My name is Victoria Gao, and I am a student from International School Seychelles. As I was born and raised in the Seychelles, many aspects of my life have been closely entangled with the local flora and fauna. This had heavily influenced me into joining local NGOs such as SYAH and UN Youth Seychelles, as the concept of preserving the environment has always been a top priority within the Seychelles.
Thus, when an email came through to our school promoting the UN Youth Assembly, it immediately caught my interest. I then directly contacted UN Youth Seychelles founder, Ms. Annarose Clarisse to obtain more information. The UN Youth Assembly is a unique platform where youths from around the globe gather together and obtain the opportunity to engage in discussions and stimulate new ideas in ways to achieve a sustainable future for all.
I decided to apply as I see it as an incredible, once in a life time opportunity to really broaden my horizons and to ensure I am capable of disproving the stereotype with members of a small island nation like Seychelles being associated with having tunnel vision. I felt the urge to relish this opportunity and really open my eyes and mind to see the different opinions and issues youth my age is facing from various parts of the world.
Furthermore, I wanted to raise awareness to the youths of Seychelles so they would more likely be engaged implementing the SDGs locally. I would use the experience and knowledge obtained at the Youth Assembly and widespread the knowledge here by working with the local NGOs.
Applications to the Youth Assembly were done through their online website, and it was necessary to fill in some questions regarding the SDGs as well as your current involvement. Then a fee of 100USD deposit was to be made after your acceptance email comes through. In total, the fees were around 3300USD.
To be able to attend, Seychellois citizens must apply for an US visa. Unfortunately, we do not have an American embassy locally and the nearest office is in Mauritius. This was quite inconvenient for our team this year as they had to travel to Mauritius first to obtain their Visa. Fortunately for me, I already obtained one so that trip was avoided.
The application process went fairly smoothly, and my acceptance email came through around 2-3 weeks after application. However, one obstacle I faced was the funds. Since UN Youth Seychelles is a non-for-profit organization, businesses could provide sponsorship and the amount they sponsor could be deducted through CSR tax payments. Luckily for me, I was able to find a company that is willing to fund my US trip. There was also a case where a member’s trip was fully self-endorsed, but 3300USD with an approximate of 25000scr for air fares is a vast amount and thus I would suggest trying and get sponsorships from companies early to ensure fees are covered.
Summary of the Programme
Our first destination was New Jersey. Since our scheduled check-in time at the Farleigh Dickinson University was early in the morning, we arrived the night before and stayed at the Hyatt Hotel.
As we arrived at the Fairleigh Dickinson university, Florham campus, we were immediately greeted by friendly staff that directed us to the lobby where we collected our name badge, UN pass, documents, toiletries as well as a bag of complimentary snacks. They then provided us with a guided campus tour to show us the facilities and be familiarized with the location as we stayed there for 3 nights. It gave me great insight to what college life would be like.
On the first night, after dinner all the delegates gathered at the field in front of the student center, and there they held a scavenger hunt, which was a great ice breaker.
The landscape was vast and filled with greenery. FDU’s Florham campus is situated in a suburban area which gives a very refreshing feeling, away from the chaotic, quick paced city.
During our stay, we met with our assigned peer mentor, who helped provide guidance on our Social Venture project for Sustainable Development, which our assigned groups have been working together on since before we arrived in the US. We also attended lectures on social entrepreneurship, delivered by the university professor, which was very inspiring.
On the third day, we boarded the bus for the scheduled field trip to visit one of the pharmaceutical giants in the industry, Novartis Corporation. There, we had breakfast and attended a formal presentation followed by a Q&A session led by the Corporate department head. It allowed me to have better insight to how corporate is sharing social responsibility and contributing to the Social Development Goals.
the next day, we packed up our suitcases and was scheduled to travel to New York city, but before that, we presented our Social Venture Project that we have been working on for the past month. We gave a 15 mins presentation and was given feedback from the judges. After lunch, the winners were announced, and we boarded the bus foe transfer to NYC.
In New York, we resided at Pace university dormitory. The campus is in the heart of lower Manhattan and had the exciting and exhilarating feel of the fast-paced city life.
During our stay in New York, our main activities were visits to the United Nations Headquarters to attend the UN Youth Assembly. As we arrived at the UN visitors entrance, we had to produce our photo ID as well as our badges and previously allocated UN pass. After we’ve passed through security check-in and screening, we were given a guided tour inside the UN Headquarters. In the evening, we headed back to UN Headquarters to attend the Youth Assembly Official Opening Ceremony at the general assembly hall. It was an amazing experience to be able to visit there and I was absolutely awed by the surreal experience. I had this feeling of being closer to something bigger, I truly felt I should thrive to accomplish more. I was riveted by my surroundings and the innovative youth leaders around me. That very same hall, where Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, where Fidel Castro gave his speech gave his infamous 4 hours speech on the ‘philosophy of robbery”, where numerous remarkable events that had led to lasting impacts on our lives, and there I was, standing in the heart of all that.
There, I attended many conferences and workshop panels on subjects such as “Empowering Youth to take action on the Global Refugee Crisis”, “Out with Exclusion, in with Rights”, “Environment, Poverty and an Inclusive Green Economy” and many more revolving social, environmental, economic and youth discussions. It was absolutely mind opening and engrossing. I was exposed to many topics and issues that I was not aware of before and it was like an abrupt wake up call to me that 16 years of living and yet I knew so little about matters that should be brought to everyone’s attention. I was compelled to find out more about the topics of discussion and it made me realize how important it is for the youths of today to be aware, be expressive of their views on world matter and avoid having tunnel vision, as it is us that will shape the future.
Washington DC had a completely different ambiance to New Jersey and New York. It had the stimulating city life atmosphere but seemed to lack the hustle and bustle that usually accomplices the large cities, which made Washington DC my favorite city out of all three that we visited. As we explored the city, formidable skyscrapers loomed over, and elegant historical buildings stood tall and dignified. My favorite visit was to the National Mall, though the name is quite misleading as it isn’t a mall but an open park consisting numerous museums and famous landmarks. During our stay in DC, we had visits to United Nations Association of the United States of America and attended a seminar there, where we gained insight to the missions of UNA-USA, followed by Q&A. we also attended seminars at an organization called Sustainable DC, where we learnt their plans for sustainability, climate adaptation plans, as well as their energy and waste program. We also had the opportunity to visit the World Bank, as well as the IRF, and that was the end to our journey in the US.
WHAT DO I ENVISION FOR YOUTH IN SEYCHELLES
I envision for the youth in Seychelles to be more aware of global issues, voice their opinions and act. No matter how mere they think their actions are, together, it creates momentum. Just like the butterfly effect, even the smallest flutter can indeed cause a hurricane.
Thus, we need to encourage them to use their knowledge and voice to help shape and work towards a more inclusive society, as well as the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals for a more sustainable future, and not to be discouraged by thinking their actions are too mere to make an impact.