My time at the UN General Assembly 70th Session by Shea Spierings
After 26 hours in transit, I landed in New York City. It was a warm Sunday afternoon when I finally arrived at the place I’d be staying in for the next 6 weeks – a place in Midtown, central Manhattan, located just one Avenue away from the United Nations Headquarters (UNHQ).
The morning after my arrival, whilst taking my first walk to the Australian Mission, I was struck by the high police presence. There were barriers being erected, some streets were closed off, and NYC Police were on every corner – I thought it was busy, but it turned out this level of security was nothing compared to the following weekend.
My first week at the Australian Mission was fantastic; I had the opportunity to meet most of the staff working at the Mission, as well as meet with our Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), Gillian Bird. During my first week, I also received orientation training alongside the incoming Australian politicians, Senator Barry O’Sullivan, and Wayne Swan MP, who are currently undertaking short-term placements at the Australian Mission to UN.
The next few weeks would prove to be some of the most memorable of my life thus far. To celebrate the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are the successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), an SDG Summit was hosted at UNHQ in late September. In attendance would be world leaders from across the globe gathered to hear his Holiness Pope Francis address the UN General Assembly. Then, following the address by his Holiness, the awe-inspiring Malala Yousafzai would address the UN while standing alongside 193 young people from across the world.
I was honoured to be one of those young people. That day was huge. First, I heard the Pope address not just the UN, but also the world, followed by a raw and powerful speech by Malala that received a rousing applause from all in attendance at the UN. The following weeks would prove to be equally amazing as I heard leaders from across the world present at the UN including the President of the United States, Barack Obama.
During this time, I also met amazing people from across the globe, including other youth delegates. I also attended a large number of High-Level side events at the UN which also included amazing speakers, thinkers, and world leaders, discussing everything from environmental issues to terrorism. The opportunity to witness international diplomacy first hand was a truly rewarding experience and something that I will never forget. I was even invited to speak at the Global Education Fund Initiative High-Level event following a Speakers panel that hosted such big names as Gordon Browne, Malala Yousafzai, and the First Lady of China, Peng Liyuan.
Finally, on the 7th of October I presented the Australian Statement on Youth Issues to the UN. However, shortly before presenting my statement I also had a reception with the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, and was then honoured to have Ambassador Bird sit behind me while I gave the National statement. It was during the statement that I shared not only the concerns of young Australians, but also our vision for the future.
Following the statement, I had numerous opportunities to discuss the top issues raised with me during the Australian consultations which included racism and discrimination, drug and substance abuse, gender equality, career and employment opportunities, and access to relevant forms of education.
Now, after meeting amazing people from around the world, forming excellent networks with key thinker from across the globe, as well as forming memories that will last a lifetime, I am preparing for my return to Australia where I plan to share everything I have learned, and experienced, with as many people as possible over the coming years.