chicken and potato instead of those.
In the evening, we had a welcome ceremony with dinner. After the conference was finished, 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 realize that human rights as a tool for social change.
Its time for the open forum; where we shared our experience and perspectives. I shared my few years experiences on human rights, youth and ICT campaign issues. I talked about the current situation of Nepal, where democracy had collapsed, and a power struggle was going on between the king, the political parties and the Maoists. I still remember; Nepal is a country where rural girls are sold by their families for the sake of money. It pinched my inner heart. I realized that I have much more to do in this area too.
Picnic makes an excellent impression. The organizer had organized a picnic 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 for swimming. We played a stone-throwing game on the lake. In the forest, we chatted and sang songs too. We returned on the picnic spot and had boiled maize, fresh almonds, watermelon, and the BBQ.
Dr Amii talked to me about Nepal’s current issues. He said he was surprised at the Feb. first 2005 royal take over. 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 that a thing which is to give form someone.
First, I had played volleyball; there were two teams, male and female. I enjoyed playing it. Similarly, we played coco ball; but due to lack of ideas, I couldn’t play well. Baseball is my favourite game. We were exhausted. Games keep fitting our body.
Young people must be discussed on global current issues like Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Human Trafficking, Gender discrimination, the plight of children and aware of leadership skills for tomorrow. Normally, in the human rights events, they had a workshop on Communications/organization (Coalition Building, Advocacy, NGO’s/Civil Society) and use of the media in human rights reporting. We have also attended that.
The informal meeting had ended by 10.00 PM after which participants retired to their rooms. It was wonderful that nobody was willing to sleep. Lots of friends were hanging around in the common room. We even made tattoos in 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, sometime we woke up late and missed breakfast and ran to attend the workshop which started from 9 a.m. 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. Some times 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 layer, invited us to test Russian whisky in the common 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 friends; I had also taken a cup and tested it very slowly because I am not used to whisky. Amazing, 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 that I drank whisky as water; it made us relaxed.
We visited a university’s agriculture farm. There were lots of cows and buffaloes. They used developed technology for getting milk. Animals got 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. Manager of the farm 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 eat it at 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…’. I feel that Indian girls are practical in life and have a good sense of humour. We both had finished our bus trip with good chat, but not ice cream. Since we had taken the medium size, it was difficult for us to finish. I don’t eat chocolate ice cream later but wanted that moment.
I was really inspired by their respect for time, and it’s important for them. We were attending a workshop on land rights issues till 6.40.PM; the organizer informed us we must finish dinner before 7.00 pm. All the friends finished dinner very fast because they all 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! On that day, everyone came in their national dress and expressed their culture and dress. Due to the organizer late information, I didn’t have my national dress. By the way, I had postcard, banner and interactive CD provided by the Nepal Tourism Board. I distributed it. Ice cream, cake, juice and drinks (not more than coke stuff) were provided during the programme. We all liked Aida Pena Celis, the Columbian girls’ performance. Finally, we all danced together.
Actually, participants don’t sleep after an official workshop. With the end of the culture programme, around 10.00 pm, we started our own campaign. In the university, we went to the bar and took beer in the open sky. Some friends were coming with pizza and K.F. chicken. Either boy or girl; all youth participated equally there till 2.00 pm. It’s late for me to check emails, so I went to the computer room and wished a good night for all.
Now, Global current trend is peace. Every person needs peace. So, we had discussed on peace education, conflict resolution and politics and NGO’s.
The Interesting point was that we had four groups to make an action plan. Our group had made an action plan for “child armed conflict in Nepal”. During a proposal presentation, we all had different interesting fields, but the majority was 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 of all, where the organizer provided a certificate of participation and remarks of the student.
After the official closing ceremony, again, our campaign started at a bar. 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 that 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 said to me, you know, we 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? Is it required in the university? I was inspired by this culture drink, dance and study.
It’s our day, August 12, International Youth Day; we had taken a boxed breakfast and started a bus trip for 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 had talked with our group leader Jane Francis Alowo. She encouraged me to keep in touch with this network for our action plan with an introduction of donor organization representatives. A university lecturer in Uganda further added, developing countries youth have lots of things to do. I believe that you can do it.
Our bus driver was well informed about New York explaining the important 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 organizer had already registered our name. So we visited the UN library, a place of UN’s general assembly and more. We had lunch in the UN cafeteria. The UN building is situated on a very nice area close to the East River. We could see the statue of liberty and the island.
I was part of International Youth Day Activities in the UN, where lots of people showed their performance and speech. There was the UN general secretary, Mr Koffi Annan, to empower 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. Every person had the same question about democracy, human rights and freedom of expression as well as Maoist activities. A country of Mt. Everest and the birthplace of Lord Buddha was falling into war. All wanted to know about the solution and what next.
On 13th August at noon, we departed for New York and then to our countries.
Truly great friends are hard to find, difficult to leave, and impossible to forget, my conference friend is amazing, 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 encourage me and other youth to do something more in youth and human rights agendas.