Biwastha Khadka

3rd Cohort Fellow

In February, I was happy and pleased when I got selected for an opportunity to attend Quaker United Nation Summer School (QUNSS) 2020 in Switzerland, Geneva with an offer of full bursary covering my fee and travel costs. Due to the uncertainty posed by COVID-19, in-person QUNSS 2020 got cancelled. However, they opened a different way to learn about multilateralism and Quaker work at the international level to us. Along with the offer of an online alternative Summer School, Quaker United Nation Office (QUNO) have decided to offer all of us a place on the 2021 QUNSS. QUNO helps UN and other multilateral organizations to bring attention to issues of injustice and war issues. Regardless of all the uncertainties I was happy to attend a virtual summer school and get to learn from QUNO staff who have worked in the UN, multilateral organizations, and government delegations to foster peace and justice. Two weeks of virtual QUNSS sessions definitely played a key role in achieving my educational goals. We started our virtual summer school on July 6th and each session was 3 hours long, full of new learnings, discussion, and inspirations.

A virtual tour guide video of Quaker house made by program assistants for us was the highlight of my first day. The theme for first week’s Summer School was “Human Rights and Refugees” which is one of the QUNO’s four programs. It was a unique experience to hear from the representatives for Human Rights and Refugees who did their presentation of the Human Rights Council, Universal-Periodic Review, and Treaty Bodies. I must say it was not all a smooth and easy experience. It was hard for me to understand the human rights treaty bodies in the UN. However, as we started group activities, discussion, and Q&A sessions, it became a little easy to analyze and understand the UN and QUNO’s Human Rights System.  Similarly, another big topic I got to learn about was the Peace and Disarmament Programme from a representative for Peace and Disarmament. We were introduced to a new organization called the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). It was inspiring to hear from the WILPF representative who shared her experience of advocating, awareness-raising, and activism programs she has been involved in to sustain the peace. It was great to hear how the UN itself and other organizations have the ability to create change. 

Our second week was about the youngest QUNO Programme; Sustainable and Just Economic Systems. Joachim Monkelbaan representative for QUNO’s Sustainable and Just Economic Systems programs joined us. He gave us an overview of the WTO (World Trade Organization). Again, it was a new topic for me which brought some challenges for me to understand this area however, the readings and resources the QUNO team sent us a week before this session started made it easier to follow up on the presentation of Joachim and his work. He and Detmer (who works in the Human Impacts of Climate Change program) explained to us how the different systems work, what is going on with fisheries, and if there is such a thing as green growth. 

The second week was full-on intense week because each session we have new representatives with their broad area of work. I remember when we had a presentation by a director for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). She asked us to think about how European countries like Germany are the leading producers of chocolate when we know that the least developed countries like Ivory Coast and Ghana are the biggest producers of Cocoa. She talked about sustainable consumerism where she shared her thoughts on how empowered consumers can encourage business innovation, investment competition to drive sustainable production and consumption.  I look forward to learning more about the UN, QUNO representatives, and their work.

Attending virtual summer school with some of the smartest and politically aware young participants was an amazing experience. It was great to get to meet 25 participants from diverse countries like Burundi, Netherlands, UK, Rwanda, Singapore, and Myanmar. This summer school was full of diverse representatives, participants with diverse educational, cultural, and demographic experiences. This diversity created a discussion on a different perspective and broad topic like the Rohingya refugee crisis.  Right after we finished our last session of a summer school on July 17th, I got an email with the statement of appreciation for me from our program assistant. They wrote, “Amrita, we want to appreciate that you are very perceptive, and when you choose to share with us, it is incredibly clear and interesting: you bring fascinating different perspectives to conversations that we may not have thought of (especially thinking about your interest in public health).”

I want to thank Shrochis dai for supporting and reviewing my application for this summer school. Thank you for spending hours in preparation for my Summer School reference letter. I also want to thank Shana for reviewing and giving such affirming feedback on my application.  Overall, this virtual summer school offered me opportunities to learn about the inner workings of the UN and meet with professionals and friends who engage on a close level with the UN officials to build peace from many levels including supporting and strengthening peace-building groups on the grassroots level and facilitating diplomacy within the multilateral organizations. I can’t wait to meet everyone in-person and learn more from them.