It has been almost been two months since the Institute for Human Rights at UAB has gone to the United Nations and the experience is still so surreal. I have always dreamed about one day working for the United Nations; I just did not realize that the opportunity would come so soon. This was also my first time in New York and actually in a lively city, so I was also really looking forward to that experience. Our team was not only going to the UN for a tour but to work. As a rapporteur, I took notes and summarized the comments made by the participating countries during the general debate and concluding conference.
Even though every delegate of their respective country has meaningful contribution to the conference, the countries that stood out the most to me was my home country of Jordan, and my host country, Saudi Arabia. In the Arab World, persons with disabilities are unfortunately sometimes invisible members of society. The conference changed my perspective on the inclusion of Arab people with disabilities in their home countries. I was fortunate enough to interact with many Arabs with disabilities in the conference and listen to their experiences. The statements that stood out to me expressed feelings of relief due to an acknowledgment by their governments; noting a significant improvement of inclusion of persons with disabilities in society, through the implementation of special programs focusing on the education and recreational needs of people with disabilities that were not present 20 years ago.
When I was 12 years old, I visited a school called The Lady of Peace in Amman, Jordan. This school focuses on providing both the educational, recreational and psychological needs of all people with disabilities. I mentioned this to one of the fellow Jordanians participating in the conference, and she knew exactly which school I was talking about! She updated me on the school and let me know they have become very involved in advocating for the rights of people with disabilities by attending conferences throughout Amman. They are not only focusing their attention on providing these services but also promoting disability rights as human rights. She also highlighted that even though the school is a Christian led organization, both Muslims and Christians respectfully come together to help organize fundraisers to continue help the school keep it functioning. The Lady of Peace continues to have a strong sense of unity and community, even after all of these years.
For me, the most impactful moment of the whole conference were the comments made by the delegate of Iraq. They highlighted how global factors need to begin focusing on people affected by disabilities due to war and violence. The delegate mentioned how before violence and war, many of the refugees were not previously disabled. Global assistance and humanitarian efforts need to focus on helping these people adapt to their new situation by providing both technological and psychological assistance and support. Before the conference, the concept of disability due to violence never crossed my mind, and after the delegates remarks I experienced an “ah-ha” moment. The media, when reporting of refugees, focuses on the health and shelter of refugees but not once have I personally heard the media report on the struggles faced by people with disabilities. Initially, I was disappointed in myself for overlooking this population. I now realize that I need to take advantage of my awareness of the reality of disability and war, advocating for awareness to other members of society.
My favorite moment of the whole conference were the comments made by the delegate of Mexico. She was very vibrant and uplifting and reminded members of the conference that we need to change the way we portray people with disabilities. We as a society discuss disability we need to make it fun, exciting and in her words “sexy.” I enjoyed her remarks because she reminded us that we do not have to remain serious all the time when discussing disabilities, and if we want members of our society to care about disability rights, we need to approach the topic in a more engaging and optimist manner.
Overall, this experience was humbling. Throughout the conference, I felt surrounded by love, acceptance, and people who want to make a genuine change in the world. I learned so many different concepts from how the UN operates to what members of our society can implement regarding policy to influence change and real results. I hope one day to have the opportunity to return to the UN and work for them. Thank you to Dr. Reuter for this opportunity, and thank you to my team for making this trip so memorable. I will never forget this opportunity and will definitely cherish it forever.