What do people think of the United Nations? It is unnecessary! It saves many lives! If I walked around and asked random people on the streets, I might get very controversial answers. Even though this supranational organization has existed for the past 74 years, there are still opposite viewpoints, mostly depending on the country of origin. Nevertheless, even within the same country you might get very different responses on the UN, its importance and impact on this world. However, it seems that this organization and its advocating NGOs are based on a very fundamental truth that humanity often forgets about. Let me share my limited insight from my brief, but intense experience with this matter so far.
My name is Lukas Wenninger and I started interning here at the Congregation of the Mission at the United Nations in New York a little bit over a month ago. I was born and raised in Austria but went to Niagara University for my undergraduate in International Studies and Spanish for different reasons. I also studied abroad in Barcelona, Spain for one semester which enhanced my cultural awareness and appreciation of diversity. However, when I started this internship in mid-September, I had to face reality in a way I haven´t done before. It is one thing to study and experience international relations in school, but – as important as it is – it is just a very small piece of practically working in this field. Given that I am just a fresh intern, my experience so far is very limited, but mostly overwhelming, due to the work we do here at the Congregation of the Mission. At this point, it is fair to mention that my boss, Guillermo Campuzano – or Memo as he wants to be called – is not treating me like a regular intern but with his great leadership style and support, he kind of threw me into the cold water. What do I mean by that?
Immediately, I got familiarized with the core project of our organization as part of the Working Group to End Homelessness (WGEH) and got assigned various tasks to participate, investigate and work in a very meaningful way. Memo took me to almost every meeting he had where I not only met very knowledgeable and experienced people, but also had to face the issues that this world is encountering daily. It is a normal part of a human being to filter information and remember only the things that are pressing or important to us in some way. By nature, we receive too much information daily and have to ignore or forget a big portion of it in order to function properly. However, besides this fact, there is another type of information that we as human beings neglect or often even oppress. It is the reality that we are living in. We live in a self-centered society that is predominantly focused on me, myself and I. Even if we do charitable things, it is mostly to feel better about ourselves because we want to see positive change in our immediate environment. As great and important as those charitable actions are, they are just the top of the iceberg that our minds are trying to marginalize as much as we can.
Every day 15,000 children die of treatable causes across the globe.
Every year one billion children – half of the world´s children – experience violence. Right now, 1.8 billion people are inadequately housed or homeless, most of them being women, children and indigenous people.
Let those facts from experts sink for a moment. That is horrifying news for a huge portion of humanity and it influences them in this very moment while I am writing this article, while you are reading this article. As I dwelt on these facts, I became downcast and almost depressed since there doesn´t seem to be a quick and easy solution. Those failures and violations are the result of systemic exploitation over centuries. It is engrained in our daily lifestyle if we want it or not. There is no quick fix nor single action that can stop this misery. The complexity of the UN is partially due to this reality. There are billions of people with different experiences, needs and opinions that deserve to be addressed in a supranational organization that tries to work for the good of all people all around the globe. I don´t want to justify its complexity because I truly believe that it can be reformed, made simpler and more effective. However, now that I am practically starting to experience UN meetings and to face really pressing issues daily, it became crucial to me to find meaning in the work that God has blessed me with.
It seems foolish to me to ignore the reality billions of people are suffering under every day as foolish as it is to solely brand the UN and NGOs as idealistic, but complex. Even though latter two descriptions definitely contain some truth, they don´t tell the whole story. Given my limited experience and insight, there is one aspect that might be the most important one when it comes to practical implications for you and me dealing with the UN. It is this: The UN starts with you!
As weird and platonic as it sounds, it contains profound truth. The United Nations tries to uphold human rights, advocate and work on the behalf of the good for the entire world. You and me – we are part of this. Your life, your voice, your actions matter not only on a local, but global scale. Obviously, that is easy to say as part of Civil Society. More importantly though, you don´t need to be engaged in Civil Society, because you – with all your gifts, friends and influence – can be a driver of change that has global consequences. Let´s take the example of Fridays for Future. Some people are describing it as idealistic approach to have a minor impact on today´s society and future generations. However, it is so much more than that. Fridays for Future is a great example of people all around the world, mostly younger generations, realizing that their voice matters on both a local and global scale.
Humanity is often tempted to solely think on a big scale, meaning only big changes are significant. We need to realize though that big changes consist of little steps in our local community. As I have learned in my internship so far, we have the resources to change the status quo into a sustainable home for all human beings. The world´s problems are not a quick fix which makes global organizations like the UN seem so abstract because it tries to work on behalf of billions of people, especially those that are easily forgotten about. However, in order to make the UN simpler, in order for you and me to see big changes and find meaning in the daily work we do, we have to start with little steps in our daily life.
As much as globalization fostered the gap between rich and poor, powerful and marginalized people groups, it allows one big advantage: each action even in the smallest community on this earth has global significance. Sometimes we might not see it. However, if I have learnt one thing at my internship at the Congregation of the Mission so far, it is that little steps matter and have great impact. There are countless stories of communities that have been impacted by little steps which are now gaining global importance. Events like the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty or expert reports at UN committee meetings like Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF Ms. Charlotte Petri Gornitzka clearly show that even though a lot more needs to be done, each action matters on the global scale.
I am very grateful to have experienced this challenge of facing reality so far throughout my internship. There are many little steps undertaken at this very moment and I encourage you to contribute your part because together we can have a great impact. As much as politics and bureaucracy might often prevent rather than foster sustainable progress, each little step in a local community can culminate to an even great impact that saves and improves lives all across the globe. No matter how limited your insight or experience is, the internship here at the United Nations proved to me that you and I matter for so much more than our only life. We are together in this world to bless others with each action we undertake.