Monday, March 7, 2011

Returning to the United Nations

The UN Headquarters in New York City
Most residents of New York City have probably never visited the United Nations Headquarters in the Turtle Bay neighborhood of Manhattan overlooking the East River. I recently did.
I first visited the United Nations before I lived in New York. In fact, I visited it twice before moving to its host city. In the mid 90’s I participated in a three day, two night, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) United Nations Seminar organized by the Peacemaking Committee of Shenandoah Presbytery. At the time, I was a member of the committee. A few years later, I returned for a second tour of the UN. That tour was part of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Conference the year the conference was held at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Recently, I had the opportunity and pleasure to visit the UN a third time, but this time as a resident of New York City. I was helping with a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) Youth United Nations Seminar involving youth and their adult leaders from upstate New York. Most of the seminar took place around the corner from the UN in the fellowship room of The Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. The afternoon of the seminar, we walked down to the UN and enjoyed a group tour.
Visiting the United Nations is like visiting an art gallery and museum. Numerous displays depicting and interpreting the work of the UN are intermingled with paintings, tapestries, sculptures, mosaics, stained glass and cultural artifacts given to the UN by foreign governments and wealthy patrons. One could easily spend a few hours viewing the displays and art.
Visiting the UN is also like visiting a foreign country, except it is not a country. Although a passport is not required to enter the UN compound, (in fact, no identification is required), one leaves US territory when entering. Many of the employees of the UN are foreign nationals, and many of the visitors are not American. Tours are available in any number of languages, as there are six official languages spoken at the UN: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish.
When you add the work of the UN General Assembly, Security Council and its various agencies that takes place in the building to the displays, art, culture and languages found in the building, the UN can be an awesome and exciting place. I have been to the US Capital Building and even visited members of the Senate and House of Representatives in the offices. I have been in the West Virginia Capital Building and Governor’s Mansion. The United Nations, however, surpasses them all in terms of culture, art and international mystique.

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