UNESCO Youth Forum #1
A few weeks ago I received an email from an old editor suggesting I apply to be a participant in the 7th UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Youth Conference in Paris. They were looking for 1o young journalists (defined as journalists under 30 years old) to represent various regions of the world (Europe, Africa, The Middle East, Asia, South East Asia, North America, Latin America and South America). In the email, it was made clear that it’d be a rare opportunity to be on the other side of history – instead of acting as a journalist (where journalists frequently react to news and follow history occurring), it would be a chance to help create a small sliver of history by sitting in on round tables, discussing with delegates from around the world and letting my voice be heard. Moreover, we would also act as journalists as well, interviewing other delegates and reporting on their thoughts. If I was accepted, I would have a chance to hold a one-on-one conversation with the Director General of UNESCO. Wow, I thought, what an honor.
Well, I applied, and after a few emails, a phone interview and some schedule re-arrangements, I was off to Paris for a week. I’ve since arrived, met the nine other young journalists (Ali from Lebanon, Hend from Egypt, Martina from Italy, Doudou from The D.R.Congo, Miguel from Chile, Laura from Cuba/now living in Mexico, Koulina from Cambodia, Rajneesh from Nepal and Jennifer from Nigeria) and am happy to start reporting on what is occurring. The team is incredibly versatile and insanely talented. Miguel (from Chile) is a film producer and has worked with 60 Minutes, the BBC and MTV. Ali is a blogger and activist (from Beirut), and was named one of the top-10 most influential bloggers in Beirut. And Rajneesh (from Nepal) Kantipur T.V. in Nepal, has traveled around the world following stories in Congo, Philippines, Thailand and India. When he isn’t working for Nepalese TV, he freelances for the LA Times.
Before I jump into the conference, I thought I would give a briefing on what UNESCO is, because to be honest, I had no real idea what it was before applying, researching it, and then arriving here:
Some brief facts on UNESCO:
• UNESCO is not in any way, shape or form controlled by the UN. It has it’s own member states (separate from the UN) and negotiates its own budget with member states. However UNESCO does fall under the United Nations “umbrella,” along with the UN itself, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
• UNESCO has 5 major areas of expertise, in which it attempts to encourage positive, international collaboration.
> Natural Science
> Social and Human Sciences
> Communication and Information
• The General Council (with 193 member states) meets once every two years, during the fall of odd numbered years; The GC is the equivalent of the UN’s General Assembly. This year the General Council is occurring the first week of November. The Executive Board (with 58 members) meets every 6 months, and makes recommendations to the General Council.
• Each member state of UNESCO holds one vote, and once voice. None of this UN-security-council-veto-wielding-super-country bullshit (aka The US, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom)
(if you’re confused: within the United Nations exists a body known as the Security Council. It has 15 member-states, who must all be present in New York at all times, so that they can meet to discuss urgent matters whenever necessary. Ten member-states are elected every two years, but the other five permanent member-states (the aforementioned countries), have veto power. Any bill or resolution that goes to the security council and meets disagreement with one of those five permanent countries can be vetoed on the spot, without question, and it only takes one veto. According to Wikipedia (forgive me for typing those last three words, I’m on a deadline and this is a blog post) the five super countries have vetoed bills this number of times: China (ROC/PRC): 6 times; France: 18 times; the United Kingdom 32 times; the United States 82 times; and Russia/USSR 123 times.
In my personal opinion, this power totally nullifies the entire idea of global, democratic body. It should also be noted that since the Security Council’s inception in 1945, 72 member states have never been a member of the security council.
Ok back to UNESCO:
• UNESCO operates on a consensus basis. This means they won’t go forward with a bill or resolution until every. single. country agrees with every. single. sentence in the bill. When the 193 member-states don’t agree, they can agree to a majority vote on a bill. We held a conversation with an employee from the office of the Director General, who said that a bill going to a majority vote is a rare instance, mainly because UNESCO deals with less contentious issues, or because bills are written less specifically, to appease all member-states.
As for the Youth Forum:
This year, there are 245 delegates. The goal is to have all 193 member states represented, though this isn’t always possible, and I’m not exactly sure how many member states are represented this Forum. Some countries have two delegates, others only have one. The 245 who have been chosen went through extensive checks and balances system: they were vetted by age (19-24), gender (54% women), community participation (required to demonstrate specific instances of community involvement, action and experience), and anti-corruption (delegates can have no family/friend connections to government/UNESCO employees).
As for how UNESCO is treating us, the journalists. So far, it’s been pretty awesome. They’ve requested we tweet two or three times a day, and make one journalistic-contribution, in whatever medium we choose (blog, article, video, photo) once a day. I’ve decided to write blogs with photos. And considering the fact that UNESCO has flown us all the Paris, and is housing and feeding us, it’s pretty cool that they also said this:
“Of course, we hope you don’t find anything to criticize, but if you do find these things, please, do, criticize. This is your job. Document it. All we ask is that you criticize constructively. We are for building up, not destroying. Criticize, but do it constructively.”
As for the photos you’ve been looking at. I guess I better talk about my choice to use Instagram and what it is you’re looking at:
Welp, after years of criticizing iPhone photography, I’ve jumped into the big swirling pool of phone-photography poop. The sweet smell of hypocrisy. Actually, now that I think about it , I recall, just six short weeks ago, writing a scathing, 3-part tweet criticizing iPhone photography, “Wondering when this iPhone photo-essay craze is going to pass with professionals.We get it: your phone has a camera & color-warping apps. Chances are very good that you make much better frames with professional cameras and lenses. I can think of few situations where a phone is a better choice. Syria (where journos are targeted) being one of them.” Damn you, internet age, for remembering everything I do and say).
All I can say is, over the past two days, I haven’t much felt like putting a camera to my eye. It takes a certain amount of creative, emotional, and psychological energy to do so. The bar that any photographer sets for themselves when they pick up their camera means that every photo they take, while usually enjoyable and beneficial and fun, also comes with some amount of stress to take a photo the right way. And after weeks of covering Occupy wall Street, and no sleep, and then getting pepper-sprayed a few days ago, I just felt like I might give it a rest.
But at the same time, we’ve been touring UNESCO’s building and going through a few orientations, and I’ve found the building’s architecture and style and accoutrements really interesting – a trip back in time. Like any good person of my generation, I’ve also been cradling my iPhone the past few days (illogically, by the way, I have the damned thing in airplane mode), so I thought I would finally check out the Instagram I downloaded. And it turns out it’s really fun. And effortless. And easy-going. And damn those stupid filters are kind of cool. So I’ve been playing around with it and having a good time. If anything, my goal is to give the reader a sense of the space we’re working in while were here.
I should also say, whenever I go someplace new and have some time to waste, I like to walk around for a day or two without making any photos. I’ll have my cameras on me, but whenever I can afford to, the first few days are spent absorbing a place. Instagram seems to offer a nice middle ground. Just a quick click with your phone when you see something interesting. No RAW files or photoshop or 20 mB files.
But if I was actually going to try and justify using Instagram, I would simply say this. UNESCO has been really, really focusing on using social media to help steer the conversations with youth, and to help shape which issues they focus on most. They even monitored buzz words on twitter being used in select demographics to decide which issues the forum should focus on. So my decision to use Instagram comes after many hours of informed, thought-out, wise thinking (mild sarcasm). Seriously though, it seems to fit the Forum well. But kill, rather, mildly scold me, if I ever use an iPhone on a serious assignment.
Anyway, the real goal of the week is to create an entire portrait series of youth delegates from around the world. Starting tomorrow, UNESCO’s television studio has offered to lend me two studio lights, and I’m going to create a small studio next to the main foyer. The portraits will focus on youth delegates from around the world, speakers, special UNESCO youth envoys and various other personnel. My ultimate goal is to get delegates from countries with a history of conflict to pose together. If I can get a Palestinian and Israeli, or an Indian and Pakistani, or a US citizen and an Afghani together to pose for a portrait, in the name of peace, I will consider the week a great success.
If you’ve read this far, thanks so much. The conference officially starts tomorrow. Lots of buzz throughout the entire building, pretty exciting to be here. Should be a great week ahead.
Thanks for reading.