UNforgettable UN

So I’ve got this friend…she’s pretty cool. If you’ve been following along over the years then you probably know who Zaneta is. Well, Zaneta’s current role in life has her interning at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, casual, I know. My life’s cool factor has gone way up since I met her.

While in New York I was able to visit her at work and actually tour the UN Headquarters which was one of the most enlightening and distinguished things I’ve had the privilege to do while traveling. And while I gathered lots of tidbits of information during the tour, I thought the best way to share all the details with you would be by going straight to my UN insider, Zaneta!


Q: What originally inspired you to apply for an internship at the UN?

A: Well I did Mock United Nations in high school and growing up in Nairobi I was always really aware and interested in the UN just due to proximity and hearing all my friends’ parents who worked at the UN. So a career with the UN has always been something that I wanted to look into and when I had unexpected gap in my life after finishing my Masters my mom encouraged me to look into a UN internship as a learning opportunity that would let me experience international politics and development close up– I did, and that’s basically how I ended up here!


Q: The United Nations is behind a lot the results we see in our world. What project of theirs do you think have made the biggest impact?

A: Given how much – usually completely valid – criticism the UN attracts, I think it is important to highlight its successes and the two things that stand out to me as significant UN achievements are the lifesaving work UN agencies have done through initiatives for health and children. People may not know but the World Health Organization, a UN agency, led the charge to eradicate smallpox in the 70s and were really responsible for spearheading the global immunization campaign that saw the disease wiped out by 1980.  Additionally, UNICEF is another UN agency that does incredible work to improve the lives of millions of children through their humanitarian aid, education, nutrition and WASH programs. They are responsible for providing aid and care to children in some of the most challenging situations and are really global leaders in researching, analyzing and meeting the needs of vulnerable children.


Q: What department to do you work for?

A: I work for the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Sexual Violence in Conflict. Our office supports the work of the SRSG Ms. Zainab Hawa Bangura and aims to end impunity for conflict-related sexual violence crimes, protect and empower civilians who face sexual violence in conflict situations, increase the recognition of rape as a tactic of war and/or terrorism, to foster government engagement in combating conflict-related sexual violence, and to coordinate and harmonize the UN’s response to the issue of sexual violence in conflict.


Q: What role has the UN played in your life, before and during this internship?

A: Before this internship the only real interaction I had with the UN was through MUN, as I participated in MUN conferences in Paris and Nairobi that were held in the official UN offices in those cities and, as I was pretty involved in the conferences in leadership positions as well as participating as a delegate, I did get to learn a lot about how the UN functions even as a teenager. Less obviously, the UN has had a significant indirect impact on my life – thanks to UN initiatives I never had to worry about smallpox or polio, I didn’t grow up worrying about the threat of nuclear war and, as a girl, I was secure in my right to education. For those interested, The Guardian actually has a pretty cool interactive tool where you can see what the UN has done for you.  Now obviously the UN is  part of my daily life, and it’s been a really fascinating experience to learn more about the intricacies and details of the way the various offices and agencies and member states engage with each other within the UN system. Sometimes, the scale and bureaucracy can be a little dispiriting, but what gives me hope are the incredible people I’ve met who are really passionate about changing the world and who work really hard on important issues in the face of numerous obstacles to improve lives.


Admittedly, I (hi guys, Michelle again!) didn’t know much other than the bare minimum about the United Nations, but after having the privilege of touring their New York City Headquarters I now have a whole new understanding of their role, purpose and current projects.

I am so proud to have a friend that kicks butt and takes names for her office every day and excited I was able visit her at this stage in life. I know such a serious blog post isn’t usual for me but there is a lot of “behind the scenes” work that happens in our world every day and what I learn I like to share with you all!


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