Grace Spencer

Visiting the Human Rights Council in Geneva as a delegate of NAWO impacted me profoundly, and I am so grateful to Serene Communications for allowing me to take part in such an enriching experience. I felt that this trip changed me, and my fellow delegates, in so many ways – our worldview was expanded, our understanding of international relations was furthered, and our skills in presenting, communicating, and conducting ourselves were improved. I also had loads of fun, and made some great friends along the way!

Not only did we have the chance to sit in on the Human Rights Council and CEDAW while they were in action, which were brilliant and stimulating on their own, but we were able to engage with top members of the Council through meetings organised by Serene Communications. These were really valuable to us as curious young people, as we were able to get an insight into what goes on behind the scenes in an organisation as huge as the UN. On one occasion, we met with the Permanent Mission for the UK, which was fascinating – they responded really well and informatively to our questions. One aspect which I found personally very interesting was the relationship between the Mission and the UK Government. Learning that the Mission is completely under the control of the Government’s wishes, and must carry out and campaign for the issues which are of concern to it, made me consider the nature of the UN – that all parties are acting on a pre-agreed course of action, and not necessarily on their own conscience or ideals. This is just one example of the kinds of thought-provoking discussions which went on throughout the week, all of which I felt really lucky to be a part of.

Another element of the trip, and perhaps the most keenly-anticipated one on our behalf, was the opportunity to make speeches on topics which we were passionate about. The fact that we were present at the UN not just as viewers or tourists, but as active members of an NGO, made the whole experience so much more valuable and genuine – I felt as if I was doing all I could to make a real difference in the world. I was able to be part of a panel of speakers at an event on FGM, which was educational and incredibly moving, in equal measures. Researching, writing, and finalising my speech enabled me both to see what it is like to be part of a body like the UN and get your voice heard, but also to gain a more in-depth knowledge of the topic. It was brilliant to hear the stories of the two survivors, which broke myself and the other students out of our little Gloucestershire bubbles completely; we felt privileged to be present and to hear these stories from the most arresting and reliable source there is. The fact that Zarin, from Serene Communications, chaired and facilitated discussions, was appreciated both by myself – I would never have had such an enriching opportunity if it wasn’t for the organisation – and by the attendees at the event, all of which were very inspired.

Throughout the trip, it was wonderful to experience such a welcoming attitude towards us as young people; this came from both non-UN organisations, such as the Impact Hub, and also delegates from the Human Rights Council. Whenever I spoke to someone who I thought would brush me off as unimportant, I was met with a completely open mind, and someone who was ready to answer all my questions and engage with me. We were constantly assured that as young people, we were valued highly and respected, as the generation who will soon be building the future. This was all due to the work of Serene Communications in getting us our UN passes, which enabled us to access anywhere we wanted to go, and positioned us equally to everyone else there.

Overall, the visit really encouraged me to take action in my own community around the issues I heard and learnt about. I met so many interesting people who I am still in contact with, and will definitely carry those relationships forwards so that I can continue this work. This is the beauty of an experience which is as interactive and immersive as this one – it makes you see the world in a different way, formed of hundreds of interconnected entities, each equally important in building towards positive change. I came away not feeling small compared to the grand scale of things, as I’d anticipated, but with a sense of power.