6.5.17

Volunteers' Corner: Marian Belarmino's Visit to Geneva


You never really know where VIDES can take you if you’re a volunteer. Some days, you can be riding the mobile library and going around the metro to visit the kids. Maybe you joined the mission camps and mangrove-planting activities and find yourself somewhere in Mindoro, Pampanga, Cebu or some other part of the country. Or like me, by God’s grace, and with the full support of the VIDES family, you may suddenly find yourself giving a speech at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.




What’s in Geneva?
Before anything else, let me explain what was going on in the United Nations during my stay there. It was the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council, and Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice (IIMA), VIDES International, and the Permanent Mission of El Salvador co-organized a side event called, “Youth for Human Rights and the Good.” This side event was created to give the young people the opportunity to be heard by the States regarding their role in human rights and human rights education. It goes mostly unnoticed, but really, young people are often not talked about during human rights sessions. There’s only the children (below eighteen years old) and adults. We don’t realize that young adults cannot be fully adults just by turning eighteen, and so they have their own needs and challenges in relation to human rights. And by this initiative, IIMA and VIDES International gathered together ten (10) youth of today from different parts of the world to represent and talk about their human rights education experiences. That’s where I enter the story. We dedicated a whole week, from March 13-17, 2017, to fully prepare and present on the two-hour side event.





No Time for Rest!!


With Sr Sarah Garcia FMA
After surviving my first out-of-the-country flight on my own, I was welcomed by none other than Sister Sarah Garcia, who is now assigned at the IIMA office. Believe me, Sr Sarah is a really wonderful, thoughtful, and basically all great adjectives you can think of, person. She has been nothing but helpful during my stay there. And I was really glad to have someone to talk with in Filipino. 

I arrived on a Sunday and amazingly, we started with a meeting right away! I was the last one to arrive but I still enjoyed getting to know the people there. Let’s start with Sister MariaGrazia, the head of the IIMA office, Sr Leonor, the head of VIDES International, and Maria D’Onofrio, the one in-charge in our preparations. They are all so sweet, energetic, and very approachable! There are also four (4) youth interns who helped in organizing the side event by preparing the flyers, looking for translators, and so many amazing things that made the whole event a success. They were Mary Margaret from United States of America, Maria Rita from Italy, Gabby from South Korea, and the only guy among them, Pedro from Mexico. They are all amazing people who have done wonderful volunteer experiences inside and outside their respective countries. 




The diversity of our group does not stop there. I also met Father Juan Carlos, our priest for our daily celebration of the Holy Mass and was also there to speak on his own side event. There’s Martina, my roommate, who works in VIDES Ireland. And of course, the speakers. Guillermo from Uruguay, who has experiences on teaching human rights education on young adults in detention centers. Peter, my amazing friend from Slovakia, who had lived and worked with the marginalized group in their country called the Roma people. Zareh from Syria, who works in the oratory and mentors a group of children aged 7-18 years old. Lastly, Prence, our French-speaking friend from Congo, who founded VIDES Congo and goes to remote villages to give them human rights education.

See, not only are we very multicultural, it is also very inspiring and overwhelming to know what youth from other parts of the world are contributing in the fight for human rights. It is with so much honor and great privilege to be part of this group of people who are all passionate about the work they’re doing. It was a truly beautiful feeling to be there.




The Preparation
The preparation days were the best. It showed how we were able to maximize the short amount of time that we had to learn all that we need and prepare ourselves for the big event. It was a busy week. We observed some Special Rapporteur sessions on countries such as North Korea and Syria. We met with the presiding State’s ambassador, Ms. Carmen Castillo from El Salvador, and shared our experiences with her. We also got to know the moderator, Mr. Nuno Cabral from the Permanent Mission of Portugal, who gave us helpful tips we can use during the side event. The rest of the time, we spent inside the IIMA office inside the meeting room where Maria, Sr MariaGrazia, and Sr Leonor gave formations and lectures about the UN System, how it works, what the UPR is, and other important terminologies that we need to know before we go into battle.

I also had the delight to meet two amazing Filipino sisters, Sister Debbie and Sister Runita. They were so fun to be with and were really supportive of me. They even helped me draft my speech for the UN side event. I could not have done it any better without their help. We practiced and polished our speech for the big day!

The Much Awaited Side Event
The side event was held on March 16, Thursday. Despite all the nervous energy within ourselves, we did a really good job, I believe. I shared as much as I can about all the work we do here in VIDES Philippines within my five-minute speech. After the speeches, I was delighted and surprised by the number of questions from the States during the Q&A portion. More importantly, I was thankful for the interest they have shown and for the good turnout of people in the room. We were actually able to get co-sponsorship from 21 countries. What struck me the most is learning that, as the only girl and the youngest, I actually made some impact to the States. I also got insights from different States on how they give voice to the youth and in turn, I tried to give some suggestions on how the States and the youth can work together for the common good. Some people came to me after the event and told me how our experiences actually inspired them to start doing something, not just for the youth but just volunteering in general. It was truly a fascinating experience, and one I will never forget.






Learning Different Cultures
Of course, despite the tight schedule and intensive preparation, we still got time to relax and be closer friends with each other. The free times, meal times, or even the bus rides to and from home, can still be one of the best times of the day because I was able to talk about anything with my fellow youth. I learned about the differences in our cultures and some of their fun traditions. With our group’s diversity, you can learn more than two things about different countries on any given topic. I even tried to learn some words from their language. But it was more enjoyable to talk about the Philippines and share values and traditions unique to us Filipinos. It was also fun to invite them to try and volunteer here in our country. During dinner time, we also have a portion where one will share the challenges that the youth face in their own country. It was a great way to be aware of the realities on other countries regarding the youth.




So What’s Next?
Although it was sad to say goodbye and only hope someday I can meet at least one of them again, it is still not a goodbye to our work. The side event may have ended, but the fight continues. With all that we learned, it is now our responsibility to do something on our respective home countries. We even had the privilege to have a short meeting with a human rights educator who taught us the basic things we need to know when teaching human rights (plus free books!). With all these learnings, we can start with sharing what we did here, what we learned, what this event was for, and what can we do to support it. I hope this write-up was able to do that. And I hope to be able to successfully get the youth of VIDES Philippines commit to the advocacy of IIMA and VIDES by organizing events catered to youth.


Watch videos related to the UN Side Event below:


Video courtesy of Sr. Debbie Salazar Ponsaran FMA


Video courtesy of IMA-Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice 
Human Rights Office in Geneva 






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