World Interfaith Harmony Event in NYC, 2/7/18

World Interfaith Harmony Week is an official observance of the United Nations. It is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative, which in 2007 called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common religious Commandments: Love of God and Love of the Neighbor.
Join TOU and other religious NGOs at the Church Center for the United Nations for a World Interfaith Harmony Event:

Inspiring Faith in Humanity

February 7, 2018, 1:00-3:30pm
Tillman Chapel, Church Center for the UN
777 United Nations Plaza, NYC
Faith in humanity brings us closer together, restores dignity to the oppressed, and gives us a collective voice to speak out against injustices. During this event, religious leaders, UN representatives, and diplomats will share their stories and knowledge. Partnership between religious communities and the United Nations will bring the world toward a more compassionate and sustainable future.
Please join us for thoughtful presentations and festive music and food, and to celebrate our faith in humanity.
For more information, contact religiousngo at



UPDATE: Our colleague at United Religions Initiative posted the following commentary and pictures after the event. Click to view the full photo album!

Religious NGOs on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 12/11/2017

The Committee of Religious NGOs at the United Nations

presents a panel on


Monday, December 11, 2017, 11:00-12:30pm

Hardin Room, 11th Floor
Church Center for the United Nations
1st Ave and 44th St, NYC


Invocation and Introduction
Swami Parameshananda

Carl Murrell, National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’is of the United States

Dr. Bobbi Nassar, NGO Committee on Human Rights, International Federation for Settlements and Neighborhood Centers

Grove Harris, MDiv, The Temple of Understanding

Rev. Dr. Levi Bautista, The United Methodist Church

Closing Remarks
Swami Parameshananda

NGO Committee of Human Rights
The Temple of Understanding
The United Methodist Church

Light Lunch will be served. Please RSVP:

For questions about this event, contact religiousngo at



Gender Action Plan Integrates Gender Issues into Climate Policies at COP23

Via the Women’s Major Group, one of TOU’s partners representing the rights of women worldwide in the United Nations processes on Sustainable Development:

PRESS RELEASE: Adoption of the Gender Action Plan at COP23, by Women & Gender Constituency

Adoption of the first Gender Action Plan under the UNFCCC
(United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change)
15 November 2017



On Tuesday November 14, 2017, the first ever Gender Action Plan to the UNFCCC was adopted at COP23. Its overall goal is to support and enhance the implementation of the gender-related decisions and mandates so far adopted in the UNFCCC process through a set of specific activities to be conducted within the next 2 years.


Kalyani Raj, All India Women’s Conference

“The adoption of the Gender Action Plan (GAP) is a positive step forward. It goes to reassure some of our work at the national level particularly relating to gender integration into climate change policies and related schemes. We would be happy to work with our government at the implementation level and hope to close bigger gaps impeding gender inequality with the GAP.”


Bridget Burns, co-focal point of the Women and Gender Constituency and co-director of the Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO)

“We are well beyond the time for real action on gender-just climate policies.The Gender Action Plan (GAP) serves as an important accelerator in advancing multiple mandates for gender equality that exist under the UNFCCC. But, the test will be in the implementation. We will be holding governments accountable, both developed countries in putting serious financing into gender-responsive policy development as well as all countries in fulfilling human rights via their climate plans. For a truly gender-just climate change framework, we must continue to demand climate justice from the entire process.”


Shradha Shreejaya, Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)

“The proceedings on GAP have been reassuring. Keeping in mind however the urgency of the climate crisis, especially in Asia-Pacific and Africa, we need strengthened action and solidarity from developed countries in terms of committing to finance GAP as well as Loss and Damages, something that’s still amiss from COP 23 decisions.”


Dinda Yura, Solidaritas Perempuan, Indonesia

“We now have Gender Action Plan, as one step of the milestones for gender equality and women’s empowerment through inclusiveness of women as well as gender sensitive and responsive policies and actions in all elements of mitigation, adaptation, capacity building, technology transfer, and finance. What we need to think and do further in the implementation is how to use GAP and mainstreaming gender justice principles and be integrated in policies and climate actions, in particularly at national and local level, to ensure there is no climate policies and actions that violate women’s rights and the rights of women can be protected in the midst of climate crisis.”


Gotelind Alber, board member of GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice and co-founder of the Women and Gender Constituency

“The Gender Action Plan is a milestone in our longstanding efforts to integrate gender into the international climate process. If properly implemented, resourced and monitored it bears the potential to move us closer to achieving women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in the UNFCCC process and the development and implementation of gender-responsive and human rights based climate policies in all thematic areas of the process as well as on national and sub-national levels.”


Priscilla M Achakpa, Director of Women’s Environmental Programme and gender expert on the Nigerian Delegation

“Now that the GAP has been adopted, it is time to work collectively from the regional to the global level while ensuring that resources and made available for the full implementation of the GAP. We cannot afford to fail, grassroots, indigenous population and communities must be fully integrated in the GAP.”


Anne Barre, Women Engage for a Common Future (WECF) International

“The GAP is essential because there is still so much to do to bridge the “gender gap” and have more efficient climate policies! For example in climate finance, according to the OECD 2017 report, less than 5% of climate funds have gender as a main objective. Thus women’s priorities are being totally neglected, and women have no direct access to climate funding. And yet, many innovative solutions on the ground exist today that should be  upscaled with direct access to the Green Climate Fund. In turning the patriarchal system upside down, we will be able to reach the goal of the Paris Agreement.”


Marta Benavides, social movements, El Salvador, Latin America

“Women have been at the forefront of human development, for women caring for the planet and the well being of nature and humans in their families and communities. The Gender Action Plan is an affirmation of that. As it is the affirmation of the indigenous peoples path. It was a historical debt for the climate process. We now expect to start working for the essentials of the climate process: to work effectively and urgently to keep global warming under 1.5°C and to move effectively on all needed levels towards a just transition and to ensure that really and for good No One Is Left Behind.”



The Women and Gender Constituency to the UNFCCC



Tuesday, 14 November, 2017



COP23 climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany



Climate change is one of the most daunting global challenges of our time. As changing temperatures, weather patterns, and ecological systems threaten communities all over the world, the effects will be felt differently between the global North and South, various social classes, and between men and women. Just as any disaster can exacerbate existing social differences, climate change can be expected to worsen the distinction between men, women, and gender-nonconforming individuals in terms of opportunity, safety, and general wellbeing. In addition to the looming threat posed by climate change, gender distinctions in relation to environmental issues can already be observed. According to the Women’s Environmental Development Organization (,) only 12% of federal environment ministries worldwide are headed by women, as of 2015. Women on average make up 43% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, and around 50% in sub-Saharan Africa. As of 2010, only 15% of land in sub-Saharan Africa is owned by women. Females are more likely to be killed by natural disasters and/or are systematically killed more often than males. In Malawi, gender inequalities in agriculture cost USD $100 million. At the current rate of increase, gender parity in negotiations will only be reached by 2040.

The Gender Action Plan represents a landmark opportunity to improve the quality of life for women worldwide, as well as ensure their equal representation in climate policy and planning.



The Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) is one of the nine stakeholder groups of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Established in 2009, the WGC now consists of 27 women’s and environmental civil society organizations, who are working to ensure that women’s voices and their rights are embedded in all processes and results of the UNFCCC framework, for a sustainable and just future, so that gender equality and women’s human rights are central to the ongoing discussions. As the WGC represents the voices of hundreds and thousands of people across the globe, members of the Constituency are present at each UNFCCC meeting and intersessional alongside the UNFCCC Secretariat, governments, civil society observers and other stakeholders to ensure that women’s rights and gender justice are core elements of the UNFCCC. In this action the constituency is joined by other stakeholders committed to advancing women’s human rights, peace and climate justice.



Women and Gender Constituency Key Demands:


World Interfaith Harmony Week: Feb 1-7, 2018

The 2018 World Interfaith Harmony Week is coming! World Interfaith Harmony Week is an official observance of the United Nations. It is based on the pioneering work of The Common Word initiative, which in 2007 called for Muslim and Christian leaders to engage in a dialogue based on two common religious Commandments: Love of God and Love of the Neighbor.

Prizes will be given to each of the three best events or texts organized during the week which best promote the goals of the WIHW. HM King Abdullah II of Jordan is the official sponsor of the World Interfaith Harmony Week Prizes. The prizes include flights and accomodation to Jordan where His Majesty King Abdullah II will present this year’s winners their awards for promoting world interfaith harmony.

  • 1st Prize is $25,000 and a gold medal
  • 2nd Prize is $15,000 and a silver medal
  • 3rd Prize is $5,000 and a bronze medal

Watch last year’s first prize winning event by the Calgary Interfaith Council of Calgary, Canada:


How to Participate

  1. Register online on the WIHW website.
  2. Post your event to the website.
  3. Submit supporting materials by 8 March 2018.
  4. Notification of awards will be given in March 2018.
  5. Prize-giving Ceremony will be held in April 2018.

View the WIHW website to find out more about how to participate.

The prize-giving ceremony will be held in Jordan. (Flights and accommodation will be provided.)

Submit a Letter of Support

Send a clear message that the overwhelming number of people from all faith traditions greatly support the call to harmony. Simply send a brief letter of support.

Last Year’s Winners

The Winners of the 2017 World Interfaith Harmony Week Prize:

  1. UN World Interfaith Harmony Week by the Calgary Interfaith Council
  2. The Fifth Sarajevo UN World Interfaith Harmony Week

Women’s Human Rights and the SDGs (HLPF 2017)

High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2017

[For more information on this report, contact Grove Harris: groveharris at gmail.]

In July 2017, a second set of countries presented their progress on the SDGs to the United Nations. Civil society (NGOs and other nonprofits) raised concerns on many fronts, including the shrinking space for diverse people’s voices, the degree of progress, and the rise in attacks on front line human rights defenders around the globe. The Temple of Understanding worked with the Women’s Major Group, mourning the deadly violence against women human rights defenders.

Women Human Rights Defenders Resist
Photo by Grove Harris


Resurj, also a member organization of the WMG, has written an extensive summary report of the HLPF, “Going beyond Aspiration: HLPF analysis 2017.” (Conclusions appended below.)


Diverse Civil Society efforts include a “spotlight” report that directly challenges barriers.

“Unbridled privatization, corporate capture and mass-scale tax abuse are blocking progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, argues a new report by a global coalition of civil society organizations including the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).”


Other Civil Society colleagues prepared an overview of the country reports:

“Voluntary National Reviews: What are countries prioritizing?” (Conclusions appended below.)


A side event held by religious NGOs released a popular education resource for communities, produced collaboratively and published by the International Presentation Association. “Critical Hope for the SDGs: Advocating from the Margins for Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice in the Context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals” aims to ensure the SDGs become a people’s agenda, serving communities “on the ground.”


RESURJ’s conclusions:

The Sustainable Development Goals are really a battle between commodities and the commons. As a feminist alliance, RESURJ’s approach to justice includes that we understand and address the interlinkages between women’s bodies, health, and human rights in the context of the ecological, social and economic crisis that we face.  

As part of RESURJ’s ongoing advocacy within this process we have over the past two years, focused on how we leverage evidence based on people’s realities for a justice approach to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and other key processes. In particular, we aim to share examples of the interlinkages and experiences of people to inform policy advocacy, resource allocation, and interventions. We have also started to explore how certain interventions have the potential to impact multiple goals and targets, and are potential key tools in the realization of the agenda. One such example is how Comprehensive Sexuality Education can have a positive impact on young people and adolescent’s lives including contributing to reducing inequalities and violence, improving health and education outcomes, reducing poverty and increasing opportunities. Exploring interventions and policy that could have multiple effects on multiple goals is a learning process for us and we are taking this challenge on because we know that the interlinkage and intersectional perspective called for in moving the Agenda 2030 forward cannot come from governments alone.

We will not achieve the transformational aims of this agenda, if we silo our responses to the economic, ecological and social crises that we face. Holding the realities of people and our planet at the center, is the critical approach that we have missed before, and cannot risk missing again.


Voluntary National Reviews: What are countries prioritizing?

  • Countries should be more explicit in reporting on the VNR process, including efforts to engage stakeholders. Together 2030 calls on governments “to strengthen efforts to publicize their plans and processes for national review, and opportunities for participation, sharing common challenges and identifying best practices in stakeholder engagement.”

  • Countries need to step up the pace. They should not wait for their first VNR report before getting started on implementation.

  • Countries should report on progress toward all 17 SDGs, recognizing the indivisibility of the agenda and interlinkages among the goals.

  • Main Messages should include more substance on implementation, including specific activities, progress and challenges.

  • Civil society must keep demanding meaningful participation. It’s positive that many countries mentioned youth and women, but more stakeholder groups need to be included.

Meet Our 2017 United Nations Summer Interns! #UN

On June 26, the Temple of Understanding’s 2017 student interns will arrive at the United Nations! We can hardly wait to meet these talented young people in person. Read on to meet our interns and learn about the projects they will be pursuing at the UN this summer.

Najem Abaakil                   

My name is Najem Abaakil, and I am a 16-year-old high school student from Rabat, Morocco. This summer, I will be interning under Temple of Understanding at the United Nations in New York. After already having interned as a Moroccan delegate in Geneva last summer, I hope to experience the UN from a different perspective, this time. As I primarily have a strong interest in sustainable development and environmental conservation, I hope to learn more about this at the United Nations by attending and participating in conferences and panels regarding this particular subject. I also hope to tie my research to environmental conservation and sustainable development as well as the multilateral collaboration and action that is required to assure the success of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Overall, I think this will be a great, enlightening experience!


Ryan Adell

My name is Ryan Adell. I am a 17-year-old high school student from New York. Simply put, the world has problems. The world also has problem solvers. I am interning at the United Nations to try my hand at becoming one of these problem solvers. Politics does interest me, and I have started a non-profit organization – Next Generation Politics – to promote civic engagement and political understanding among young people. With that said, I do hope to familiarize myself with as many facets of the United Nation’s work as possible during my time as an intern.

Specifically, I will be pursuing research regarding the global rise in extreme political views and how to mitigate its dangerous effects. A lack of understanding, whether that be cultural, religious, or political understanding, is frequently the root of deep-seated strife among individuals of varying beliefs. I intend for my research to lead to the development of potential solutions to the aforementioned issues.


Isabella Benavides           

My name is Isabella Benavides, and I am 18 years old. I reside in Pearland, Texas, a suburb of Houston, Texas. I will be a first-year Political Science major at the University of Houston this fall. My goal is to study abroad and pursue a law degree as well. I applied to this program in hopes of gaining a greater understanding of the international spectrum of politics as it relates to race relations, ethnicity, education, gender inequality and empowerment, religious freedom, military, and social class. Throughout my high school career, I mainly focused on national relations. I participated in various summer programs, clubs, and volunteer opportunities pertaining to my Hispanic ethnicity as well as law, politics, and women’s rights. However, this past summer through participation in international seminars and programs, I explored the political, cultural, religious, and policy components that cause countries to thrive or struggle. These topics fascinate me, and I believe the Temple of Understanding’s UN Internship Program will further my knowledge in these areas while incorporating the religious component that makes many societies thrive. I believe these experiences will provide me with the perspectives I will need in order to flourish in my professional career as an attorney in the international field.        


Claire Burwell

Hi! My name is Claire Burwell, and I am a 17-year-old student at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. I am originally from Springfield, Illinois, but I moved to New York when I was three years old and have lived here ever since. I learned about this internship through a few school friends who have attended the program in previous years and have said many favorable things about it. I have wanted to intern at the UN ​because of my deep-rooted passion for foreign affairs and desire to increase my knowledge of international diplomacy in relation to religion. This summer, I plan on focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 5: ​Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life​. Attending an all-girls school for the past 14 years has shown me the capabilities of women and how important universal health care, education, and empowerment are in the fight for gender equality. Gender equality is a pressing matter in the world today, and I hope by participating in the Temple of Understanding internship, I will continue to explore different approaches to helping women obtain equal rights and access to opportunities.


Jacob Castillo

My name is Jacob Castillo, and I am a 17 year old from Houston, Texas. I currently attend the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts as a theatre major. Coming from a humble and working-class household, I learned at a young age that empathy is key to understanding. I constantly witnessed hardship and strife among the poorest wards of Houston, which in turn instilled within me a passion for those who face oppression and poverty. As a child, I learned of the struggles my predecessors endured during the Great Depression and WWII. Hearing those stories sparked my interests in World Affairs and Politics.

One of the major issues discussed at the UN that garnered my attention was peacemaking. I firmly believe that war is not exclusively violent. This can be seen through the relentless corporate warfare unleashed upon minority communities around the world and the intense build-up of the military-industrial complex in recent years to satisfy the desires of those in power. I intend to spend my time researching the extent of corporate warfare, how it affects minority groups, and how the UN can play a role in maintaining justice and peace in the face of greed. I am excited to broaden my horizons and build my character in order to fulfill my dreams of pursuing a career in Public Service.


Justin Chang

My name is Justin Chang and I am a sixteen-year-old rising senior from Seoul, Republic of Korea. I first applied to this internship because of my fascination towards the UN that stems from my interest in history and current events. TOU’s UN Internship Program will allow me to experience the UN not vicariously but in reality. I hope to attend and observe the intense negotiations between nations on issues like the conflict in Syria, the belligerence of North Korea, and the world AIDS epidemic.

During my time at the UN, I plan on conducting research and gaining further insights on the most effective ways to provide relief for countries or regions struck by disasters. My growing interest in disaster relief started after a mountain climbing expedition led me to remote villages in the Indian and Nepalese Himalayas where I met people living in poverty and subject to hard labor. Situations worsened following the devastating 2015 earthquake where many were injured and killed, while many children were orphaned. To support victims of the earthquake and to raise awareness on what was happening in Nepal, I found a non-profit called Hope for Nepal. My perspective on the issues in disaster relief today stems from my experiences from Hope for Nepal and through my interaction with other international NGOs including Heifer International and All Hands Volunteers where I learned the inner working of each NGO. Through ToU’s program, I intend to analyze both the successes and failings of the many methods international organizations use to approach disaster relief. Concerns in the status quo of disaster relief today include the necessity for long-term investment in the restoration of a country, efficient methods to distribute relief supplies, effective coordination of relief efforts among local and international organizations, and the prevention of the siphoning of relief funds.


Esther Choi

My name is Esther Choi, a 17-year-old student from Suwanee, Georgia. I have always had a keen interest in the world and its workings, yet it was not until I began to actively pursue change and seek to define my role in helping others that I was truly able to understand the importance of organizations such as the United Nations. It was this recognition that led me to not only intern at the UN but to also create a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping refugees, a topic I am particularly impassioned about.

During the internship, I plan to research how organizations such as the UN could best aid in breaking down social barriers and facilitating refugees’ entrances into work fields in already competitive economic systems. Culture, too, is an exciting topic, so I hope to learn about how refugees deal with stark cultural differences in countries that are often harboring xenophobic movements. For my final project, however, I intend on explaining the link between the changing climate and the refugee crisis itself and discuss the disproportionate effect of climate change on developing countries.


Neel Dhavale

My name is Neel Dhavale, and I am a sixteen-year-old rising junior from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, California. Several years ago, as part of my involvement with the Boy Scouts, I began volunteering at a nearby Veterans Affairs Hospital. I met veterans who described the struggles they faced dealing with debilitating injuries and rehabilitation, and I was appalled by the destruction and violence I would hear about. I wanted to learn more about the violence that plagues our world and to seek ways to avoid it. I feel this UN internship will help me accomplish that goal. I am passionate about issues such as counter-terrorism and international law. My philosophy has always been that a counter-insurgency war cannot be won without the humanitarian aspect coming into play. Throughout this internship, I hope to learn more about the ways humanitarian aid can be used to effectively combat insurgencies. Additionally, I believe that insurgencies fueled by extremism arise from a lack of understanding between the two parties and feel this internship will provide me with the tools necessary to realize what is needed for religious and cultural understanding to occur.


Elie Farah         

My name is Elie Farah. I am 16 years old and was born and raised in New York City. Both of my parents are of Middle Eastern descent, and some of the most defining moments of my childhood came from spending time in Damascus, where I reveled in Middle Eastern culture and learned to speak Arabic. Several years ago, I began studying Mandarin in school, which led me to develop a deep interest in Chinese culture and language. Working at the United Nations will allow me to combine my passion for Mandarin and Arabic with my desire to gain a deeper understanding of the histories and cultures of China and the Middle East.                

As an intern at the United Nations, I plan to focus on how the United States, China, and the Middle East intersect on global policy. I am also interested in exploring ways to provide medical care for children who are victims of the war in Syria.




Tyler Goldstein

Hello, my name is Tyler Goldstein and I am from Plainview, NY. I am 16 years old and will be a Junior next fall. I read the news daily and have a heavy interest in politics. I am also an active member of the Model United Nations club in my school, and I wish to learn more about how the UN committees operate. As a member of Model UN, it was my dream to be able to sit in on real committees and see and learn from delegates in action. I would like to perhaps one day become a delegate myself. I am looking forward to hearing and seeing the numerous delegates’ perspectives and varying viewpoints. In Model UN, I have pretended to represent another country’s views, but can never fully block out my own bias. I am interested in the Human Right to Water, and the worldwide process of making potable water easily available to all humanity. I feel this topic is seldom discussed in the United States, and in the UN it will be a more prevalent issue. I hope that after I have learned more about the Human RIght to Water, I will be able to spread my knowledge of it to my peers.



Reeno Hashimoto

Konnichi wa! Hello! My name is Reeno Hashimoto and I am a seventeen-year-old New Yorker. Just like my varied greeting, I embody an eclectic essence. I am half Japanese and half American, spending alternate summers in each respective nation. Having heard of the magic that is the Temple of Understanding Internship from past participants, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my efforts toward the empowerment of young women and gender equality. My interest in Women’s Initiatives stems from two sources: my incessant yearning to purge the society I am entering of evil, thus ensuring the safety of women everywhere, coupled with an undying respect for the female figures in my life. I hope to bring the United Nations’ sixth goal, the assurance of access to water for all, to life, one reusable water bottle at a time. I plan to dedicate my summer to researching the world water crisis because I believe in the powerful role women have in solving it. The water crisis traps women in the cycle of poverty. I am eager to envision potential permanent solutions to reverse the deficiency of this necessary resource in the lives of women everywhere.


Zach Karpovich

My name is Zach Karpovich and I am a 17-year-old junior from Rye High School in Rye, New York. My interest in interning  at the U.N. stemmed from an appreciation for the positive impact that the U.N. has had on the world, and a desire to be a part of this world changing organization. I am entering the Temple of Understanding’s UN Program this summer with my focus on environmental issues and ecological justice. I have a passion for the environment and for the humanitarian issues caused by environmental degradation and climate change, as air and water pollution have negative effects on human health. My interests for research this summer would definitely be environmental-related, but I would also like to look into the ties between poverty and adverse health effects caused by pollution. Additionally, I would also be interested in researching whether pollution related health problems come mainly from the people’s actions (like the production of air borne pollutants caused by wood stoves used for village cooking) or whether outside sources have a larger effect on these people (like the pollutants created by companies and factories, or the impact of climate change).


Akash Mishra           

Hi! My name is Akash Mishra, and I am a 17- year-old student at the American School of Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I’m from the United States, having lived in Kansas City, KS, before moving to Dubai in the spring of 2010, but have a strong connection with my Indian roots. I have a strong passion for issues surrounding international understanding and political cooperation. As an American of Indian origin, I have always been surrounded by cultural syncretism of some sort, and it was this synthesis of two cultures, punctuated by my experience living in the global cultural melting pot that is Dubai, that prompted my initial interest in issues of international understanding and global culture.

Through my internship at the United Nations, I aim to further my own understanding of the functions of this organization with specific regard to the effectiveness of the United Nations as a decision making body. I intend to conduct meaningful research on how global societies can take advantage of institutional facilities to further cross-cultural debate. Attempts at solving today’s international issues are often one-sided and one-dimensional, and it is my belief that increased international cooperation in the face of a “geopolitical adversity” of sorts, is crucial. In that vein, I am incredibly excited to participate in the Temple of Understanding’s UN Internship Program, and I am excited to get started on working, in some small way, on the great issues that challenge mankind.    



Eunice Park

My name is Eunice Park, and I am a 17-year-old girl currently attending school in Los Angeles, California. Originally from South Korea, I immigrated to the United States in 2006. From a very early age, I have been passionate about social justice issues- whether it be the issues I witnessed within my own community or others I was educated about outside of my limited community. Within my own community, I have worked with dozens of homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters in hosting mobile libraries and literacy classes. Outside of my community, I have reached out to many different female orphanages around the world to host digital career seminars and to work together to build a magazine with a global female perspective.

Although the world presents many differences and viewpoints, I am a strong believer in embracing such diversity to find an always present common ground. I am inspired by the actions of the United Nations that continues to promote dialogue, discussion, and conflict resolution with multiple perspectives from the global community. Continuing to develop my interests in international affairs and social justice, I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to intern at the United Nations this summer with the Temple of Understanding. Throughout my internship, I hope to research the political empowerment of women in the global sphere. With the rise of women world leaders, countries benefit significantly. Female leadership is linked to drastic reductions in poverty and increased emphasis on social issues. I hope to explore the causes of female empowerment in the political sphere and to compare the experiences of female world leaders by countries and regions. Ultimately, I wish to analyze both the causes and effects in order to propose a comprehensive solution that will encourage the political empowerment of women in the global sphere.


Pallab Saha

My name is Pallab Saha. I am a sixteen year old from Queens, New York. I currently attend Stuyvesant High School, an elite specialized high school near the Financial District of New York City. Throughout my life, the United Nations has been an fascinating entity due to its presence in the world as a peacekeeping organization dedicated to fighting for human rights. Since childhood, being Hindu has played a key role in developing my identity. My exposure to religion sparked my interest in different faiths and how they influence daily life. In this way, I was pushed to pursue this internship by my counselor because it falls in line with everything that I am passionate about: promoting interfaith movement and protecting humanity on a global scale.      

Throughout my internship at the United Nations, I plan to pursue the topic of interfaith education in my summer research. I seek to explore the relationship between religion and politics and how it influences the government. I would also like to research how religion is used to educate people and how it impacts the development of youth. Another issue that I want to investigate is religious intolerance; I want to find solutions that will educate society to respect different faiths. I aim to destroy misconceptions of religion and work towards building a united community.


Anushka Singh

Hello! My name is Anushka Singh. I am 19 years old, and I am an American citizen of Indian descent. I was born in Connecticut and grew up there before moving to Mumbai, India in 2008. I have always been interested in areas such as politics, religion, and diplomacy, which is why interning at the United Nations is an enormous privilege. Having grown up in two disparate countries and cultures, I have begun to understand the urgent need to address issues such as gender equality, sexual abuse, terrorism and poverty through peaceful talks, conflict resolution and effective action.

I am interested in areas including women’s empowerment and women’s equality, global terrorism, and interfaith education and cooperation. I am most passionate about women’s rights because I feel this is an issue that society still has to make significant progress in today. However, gender equality, religion and terrorism are challenges that are intricately linked and that cannot be detached from one another. I strongly believe that the militant organizations that plague the world are a culmination of political instability, religious discrimination and disillusionment that can only be dissolved by spreading religious tolerance and advocating democratic structures in their regions. Social justice, specifically interfaith education, is crucial in combating terrorism by creating a world that is accepting of different religions and worldviews. I also hope that in my time at the United Nations I can help equalize women’s role in society by overpowering cultural and structural norms that subordinate women.


Philine van Karnebeek

Hi, my name is Philine van Karnebeek and I am a 16-year-old junior living in Amsterdam. Since 2014, I have become increasingly interested in politics and religion and the relationship between the two. Although I personally am an atheist, I have always kept an open mind towards religion and I do embrace many of the principles that religions stand for. While searching for activities to do during my summer vacation, I came across the internship on the Temple of Understanding website. This internship embraces both religion and politics and that is why it stood out to me. I am particularly interested in gender issues and women’s security issues. I want to make a difference in this aspect of our society. In addition to the work that I currently do to create security for women in different communities, I believe that this internship will help me come closer to the reality of achieving my goal of creating more economic, social and physical security for women all around the world.


Sara Thirlwell

Hello, my name is Sara Thirlwell. I am 16 years old, and I am from Toronto, ON, Canada. I am an advocate for positive change, social justice, and building peace among our nations for the overall positive movement of the world. This is what specifically led me to applying for this internship at the United Nations through the Temple of Understanding. As a citizen of this world and as an advocate for overall positive change in all aspects that have significant effects on our world, such as the environment, equality, social justice, peace building and many more, I saw a wonderful opportunity to share my core values with what the United Nations and the Temple of Understanding’s purpose is to build, as well as to continue to learn from my fellow interns, the United Nations, and the Temple of Understanding. Moreover, I will bring what I learn from this experience to my future experiences and to the future of our world. In addition, my intention this summer though my specific interests of Women Initiatives, What Makes for Peace, and Ecological Justice, is to learn from newer perspectives in order to create a greater change for the world. By having an open mind, I hope to not only learn more about myself and the lives and perspective of others, but also to learn and understand how each of the aforementioned topics have such a significant impact on our lives. Additionally, through knowledge, understanding, and interconnection, we can work together to create a greater outcome for the world. Through hard work and determination, I believe as youth and citizens of this world, we can make a difference.  


Grace Wilson

My name is Grace Wilson, and I am 17 years old. I am from New York City. I was initially inspired to work at the UN because of all of the important work that they do around the world, especially as it pertains to my chosen initiative, Peacemaking. As the world changes and becomes more and more divisive, the UN’s role in international relations has become increasingly important, which is a part of what makes this internship such an important one. I am interested in researching different methods to attaining peace in war zones and what methods might work best to expediently promote widespread peace.




Nicholas Wright

My Name is Nicholas Wright. I am from Louisville, Kentucky, and I currently attend Ballard High School. What drew me to this UN internship was a longing for change. In this day and age, I feel like we spend too much time discussing problems and not enough time trying to find solutions to them. I applied for this program because I want to have an actual hand in making a change. Why waste time talking about what is wrong with the world when you could be helping to make a change yourself. That is my goal and motivation for applying to this internship. I am especially interested in distribution of water, world hunger, poverty, and human trafficking. There are more issues that concern me but those have become main focuses for me recently. I have worked with programs to help provide less developed countries with more food so naturally world hunger is regularly on my mind. Distribution of water goes hand in hand with world hunger; it does not matter if you have food if you do not have access to clean water. I hope that during this summer internship I have the opportunity to collaborate with others to help find solutions to these issues because they are immensely important to society. The UN helps fight various dilemmas that threaten the cohesivity of our world. I just want to be a part of the change.  

Resources on Women, Religion, and Rights from the UN


Realizing the Faith DividendRealizing the Faith Dividend: Religion, Gender, Peace and Security in Agenda 2030

This report focuses on the role of religious actors and religious considerations in the SDG agenda, particularly as they pertain to gender equality, peaceful coexistence and security considerations. The perspectives, ideas and initiatives discussed in these pages bring together experiences and policy analysis shared from the different realities of Donors, UN agencies and Faith-Based NGOs. The narratives build on and inform policies — required at a time when religion is predominantly viewed as an emerging challenge.


b1e2f580d5f9903ff82457c6bc548cc7Religion, Women’s Health and Rights: Points of Contention, Paths of Opportunity

This white paper looks at the religious arguments around some of the most sensitive and contentious gender-related issues from the perspective of the major faith traditions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. An article noting thisrReport and its launch in Oslo in May, was published in the Huffington Post, penned by one of the key consultants who compiled this for UNFPA and Norad. The article can be found here.

Meet TOU’s Summer #UN Interns!

The Temple of Understanding’s 2016 student interns have successfully completed their first two weeks at the United Nations! We are delighted to have such a talented and diverse group. Read on to meet our 20 interns and learn about the projects they will be pursuing at the UN this summer.

Nicolas AlvaradoHi, my name is Nicolas Alvarado, and I am seventeen years old. I am American, French and Colombian, and I am trilingual in the respective languages of my nationalities. I am very interested in international relations and business, and so I decided that this internship at the UN could help me get a better sense of this. Furthermore, I wanted to merge myself into a community where the languages, cultures and beliefs present are endless, so what better place to go than the UN.

The project that I am going to work on during the internship will be about the reintegration of child soldiers in Colombia after the signing of the peace process. Having lived in Colombia for a while, this topic is very important to me because it has been very detrimental to the country. The conflict being resolved is an incredible feat for Colombia. Furthermore, my topic of the reintegration of children goes hand-in-hand with my non-profit, which donates bicycles to underprivileged schools in order to be able to create a healthy and fun environment for the kids. Finally, I am very concerned with finding ways that the Colombian child soldiers can really be re-accepted into society and for them not to be marginalized or discriminated against; maybe Bicy-Green, my non-profit, can be an initiative that can help.


Kieran DowneyMy name is Kieran Downey and I am a sixteen-year-old girl from New York City. I attend Convent of the Sacred Heart. Initially, I heard about this internship through my school and from friends who have participated in the program; I was inspired by the Temple of Understanding’s mission, which correlates with my eleventh grade yearlong religion project about Religious Violence in the Middle East and the role of inter-religious dialogue in the Church. I am interested to learn more about issues including human rights, environmental and global issues, international law, social justice, and counterterrorism. I aspire to be a global citizen and be informed and aware of how an NGO and the United Nations can work together to foster social justice. One of the goals in my school community is for students to be compelled to action; therefore, my interest to strengthen my ability as an educated and involved citizen to promote change in our world can be expanded with the exposure to global issues through the United Nations.

For my final project, I will be researching the history of Bangladesh as a secular country, despite its national commitment to Islam in 1977. Additionally, I want to learn more about the violence against non-Muslims and other foreigners within Bangladesh and discover ways in which to promote peace and unity within Bangladesh through interfaith dialogue. I hope to speak with a representative from the Bangladesh Mission to get first-hand information about the relationship between religion and politics within this secular nation. I want to research more about the goals of a secular nation, as many believe it provides a more inclusive environment. Violent extremism is a global issue, but has become notably present in Bangladesh recently, and I therefore look forward to the opportunity to delve into this complex topic.


Elzat ErkenMy name is Elzat Erken. I am sixteen years old and I was born in East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China). My priority of being an intern at the United Nations is to help people in need, especially refugees, and enable them to have better lives. Since there are many refugee communities in Philadelphia, I plan on helping them by building organizations and encouraging more people to get involved in them. I will also find ways to have the voice of underrepresented people heard at the United Nations, like the Uyghur, Tibetan and other minority groups. I hope to come up with solutions that can ease the human rights violation against those minorities.

My topic for the final project will be “Human Rights Issues in East Asia and the Middle East.” Many human rights violations are occurring in Asia because of government oppression against minorities. As a victim, I hope to let more people know about the underrepresented minorities and how they are suffering deprivation of human rights from the government. Human rights defenders are thrown into prison or executed due to their active human rights advocacy and their action of raising human rights awareness in the local community. I hope that United Nations can put more effort on human rights protections in Asia.


My name is Manuela Figueiredo and I am sixteen years old. I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, but I moved to New York when I was five years old and have been here ever since. Studying at Convent of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls school in the heart of New York City, I have been extremely lucky to never experience much of the adversity that exists in the world towards women and other minorities. However, that has not prevented me from studying these adversities in the hopes of someday making an impact myself.

For my final project in this internship, I will be researching the impact of climate change on the Syrian Civil War and sequentially, the Syrian refugee crisis. Many studies have demonstrated that the drought, which occurred in Syria from 2006-2011, was one of the factors that contributed to the social unrest that led up to the civil war. I will also focus my research on how the current climate situation is unsustainable when considering the large influx of Syrian refugees migrating to both developed and developing countries. In my research, I hope to brainstorm more sustainable methods of accepting new migrants with respect to the impact of climate change.


Grant Gelles PictureI am Grant Gelles, a student at the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering in Stamford, Connecticut. I love everything business-disciplined and am incredibly passionate about health and fitness, cars, and especially civil liberties and human rights. My interest in a UN internship spawned from my access to the UN at a young age via my older brother (a past intern at the TOU), and father, both infatuated by the consciousness and awareness of the United Nations and Temple of Understanding. My interests include and surpass consciousness and awareness, and I’m particularly interested in maintaining liberty and ensuring that I make a positive impact in the world, both with positive thought and action. I pursue this passion in everything I do by seizing opportunities, educating people, and being educated by all that surrounds me.

During my time at the United Nations, I plan on seeking information regarding the effects that education has on maintaining peace and stability. This broad topic explores how education can be used as a vessel to prevent terrorism, promote equality, and ensure a sustainable future. In pursuit of this topic, I plan on working closely with UNICEF and many other organizations who protect the rights of students and spread their abilities to learn and grow as members of society and as global citizens. My philosophy is to ensure that education is not only the greatest weapon, but will promote a higher functioning society that will yield a more stable and enhanced future in the worlds of science, technology, arts, infrastructure, etc.


Dylan JunkinMy name is Dylan Junkin and I am seventeen years old. I live in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (1 hour from Philadelphia) and attend a public high school called Central Bucks East. Throughout the last four years, I have grown more interested in social justice and pursued this interest through documentary filmmaking, writing, and currently, this internship. During my 9th grade year, I made a documentary about the Armenian Genocide for a research project, but decided to continue my research into the subject after finishing the project. I was fortunate enough to interview survivors of the event, whose stories both captivated and sickened me. The following year, I did another project on the Cambodian Genocide and made a documentary and website featuring the testimonials of the survivors I interviewed. In the moment, I did not realize the tremendous impact these experiences had on me, but during the last three years I have been exposed to ideas and events I would not otherwise understand, I have learned about different cultures, and most of all I have realized the need for a connected and cohesive world when confronted with war and genocide. These are the reasons I have decided to pursue my interests through this internship.

Recently, I was able to travel to Israel and the West Bank as well through a program for Israeli/Palestinian youth called Writing Matters. While abroad, I gained a better sense of the everyday conflict that exists in the region. It is not always dramatic like the newspapers portray it, nor does it feel dangerous, but there is an unspoken tension and a sense that people on each side of the debate yearn for something different—a solution. I decided to do my final project on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it is that sentiment I wish to capture to fully analyze the differing viewpoints of the Israelis and the Palestinians, the history of the conflict, and what the future may hold for the region. Specifically, I believe the best way to showcase this emotionally charged situation is a documentary. The people I interview will be able to speak for themselves and none of the passion, feeling, and meaning in their words will be lost. My main goal is to interview as many people as possible during these five weeks so that my final project encompasses many viewpoints and I am able to accurately portray all perspectives. I also want to speak to a mixture of government delegates and everyday citizens of each region, so that I am able to highlight the contrast between the wishes of the politicians and the wishes of the people. In conjunction with the Temple of Understanding, I am additionally hoping to speak to religious leaders of Muslim, Arab Christian, and Jewish organizations to gain perspective on each group’s attitudes surrounding this topic.


Meher KaurMy name is Meher Kaur. I am seventeen years old, and I am from Maryland. I am here to explore my interests in the field of international relations and to find ways to provide long-term and short-term humanitarian aid. During my junior year of high school, I completed an extensive research project on the conflict in South Sudan, with a focus on the UN’s role in resolving the conflict. This project sparked my interest in the UN and inspired me to apply for the internship program with the Temple of Understanding.

During the course of this internship, I am researching the conflict in Punjab and how the UN and various international organizations can contribute to provide aid. Currently Punjab struggles with large unemployment rates, poverty, disregard for human rights, and a massive youth substance abuse problem. I believe something needs to be done to save the young generation of Punjab. Throughout my research, I am focusing on the root causes of these problems.


Grace KimGreetings! My name is Grace Kim and I am from Montrose, one of the (many) sunny suburbs of Los Angeles, California. I am a seventeen-year-old with a passion for humanitarianism that stems from my travels to Bolivia and China. Interacting with the locals exposed me to the various problems existing in underdeveloped communities. Having grown up in a sheltered neighborhood, I was shocked to see first-hand that issues that I had read about in the news were very much a reality. That initial shock has stuck with me to this day and motivated me to apply for the Temple of Understanding internship.

Through my internship at the UN, I hope to delve deeper into the topics of youth empowerment and youth participation in humanitarian efforts. My decision to focus specifically on the role of the youth comes from my personal involvement back home – I had the opportunity to co-found Give2Friends Foundation, a student-run non-profit organization that proactively fights to better the lives of the homeless, disabled, and foster children in my local community. In conjunction with Give2Friends, I am also the Corps Commander of my high school’s Air Force Junior Reserved Officer Corps, a student-run leadership program that aims to create better citizens of America by promoting service before self. As I am heavily involved with youth-run programs, I hope that the TOU project and the UN internship will provide me with not only a wider knowledge base, but also a network of NGO leaders and like-minded students that can promote youth involvement in the local and global community.


Hyukjin KoMy name is Hyukjin Ko, and I am an eighteen-year-old rising senior at Bishop TK Gorman High School in Tyler, Texas. I am currently attending high school as a foreign exchange student from South Korea. While living in South Korea, I frequently heard the news about military tension, political conflict, and stories of separated families, which prompted me to pay attention to international affairs. Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon was elected as the United Nations Secretary General in 2006, which sparked my interest in the United Nations and international relations. Eventually, my interest in international relations and the event discussion club at my school led me to want to intern at the UN. My main goal is to engage with people from different countries and ethnicities at the United Nations. I strongly believe that religious extremism and political conflict most likely come from the lack of understanding and overall misconception; therefore, I have aimed to interact and share viewpoints with people so that I can contribute and change real problems.

During my internship at the United Nations, I want to focus on the relationship between religion and politics and also analyze different religious perspectives towards religious extremism in the Middle East. Religious radicalism has influenced and threatened people’s rights and lives for a long period of time, which is why I expect to break the misconceptions people have about religions and argue that the only way of solving the problem is to negotiate and engage everyone, because this will minimize the damage and will enable us to figure out the solution to this problem.


My name is Ava Levin and I am from Cleveland, Ohio. I am seventeen years old and will be a senior in high school in the fall. During this internship, I hope to learn more about the world from less of a Eurocentric viewpoint, attend a variety of meetings and side-events, and explore New York City. I hope to accomplish all of these goals alongside the other interns as we create lasting friendships.

I am going to focus on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which is “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.” I also hope to delve into the intersectionality of this goal and SDG 5, or “Gender Equality.” I plan to do a case study on at least one country in Africa, likely Liberia, Somalia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although I will focus on one place, I will look into Rule of Law practices in surrounding countries to see how successful projects there could be applied to the place in which I research in depth. I want to specifically look into access to justice (especially for women) and especially creative institutions and programs. I cannot wait to learn more about this topic and share what I learn with my peers.


Savanna LimHi! My name is Savanna Lim and I am eighteen years old. I grew up in Singapore, but I now reside in Houston, Texas. I am excited at the prospect of being able to meet the people in the foreign service whom I want to be in the future, and to observe the day-to-day life at the United Nations.

For my project, I will be doing a comparative analysis of sustainable development goal #4, or quality of education, between Southeast Asia and Latin America by using two case studies from each region. I will also be looking at root causes for any disparities and similarities between the regions. In addition, I am looking into how the teaching of the English language affects the quality of education and in turn the development of the country as a whole. Since the SDG’s are fairly new and are still fresh in the minds of other delegates, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask representatives from different countries how they will develop SDG #4 and what tools they will use to ensure the continued stability of their respective projects. I am very passionate about education and the two regions and am excited to present my findings!

Here are some links that I am using to assist my research: Report Card on Education in Southeast Asia; Education and Poverty in Latin America; Education in Indonesia; How Education Shaped Communist Cuba; Educational Quality and Inequality in Latin America


Lauren LiottiMy name is Lauren Liotti and I am seventeen years old. I have lived in New York City my entire life, but I will be moving to Scotland in September for University. I decided to be an intern at the United Nations through the Temple of Understanding after cultivating an interest for international affairs throughout high school and three years of Model UN.

For my final project, I will be studying the destruction of religious and cultural sites that have been destroyed in the recent conflicts in the Middle East. Specifically, I will outline not only what has happened to these sites thus far, but also the steps that have been and will be taken to prevent the further loss of sites of historical importance. I will also be looking at how the United Nations and the UN Organization UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) have been combatting the losses of valuable historical, cultural, and religious artifacts and locations. I hope to interview someone from UNESCO to have a deeper understanding of what can be done to protect these important sites for future generations. I am very excited to research this very interesting and pressing topic over the next few weeks, and I look forward to utilizing the resources of both the Temple of Understanding and the UN.


Elena Younhye OckHello! I am Elena Younhye Ock from South Korea. I am an eighteen-year-old rising senior who has been studying in the United States for the last two years. I decided to study in the United States in preparation for the global career I have dreamed of, which I am very excited to begin with the United Nations High School internship. In the future, I want to fight for the rights of the marginalized, refugees, or any victims of discrimination and injustice.

For my final project at this internship, since I want to become an international human rights lawyer, I want to broaden my understanding of the complexity and magnitude of the human rights violations in North Korea. The project will cover different areas, including: the measures that the regime employs to keep the freedom away from its people, the violations on the human rights of North Koreans, and the history of the condemnations and sanctions from the international community and their impact on the lives of the North Koreans and its government’s policy. In addition, I will also examine the human rights violations of the North Korean refugees.


Elle ParkMy name is Elle Park, and I am eighteen years old. I am currently an upcoming senior at Syosset High School on Long Island, but I moved from Seoul, South Korea in 5th grade. At an era when violence prevails the earth and global conflicts as well as cultural differences lead into wars, peacekeeping efforts are needed more than ever. Ever since I was a child, I have always looked up to the work that the United Nations has been doing to improve international relations, whether it be on nuclear weapons and border control or on improving lives of the oppressed population.

When I saw the opportunity to be part of that workforce in the summer, I became interested immediately. It is saddening to see the lives of civilians ruined forever due to war, oppressive regimes, and hunger. I am interested in providing education for developing countries, especially for women and children who never had a chance for a formal education. I hope to work on a solution to provide education by supplying wireless internet in regions that lack them and cannot be part of the global conversations online.


Diana PaulsenMy name is Diana Paulsen. I am seventeen years old and I am from Houston, Texas. I applied for the Temple of Understanding Internship Program because of a conviction instilled in me by my parents, my faith, and my school: that all people have a moral obligation to create positive social change. The UN provides an amazing forum for affecting social change around the world, one which I hope to be able to utilize.

For my research topic, I would like to examine the links and connections between environmental justice and gender equality. Women are uniquely affected by climate change and are uniquely situated to be part of the solution. Also, underlying gender inequalities exacerbate both the factors leading to climate change and the kind of effects that it can have. To learn, check out these resources: UN Women: Sustainable Development and Climate ChangeWomen and the Environment; and UN Resources on Gender and Women’s Issues: Women and the Environment


Evan SchlosserMy name is Evan Schlosser and I am a sixteen-year-old from Pennington, New Jersey.  I have developed an eager desire to pursue a career as a political economist contributing to the UN’s efforts on international development through the following experiences: member of the coordinating committee at a soup kitchen in Trenton, NJ; serving as an officer of the Model UN Team and Co-Captain of the Debate Team at my high school; writing articles on international cooperative organizations; reading of The GuardianThe New York Times, and The Economist; and independent readings on topics including the UNESCO, the ILO, and the discussion of a global tax on wealth.

During my internship, I plan to explore ways in which international, national, regional, and local actors, while keeping in mind the general goals outlined in the SDG’s, as well as the progress made through the Grand Bargain at the World Humanitarian Summit, can work collaboratively and increasingly horizontally to foster a holistic approach towards the long-term goal of economic self-reliance for protracted internally displaced persons by breaking down silos that dominate the humanitarian-development nexus to implement an integrated policy approach. To paraphrase the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, the new development agenda must leave no one behind and help those furthest behind first. As was stated repeatedly during the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of ECOSOC, no sect of the population of our global society is further behind than protracted IDP’s.  This topic focuses on merely one of the avenues to bring economic self-reliance to protracted IDP’s: by establishing coordination between humanitarian and development actors at the international, national, regional, and local levels. My final research statement will by no means be a definitive and all-encompassing solution, but will aim to be a contribution to the possible solutions of the multi-faceted challenges facing protracted IDP’s.


Ashwini SelvakumaranHello! I am Ashwini Selvakumaran. I am sixteen years old and I’m really passionate about women’s rights issues, especially concerning global education and empowerment. I’ve had the privilege of being brought up in five different countries: Kazakhstan, Yemen, Malaysia, America, and Canada, where I currently reside. Moving all around the world has helped me gain a broader perspective on the important issues surrounding the world today, especially regarding the unfair treatment of women. Witnessing this conflict really sparked an interest in me to come up with a solution, hence igniting my passion for women’s rights. I can’t wait to impart my knowledge and gain new experiences during my time here at the United Nations!





Rhea SomanHello! My name is Rhea Soman, and I have been in this world for seventeen and a half years now. Most of those years I have spent residing in Sayreville, New Jersey. From a very young age, I was deeply interested in discussion. I lived for the transferring of ideas, the enlightening of the mind. I just always hungered for a deeper human understanding of concepts and events. Honestly, the communicating of different thoughts, the offering of different angles to perceive things, a new inventive insight, thought-provoking questions and answers are all very thrilling to me – and what better place to find such a collaborative discussion than the United Nations, an organization representing people of different countries, different lifestyles, different ideals? Through my experiences at the UN and my work on my project, I hope to continue to broaden my perspective and invite further discussion and reflection among people I interact with.

For my project I specifically hope to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between religion and politics. Religion and politics are both undeniably strong forces that govern people’s lives. I think studying the connection between the two is vital to further understanding human nature and conflicts that are affecting people’s daily lives in connection to those two powers. We cannot hope to solve the world’s biggest problems without looking within humanity and its deepest influences.


Christian YoonHello! My name is Christian Yoon. I’m seventeen years old and am from Mclean, Virginia. Since the beginning of high school, I have been passionately involved with my school’s Model UN club. From researching a variety of countries and topics, cooperating and applying diplomacy, and learning how to speak and write professionally, Model UN has truly been a blessing upon my high school experience, and one that has pushed me towards interning at the UN. I hope to apply my enthusiasm and creativity for Model UN to actual issues in the UN itself.

During my time here at the UN, I plan to research and prepare a presentation and essay regarding the influence of formal education on standards of living in developing countries. Through this topic, I want to analyze the current models of labor and education in developing countries, impediments to establishing lasting forms of formal education (such as child labor), and the effects that education can have on the factors that determine the standards of living. As established by the United Nations Development Programme, the Human Development Index (HDI) stands as the most accurate tool for gauging standards of living throughout the world. Not only do I hope to evaluate the standards of living in current models and conditions through the Human Development Index, but also the standards of living in countries that are of similar backgrounds, but utilize formal education systems. Throughout this endeavor, I hope to be able to assess the value of education, whether or not it is universally effective, and if it can influence the individuals at a communal and global level.


Kayla ZhuMy name is Kayla Zhu. I am sixteen years old, and I was born and raised in metro Detroit. My work with youth voices at the UN, as Chief Programs Officer of American Programs at the International Youth Council, has led me to pursue this internship. The youth of the world have the responsibility of creating a collective voice to challenge global issues that will shape our generation’s future. I hope to use this experience to serve as a youth advocate at the UN, as our generation looks ahead to the Sustainable Development Goals as a long-term development road map. Youth voices must always be at the table when developing policies for the present and long-term, and I would like to thank the Temple of Understanding for investing in youth and presenting us with the opportunity to become global change makers. My interests at the UN include sustainable urban development, food security, and development finance.

I will be focusing my research on the financing of humanitarian aid. The current system of humanitarian aid is widely accepted as unsustainable by all parties involved in the aid process and, as a result, the sector has been working towards developing a long-term approach to financing. The complexity of balancing reform with the reassurance of donor confidence is a challenge both governments and NGOs face on the path of developing a holistic development approach. The commonalities in reform suggestions include multi-year financing, multi-year planning cycles, and the analysis of comparative advantage. Many of the issues requiring humanitarian aid, such as food security and infrastructure development, are not short-term issues and are not effectively addressed by single-year initiatives. Humanitarian aid will always be necessary; therefore, it is crucial that we reform the system in which we work and look towards long-term planning.

UN Human Rights Council to Establish an Independent Expert on Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Identity #Orlando

Statement on the Adoption of a UN Human Rights Council Resolution Establishing an Independent Expert on Violence and Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Identity

Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
June 30, 2016

Today, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community around the world gained a new, high-profile advocate for their cause. I applaud the members of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) who voted in favor of creating the first-ever Independent Expert to report on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It is long past time for a senior person in the UN system to be singularly dedicated to promoting LGBTI rights.

This expert will track LGBTI issues around the globe and provide technical assistance and capacity building to help countries better address these issues. It will also institutionalize LGBTI issues into the work of the HRC, as the mandate holder will have a three-year term to submit reports to the HRC and partake in country visits.

This will be a hard job. In more than 70 countries around the world, same-sex activity or relationships are still criminalized. In some countries, LGBTI persons are harassed and even killed for who they are. In the United States, we witnessed the human cost of this horrifying threat during the June 12 terrorist attack in Orlando. As an international community, we have a very long way to go.

But we also have reason for optimism. This resolution, the third UN resolution on the human rights of LGBTI people, is part of an effort to end the persecution, targeting, and harassment of LGBTI persons and imbed into the DNA of the UN system a very simple truth that should be uncontroversial in 2016: LGBTI rights are human rights.

We applaud the work of the lead sponsors of the resolution – Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Uruguay – and all others who supported it. The United States looks forward to working closely with the Independent Expert in rooting out discrimination and violence against all LGBTI persons, so they can live in dignity and enjoy truly universal human rights regardless of where they were born or whom they love.

Read this statement on >>

TOU Joins American Indian Law Alliance to Recommend Water Study at UN

Intervention at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

We recommend that a study on sacred waters be conducted on the effects of extractive industries’ impacts on freshwater in North and South America (Turtle Island) including groundwater and sacred waters.

Fifteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)
9-20 May 2016, UN headquarters, New York, NY

Agenda Item 4: Implementation of the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum with reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Issues

Joint Intervention of: American Indian Law Alliance, Onondaga Nation, TONATIERRA, Sacred Places Institute, Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary, Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center, Indigenous Values Initiative, Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation, Southern Diaspora Research and Development Center, Loretto Community, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Ontario Native Women’s Association, NGO Mining Working Group, International Presentation Association, Sisters of Charity Federation, Society of Catholic Medical Missionaries, European Congress of Ethnic Religions, UNANIMA International, Temple of Understanding, NGO Congregation of the Mission, Edmund Rice International, WESPAC Foundation, Connie Hogarth Center for Social Action

Presented by Betty Lyons (Onondaga Nation),
President of the American Indian Law Alliance on 19 May 2016

1. Honorable Chair, Permanent Forum Members, Member States, Sisters and Brothers,

2. We applaud the study by Permanent Forum Members Dalee Sambo Dorough and Grand Chief Edward John entitled, “States Exploit Weak Procedural Rules in International Organizations to Devalue the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and Other International Human Rights Laws.” In particular paragraph 15 addressing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change states, “Indigenous peoples face marginalization in the negotiations of multilateral environmental instruments. Those procedural injustices directly translate into substantive injustices.”

3. We the Haudenosaunee, along with all Indigenous peoples, have a sacred relationship with and a mandate to speak for those things that can’t speak for themselves. The laws we live by regarding Mother Earth have been handed down from time immemorial. We need to stay mindful that these are gifts and should be met with gratitude and conservation. Water is a most precious gift, without her there would be no life.

4. We acknowledge that all living beings on Mother Earth have a purpose with specific duties and responsibilities. We affirm that all of humanity has a responsibility to protect Mother Earth and her life sustaining forces for all, but most thoughtfully for the seventh generation yet unborn. Indigenous peoples do not compartmentalize the environment, water, health, culture and our wellbeing. Everything is interrelated and cannot be neatly separated. We are not separate from our identity, culture or Mother Earth but we are one with them.

5. The continuing effects of the Doctrine of Discovery have many Indigenous Nations facing the same issues in the protection of their lands, waters and resources. Our Indigenous sisters and brothers, while in peaceful protest, are being detained, criminalized, persecuted and killed daily, to protect their homelands from extractive industries and member states in their never-ending quest for the consumption of natural resources. We are left with the devastation of pipelines, toxic waste disposal, mining, dams, as well as hydraulic fracturing and tar sands in our territories.

Rights of Mother Earth

6. We affirm these are violations of the UNDRIP, the UN Charter, nation-to-nation treaties and conventions. We should always remember that the laws of nature and the rights of Mother Earth supersede all other laws.
7. We acknowledge the resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 22 December 2015 on Harmony with Nature, “Recognizing that a number of countries consider Mother Earth the source of all life and nourishment and that these countries consider Mother Earth and humankind to be an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings.”

Water is Life

8. We are deeply concerned with the condition of Mother Earth’s fresh water lakes, rivers, streams, springs, tributaries and watersheds.

9. In keeping with the theme of the 15th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, “Indigenous peoples: conflict, peace and resolution,” we wish to highlight Onondaga Lake, located in the Onondaga Nation’s original territory, is our sacred lake and is the birthplace of democracy. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy was formed when the Peacemaker came to the shores of Onondaga Lake delivering the Great Law of Peace, bringing the message of peace, the power of unity and the power of the good mind. Our sacred Onondaga Lake remains the second most polluted lake in the world.

10. We note that water issues affect Indigenous Peoples across the globe. We know in our communities, each one of our six Nations is affected by serious water issues. For many Indigenous Peoples, there is no water treatment plant. We drink the water as it is, from our rivers and lakes. We have to consider who is downstream, as our water is affected by every interaction we have with it. From the Yaqui River to the Saint Lawrence River, our waterways are in desperate need of healing.

11. We wish to remind member states of Article 29 of the UNDRIP which establishes that Indigenous Peoples “have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment.” In the 2011 publication entitled, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples by James Anaya in paragraph 31, “With respect to the negative impact of extractive operations on water resources, it was noted that water resource depletion and contamination has had harmful effects on available water for drinking, farming and grazing cattle, and has affected traditional fishing and other activities, particularly in fragile natural habitats.”

12. We are deeply saddened and hold in our hearts our many sisters and brothers that have lost their lives in the effort to keep our sacred waters safe. Indigenous peoples are not the aggressors and will never give up looking for a peaceful resolution and cleanup of our waters as provided for under Article 28 of the UNDRIP.


13. We recommend that a study on sacred waters be conducted by Permanent Forum Members Dalee Sambo Dorough and Grand Chief Ed John on the effects of extractive industries’ impacts on freshwater in North and South America (Turtle Island) including groundwater and sacred waters. This study could explore the ways in which the contamination regarding sacred waters results in a loss of culture for Indigenous Peoples, as well as the catastrophic effects on the health, reproductive health, emotional, physical and spiritual well being of our women, communities, Nations and our youth. This study could give special attention to the affects on women and children.

14. We recommend all member states take action to implement and enforce the UNDRIP and assist in the cleanup of all sacred waters. All of humanity will stand to gain from it and could be used as a model of best practice within the UN fora and the world stage.

15. We affirm that member states and extractive industries, operating or seeking to operate in Indigenous territories, have the full free, prior and informed consent of the particular Indigenous Nation and other provisions as provided for under UNDRIP Articles 8, 25, 26, 28, 29, 32, and 37.


[A printable version of the final statement can be found here.]

Click the image for a video of Betty Lyons, President of AILA, delivering the statement:

Betty Lyons