Slovak Youth Delegate visits UN Headquarters in New York

Hana Skljarzka writes about her experience

During my stay in New York I have learned several new things I would like to share  with you. In New York, as one individual, you are no-one. You are swallowed up by the crowd and the tempo of the city. You have to be really exceptional to be recognized by people on the streets.

As a Youth Delegate at the United Nations, you are also no-one - yet. However, a positive message is that our actions are exceptional enough for people to realize our capacity and contribution to the UN discussions and its transformation. Unfortunately, the very process of youth participation at the UN is too slow and often does not reflect the promises made by countries and other stakeholders who claim this kind of participation is one of their priorities.

Each Youth Delegate has the opportunity to deliver his or her own statement and suggest changes in resolutions. Unfortunately, in most cases, we have to act in line with the priorities of our governments. More of us are not allowed to freely contribute to discussions.  Our activities sometimes resemble an internship more than youth representation. When we get the word, we can see smiles on other diplomats' faces, often just noting carelessly: "It´s just a youth delegate". Honestly, I do not find it surprising.

We are strangers. We do not speak their language, we are not aware of 'behind the scenes' decisions. And our work is far away from what we could call "politics". Nevertheless, we are not totally useless. We have something they do not. We have a dose of naivety, unceasing dedication and only one primary interest - youth wellbeing in our own countries. For us to effectively perform our role as the middlemen between youth and our governments, we have to be reflecting the voices of young people exclusively, because these are not often reflected by policymakers, considering that youth policies are often the total opposite. The situation should be the other way round. States should start listening to us. Our structures desperately need mechanisms which will ensure our 'youthful kind of thinking' is independent and our decisions are reasonably binding. Only this way can we achieve the necessary significance of our status and role in these bodies. Blaming governments and the UN for the non-functional status quo is not the right way to solve this problem. Both sides have to take action to improve the situation.

As 'Youth' Delegates we must stay 'young'. We must not be afraid of speaking openly about the deficiencies in every youth programme and system to which we belong to. We have to learn to speak 'their' language and understand the stances they advocate. For there could be a series of rational steps behind every decision made by them, which we do not understand due to our lack of experience. Our expertise should not be based on our personal experience or feelings. It has to be founded on the empirical experience of people who we as delegates represent. Afterwards we can become their 'political representatives'.  We cannot rely on achieving something merely by changing some words in resolutions. We should follow the motto of German Youth Delegates Florian and Elize: 'Think globally, act locally'.

Despite these criticisms, I still strongly believe that my presence as a Youth Delegate has been beneficial for both sides. We have to learn how to cooperate with each other and at the same time start to respect each other as equal agents on international, national and local level.

My words of great appreciation go to delegations that were eager to take the responsibility and brought forward Youth Delegates´ proposals as their own. I also highly appreciate that Slovakia is one of the countries actively supporting youth participation. I would like to thank the Slovak Foreign Ministry which enables and helps the Youth Delegates to attend the UN General Assembly in New York every year. I would also like to thank the Slovak Permanent Mission to the United Nations in New York, especially Peter Šelepec. They have provided me with flexibility in my work and have offered me help with my every step at the UN.

Last but not least I would like to thank my fellow Youth Delegates. Thank you for your enthusiasm and push for radical changes, which were challenged so many times during the negotiations. But most importantly thanks for your undying fight at the UN. Due to this, our successors will have the chance to say that they are not just some other invisible individual in the crowd.