Promoting Sustainable Mountain Development as an Intern at the United Nations
From September 1st to December 20th, 2013 in a collaborative effort between Utah Valley University (UVU), the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU, and the Permanent Mission of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations, I had the opportunity to work at the headquarters of the United Nations in New York; it was the first ever internship for a UVU student at the UN under the sponsorship of the Kyrgyz Republic. There I had the chance to meet with some really interesting people. I was also fortunate enough to work with some of them on issues ranging from transportation to education.
Permanent Representative of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations, Ambassador Talaibek Kydyrov, from the very beginning, set for me a pace that was challenging and yet rewarding. Working at the UN and with his staff was like nothing I had anticipated or been informed about. When one usually thinks of an internship one thinks of answering calls, making copies, and running errands, at least that is how I imagined it and how friends had described it. This wasn’t the case at the UN. The day after arriving I was immediately immersed in working on Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD) issues, when Ambassador Kydyrov asked me to prepare an overview of that issue and its importance for the overall UN sustainable development agenda. Reading everything I could about SMD, its history, its purpose, and reading proposals on its future provided the backbone of my first paper, which was focused on the issue of water degradation. It was a critical comparison between current sustainable water practices in developing countries and what is currently being done in New York State and the Watershed Agricultural Council. It was paramount that the issue of water be considered, along with the cost of financing sustainable development in a State which is otherwise not concerned.
The issue of finance led to my second paper, this one being on the cost of living in New York City/State compared to the European Union and the Kyrgyz Republic. It was important that I try and draw correlations between these three economic bodies. The first two provided interesting bench markers between the growths of each country’s economy to the length of the existence of the state. I tried to draw connections between the two to better distinguish and provide parameters for growth in the Kyrgyz Republic. Doing this required much research and contacting such agencies as the Bureau of Labor and Statistics in the United States.
All this was done in a relatively short time. Really it took about two weeks. I know this because I finished working on these particular issues right around the opening ceremony of the 68th session of the General Assembly. This was a very interesting time to be in New York. The streets around the UN were barricaded off by the local police departments and just to get to the gates surrounding the UN I had to go through checkpoints and have my identification card at the ready at all times. While I did not get to meet President Obama, I was able to meet with the Kyrgyz Republic’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Erlan Abdyldaev. With his coming to the UN and meeting the Kyrgyz Republic’s staffers, things at the office were very busy and it seemed like all work/research was put on hold for this one week out of the entire year.
From right to left: Myself, Jesler Molina, and Carlos Alarco
It wasn’t at all as bad as I might be making it seem. I was given the unique opportunity to assist with the press conference that the Ambassador and the Minister of Foreign Affairs participated in. This was really the first time that I felt like I was an intern. Carrying equipment around and escorting individuals to the press room was an interesting experience.
Around this time, my colleagues from the UIMF Jesler Molina, Carlos Alarco, and Associate Vice President for International Affairs and Diplomacy at UVU Dr. Rusty Butler came to the U.N. headquarters from Utah to give a presentation and attend some of the events taking place due to the Opening Ceremony. It was great to have the three of them around for a day or two. They were able to experience a little of what I had, by this time, experienced a lot of.
It wasn’t too much later that I got to attend another high-level meeting of governmental officials from different mountain states at a Mountain Focus Group meeting which focused on uniting efforts of the mountain nations in order to make sure that an SMD-agenda will be included to the general sustainable agenda of the United Nations after the expiration of the Millennium Development Goals, as bench marks for the evaluating of human progress in 2015. During that gathering, which took place on October 17, 2013, I was able to meet the Permanent Representative of Italy Sabastiano Cadri, among others; it didn’t hurt that the event was taking place at the Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations. Ambassador Cadri gave a great introductory speech on the purpose of the meeting and I was able to get in a quick work with him before he had to leave. At this meeting, I was fortunate enough to have gone as a representative of UVU, the UIMF, and a personal intern to the Ambassador Kydyrov. I have had friends who have snuck into high-level meetings before, but never invited as actual guests. This is yet another example, in my opinion, of the importance of UN internships and continued collaboration between UVU and the Kyrgyz Republic. Meeting with Representatives of State is a singular experience for us interns.
One of my last and possibly most interesting experiences was a high-level plenary session in which new non-permanent members of the Security Council were recommended, voted on, and ratified. This experience was interesting to me because of the incredible lack of decorum after a member state was elected. Of particular interest to me was the reactions of both countries Rwanda and Nigeria. Both delegations actually jumped out of their chairs and cheered at the top of their lungs with joy as they were made non-permanent members. There was of course the polite clapping of other countries to show their enthusiasm. For me though, it was the uncontrolled excitement that these two countries showed that I found to be of particular interest.
Getting to meet and take pictures with John W. Ashe, President of the 68th Session of the General Assembly, and working with the Ambassador Talaibek Kydyrov on a daily, weekly, monthly basis were incredibly important memories of mine. But it was the dedication of those that I worked with that has left the most permanent of impacts on my life. Watching them race against the clock as they worked on resolution after resolution, case after case, time after time, was inspiring. I saw individuals working their hardest to improve the lives of their countrymen and the lives of those citizens of other countries who corroborated on resolutions. It is a singular experience that I recommend to any person and every political science intern.
For more information about my internship see my personal blog: uninternship2013.blogspot.com
Joseph McCain, President, Utah International Mountain Forum