After a busy two weeks of finishing up papers and wrapping up my first semester at Regis College, and celebrating Holy Week and Easter with the IBVM community, I’ve now embarked on the next stage of my formation of my second year of novitiate. This time from New York City.
I am here for the next three months on an immersion experience to learn about the work of our IBVM non-governmental organization at the United Nations (IBVM UN NGO). I’m working with our UN representative to find out how the IBVM engages the world at the UN and contributes to its aims.
The past few days have been eye-opening and so enjoyable. I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about the activities of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) at the UN, and how NGOs work with this body. I’ve attended a couple of NGO committee meetings – one on social development/social protection and the other on global citizenship. It has been incredible to meet people of different backgrounds who are coming together to work on a shared cause.
Quite a bit of the UN system is familiar to me, having worked for several years on the children’s rights file (including National Child Day) for the Canadian federal government. I know a lot of the lingo and the mechanisms for achieving the work. But a big difference I’ve noticed already is the challenge of working together as a collective of different organizations as a coalition rather than departments of one federal government (though there were times it was challenging to work together as diverse departments!). To me, it seems much harder as a group of NGOs to come together to determine a mandate, a direction, and steps for taking action. In the government, generally the mandate and direction is set for you in some way – usually determined by the Minister or the Cabinet, informed by the directives set by international organizations (in the case of children’s rights). But in this instance, the international organization (the UN) provides directives for engaging in its processes but the specific mandate of each group is determined by that group, which is informed by a number of factors, including the work of other groups/coalitions (there are over 5000 NGOs at the UN!). Although it can be overwhelmingly bureaucratic, I find the process fascinating.
The results are important too, of course. But oftentimes, in an institutional setting, focusing on the results isn’t always the best way to go. Institutions work slowly. They take two steps forward then one step back. There is a lot of waiting and frustration involved. I got a taste of that on Wednesday at a meeting I attended: we were talking about how to get a particular concept on the social development agenda and it seemed that the best strategy was an incremental approach of inserting basic wording into a resolution, and then feeding that resolution into various meetings and assemblies over the next year or so. And then the real work could be built up from there. There are very few issues that advance quickly in large institutions and I was reminded of the patience and dedication required when trying to make changes at the systems level. It’s definitely not as fulfilling or as gratifying as changes that take place on local levels.
After only a few days, I can feel my policy instincts revving up again after laying dormant for the past year and half. The adrenaline is starting to surge through my bloodstream. I’m excited to be here and to contribute to the aims of our NGO in any way that I can. I’m also approaching this time here with all of the treasures I accumulated from my time in Manila and all of the experiences and encounters I had there.
I come now with a firsthand perspective of the poverty, environmental degradation, political corruption, and social stagnation that hinders developing countries. And I come with personal stories that fuel my desire to move this work forward. I come with the stories of my boys at the center for street children, and the stories of the caregivers and the children of the Virlanie Foundation, and the stories of the men and women I met in the neighbourhood where I lived. In the work I did prior to entering the IBVM, I didn’t have that personal experience to drive my work. I loved it and I did it with a love for the theoretical people in need. Now I will do it with a deep and profound love for the real people I have met who are in need and who will benefit so much from systemic change.