Opening Remarks at Paris Model UN Conference

Opening Remarks by Ana P. Santos
Journalist & Grantee Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting
Paris Model United Nations Conference
UNESCO Headquarters,
Paris, France
05 December 2014

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Dear Secretary General,
Dear Delegates and Model UN Directors, and Honored Guests

Good morning.  I am honored to make the opening remarks at today’s Paris Model United Nations Conference. I thank the American School of Paris, the United Nations and UNESCO for their efforts to organize this conference and gather the students here from all over Europe in their continued support of international cooperation and the ideals of the United Nations.

I congratulate the many delegates who are gathered here today. Your many months of preparation for this PAMUN will come to fruition over the next three days as you debate on and find resolutions to issues for the countries that you have come to represent. May this be the start of a continued awareness, engagement and recognition of your role as global citizens.

Since I received the invitation to speak at this conference, I have been working very hard at preparing for this speech and there were three questions that kept repeating themselves in my head:

1) One: Out of all the list of speakers that you have chosen to speak at this event, why was it important for you to hear the words of a journalist? There is a well-known joke that journalists talk too much already as it is. Why do you still need to give them a podium?

2) Two: how can I best address and connect with your generation, the “post millennials”

3) And three: What am I going to wear?

I found my answer to these three questions in three words:  Personable. Global. Unique. These three words are also the vision statement that embodies the conference theme of “Enhancing Global Standards for the Expanding Population”:

First, on the subject of “personable”:

The honor and privilege to be here and speak as a journalist are of profound significance to me. You see, though I graduated with a Journalism degree, I was not always a journalist. I first started my career in advertising and in banking, but I never stopped writing, mostly about HIV and women’s sexual health rights. These are issues that are very personal to me because I saw first hand how restrictive policies limit access and reinforce stigma. I saw first hand how lack of understanding of HIV and sexual health affected the lives of my friends and family. When I saw an opportunity for my writing to somehow make a difference, influence public opinion and help break down that stigma, that’s when I decided to leave my post as Assistant Vice President and make a career change.

Now, years after I made that career shift, a lot has changed in my profession. But many things remain the same.

Every day is still filled with urgency to tell people’s stories, to act as their messenger so they may be given a voice. Every day is driven by issues that you are passionate enough to care about and angry enough to want to change. Yes, there are days that are filled with the horrors of natural disaster, war and social injustice but every day presents an opportunity to be humbled by the unexpected display of kindness and generosity in every day people.

Every day is an opportunity to bear witness, give perspective and put people at the center–to be personable.

This profession that I love is in turmoil. It has been upended by the advent of technology, the Internet and the inundation of free content. But more and more, this is becoming an opportunity for collaboration, which leads me to the subject of being global.

I was somewhat surprised to find that no name has yet been given to your generation aged 18-19 and below except well, “post millennials”.

Not that there has been a shortage of recommendations for what to call this wired generation. Some of the suggestions have included: Selfies, iGen, Tweenials, and Evernets.

But I think Forbes Magazine captured it when it proposed calling this generation: GenerationWe. And when I say “we”, I mean w-e, not w-i-i.

If I may quote, “Due to technological advances, this cohort is wired and constantly connected. They’re rarely alone, even if they’re hanging out with buddies via text message, through gaming consoles or on social network sites. Their every moment is a We moment.”

I would like to build on this idea a bit further by adding that being connected is your new normal. Technology is your language and social networks are your platform. In this sphere, borders are blurred but issues are made clear and the need for accountability made even clearer.

You are also the generation that has been born into another kind of new normal: climate change, urban warfare and global recession.

You have also been born into an age where technology gives you exposure to the rest of the world and you are thus infused with a sense of duty and responsibility to take care of it.

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There have been a number of initiatives where young people have taken a stand and made their voices heard. Just recently, there were the Occupy Hong Kong Protest that was symbolized by an umbrella, driven by students and led by a young man named Joshua Wong. Time Magazine put Mr. Wong on its cover with the headline: The Face of Protest. Mr. Wong is 18 years old.

Looking at the issues that you have chosen to discuss in these coming days: youth unemployment, public health security during armed conflict and eliminating inequality through establishment of the next Millennium Development Goals, it is evident that you have an acute awareness and experience of these global realities, this new normal. When our perspective and view of the world becomes wider and diverse, the world becomes smaller. The more connected we all are.

I will digress a moment and I ask that you please indulge me.

Around this time last year, Typhoon Haiyan, a category 5 super typhoon that ravaged central Philippines, affecting about 16 million people, leaving 6,000 dead and close to two thousand missing.  Typhoon Haiyan was described by The Economist as “worse than hell”.

I flew to the disaster zone to cover Typhoon Haiyan and witnessed the personification of kindness and generosity – the international cooperation that we are speaking about today — as the world joined efforts to come to the aid of my country. I was moved by the images of my fellow Filipinos who suffered and mourned with such dignity. In the months that followed Haiyan, the Philippine government expressed its gratitude to the world for helping us rebuild our country by putting up “Thank You billboards” in London, New York, Germany and in several countries around the world. Here in Paris, the Philippines says thank you billboard was put up in in Galleries Lafayette.

Since I landed in Paris on Wednesday morning, I have been watching my country, the Philippines. I am anxiously monitoring the movement of Typhoon Ruby or Hagupit which is another super typhoon that appears to be following the same path as Typhoon Haiyan. Typhoon Hagupit is poised to affect the millions of people who are still recovering from the loss and grief brought by Haiyan.

Typhoon Hagupit comes at a time when in Lima, Peru almost 200 countries have gathered to discuss a new United Nations Climate Treaty. Next year there will be another meeting here in Paris to reach a final agreement on this new UN Climate Treaty.

It is an opportune reminder to think of another issue that affects us all: climate justice.

It is an opportune reminder that never before have we been in a better position to be the change that we want to see in this world.  Reporting and information sharing will become a joint responsibility as we are all consumers, creators, influencers. Your phone, your tablet is the digital format of what we have always called “word of mouth”.

When you think about the change you want to see in this world, I urge you to go further to what we at the Pulitzer Center call “telling untold stories”, the stories of the people of the countries you represent. Understand that each of the issues that you will discuss here are founded on the fears, dreams and aspirations of a country and its people.

Which brings me to my final point about being “unique”.

The skirt that I am wearing today is stitched by hand by the indigenous women of the T’boli tribe in the southern Philippines. These women are called dreamweavers because Legend has it that the designs for their weave patterns come to them in their dreams. Each stitch symbolizes the struggles of the T’boli people and their rich history. Through social enterprise initiatives, these designs are sold in boutiques and specialty shops in the United States and in Europe. The designer of this skirt told me that when the T’boli women found out their designs were being featured in fashion magazines and sold in various parts of the world, they began to cry.

Their talent, their craft was being recognized and valued  because it was a tradition and story that was uniquely their own. They were also crying for another reason: each skirt, each dress, each bolero that they sold was the realization of another dream–having the means to send their children to school.

In my language, there are not one but two words that mean “dream”. One is managinip which means to dream as when one is asleep and the other is mangarap which has a deeper connotation of aspiration, of having the imagination and courage to think beyond your current circumstance and not be limited by them but instead be moved by them to imagine a better life, a better world you want for yourself and for others.

I dare say that dreams are a representation of the best versions of ourselves. Dreams are the very essence of the human spirit.

Over the next few days, when you discuss enhancing global standards for an expanding population, which is essentially eliminating inequality, I encourage you to also think about addressing inequality’s biggest crime: how its robs us of our capacity to dream.

During this conference, you will sharpen your skills of negotiation and debate. You will harness your gifts of intellect and oratory speech—everything you need to prepare you to become global leaders in whatever career or profession you choose. I encourage you to also listen with respect, to have the empathy to understand and the humility to accept each other’s similarities and differences.

Bring this conversation forward in your world, to your audience on Instagram or on Twitter and continue to be actively involved in writing the narrative of your generation espousing the values of being personable, global and unique.

Be bold and fearless when you own up to the responsibility of being future global leaders, but never forget to honor the dream of a unified better world, a dream that we all share as global citizens.

As a final note, I would like to personally thank each and every one of you here today. I look at all of you here so filled with idealism and determination and I am so inspired. And I am so excited to again bear witness, to read and write about the legacy that you will choose to define your generation.

Thank you for giving me another reason to do what I do.

Salamat po at mabuhay tayong lahat!

*Photos courtesy of Molina Das, PAMUN XIV

 

 

 

 

 

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