Australian Youth Volunteer for IPA at the United Nations
On the third of April I had the immense privilege of traveling from Sydney to New York City to begin six months as a Short term Representative for the International Presentation Association at the United Nations. I was invited to join Sr. Elsa in her amazing work here and assist the IPA in its goal in giving a voice to those whom society has neglected. As an NGO with Special consultative status to the Economic and Social Council, the IPA seeks to create systemic change in addressing the root causes of the many issues that Pope Francis referred to as the ‘open wounds’ of a planet marred by mass inequalities.
I hope to draw upon past experiences, work, studies and activism regarding human rights in general, but more specifically Indigenous rights in Australia, refugee rights and the rights of the woman and child, to assist me in my time here in New York.
Over the past two weeks I have been given an in depth introduction to the work of the sisters, both at a grass roots level, as well as higher up on a policy and advocacy level, as well as the inner workings of the complex body that is the United Nations. I was lucky enough to arrive in time for the week long Commission on Population and Development, as well as many powerful side events such as the Conference on Ending Human Trafficking by 2030 and the Thematic Round Table on eliminating forced labour, among several others.
The events I have attended in the past two weeks, as well as the other NGO meetings I have accompanied Sr Elsa to, at which IPA is present, such as the Mining Working Group at the UN, were highly informative and have introduced me to countless inspiring people. Being more directly confronted with the many issues facing todays world, it was easy to question what difference I, as a single person could possibly do in the face of all this horror and tragedy. The scope and magnitude of the UN has the capacity to render feelings of powerlessness and it is hard to not feel overwhelmed. Yet if there was one thing this past fortnight has taught me, is that this is not about me. This is about the women and children, trafficked across borders and treated as commodities. This is about the migrants and refugees, who have fled from their homes in fear for their lives and the lives of their families, only to arrive at their destinations (if they are the lucky ones) to be met with racism, exclusion and policies that marginalize and discriminate. This is about the women in far too many countries around the world without access to reproductive health systems, the hundreds of women who die every day from preventative causes related to pregnancy.
And through learning about the grass roots involvement of the Presentation sisters in their local communities, and the thousands of men, women and children they have empowered, as well as their efforts to bring this invaluable local knowledge to the higher policy making levels, it has renewed my energy to not speak for others, but give them a platform to speak for themselves. As Pope Francis said ‘the question has to be asked: who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me.’
In a society that has forgotten how to experience compassion, how to feel responsible for others, I hope whatever small contribution I can make to the work of the IPA will encourage my fellow youth to not feel powerless or ignore the suffering in face of its magnitude, but to see how they can contribute in their own communities.