My name is Ruby Woods; I am 17 years old and, from the 29th June to the 7th July 2018, I participated in an incredible trip to the UN Human Rights Council with Serene Communications. I was part of a team of 15 Stroud High and Marling sixth form students who took on the once in a lifetime opportunity, and I can honestly say it was an experience I will never forget.
From learning how the inner HRC mechanisms really work (and experiencing them for myself) to discovering global issues I had been ignorantly unaware of, the week I spent here was truly eye-opening. We arrived on Friday 29th June and obtained our UN passes, which, when flashing them to security as we entered, made me feel really professional and actually involved in the HRC processes. We had access to all the variety of side events and the main Human Rights Chamber, where we could watch and note down how countries interacted with one another and with NGOs. After a couple of days there I really found myself noticing patterns in behaviour; I learnt how diplomacy can be subtle, allycentred and occasionally shocking – a perfect example of this was when the high commissioner, as he was resigning following this session, called out Myanmar by saying “shame on you, shame on you”. It was a very exciting moment, especially since member states seemed to be so subtle around one another – his unrestrained honesty was really refreshing.
A couple of the most fascinating side events I attended were about Enforced Disappearances and an event held by the Special Rapporteur on Racism for civil society. The Enforced Disappearances panel included 4 victims of enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, including Dilon Steef who’s father was taken by Sri Lankan armed forces – their first hand accounts really gave the issue a human face. One of the most exciting aspects of our visit occurred on the first day when we met with the UK mission in a 1 and a half hour Q and A session. I learnt so much about how the mission worked and felt extremely privileged to have received their attention at such a busy time.
Having the freedom to attend events of my choosing also came with the opportunity to network. During this trip I gained a plethora of contacts that could really open doors for me in international relations, one of my chosen career paths. Not only that, having to approach people with meaningful and memorable conversations has been a huge lesson in building my confidence. However, the part of the visit I would say has most affected me was meeting Khadra Haji Cisman and Zubeda Abdi Dahir, two survivors of FGM/C, and hearing their stories. On the Wednesday evening we all sat down in a side event room and listened to their speeches, 10 minutes of my life that were emotional and eye-opening. By the end, most of us, including myself, had been moved to tears. This was the point at which I realised how privileged and sheltered I truly was, and the extent to which giving voices to the voiceless can really make a difference. I realised that it isn’t enough to simply read the headlines every few days and keep up with my news app, or even to look into current political events to keep up with my politics A-level. I now believe I must do more. Seeing these strong women, who now run a group in Northampton called FGM Conversations, open up about such a painful part of their lives was an experience I could possibly never have had without Serene Communications. I am determined now to use my privilege to help others, to keep far more updated on the world and to remain inquisitive.
Thank you for this incredible opportunity that has really helped me gain confidence, shape future career options and inspired me to do more to help others.