KIHS’s Podraza learns about United Nations
NEW YORK — Kent Island High School senior Willow Podraza, 17, of Queen Anne, is developing an appetite for global or international affairs, and seriously considering majoring in that topic when she goes off to college next year. She spent five days in New York City during the middle of August at the United Nations along with about a thousand other young people from around the world, learning about and discussing critical global issues.
The program Willow was involved in is called “The Youth Assembly at the United Nations,” bringing young people from around the world together to take a fresh look at solving some of the world’s toughest problems.
“It was the best experience I’ve ever had,” said Willow. “I personally learned how the U.N. works. I learned to think ‘globally’, and I made many new friends and connections from all over the world.”
In the past year, Willow has been looking at and visiting many different colleges. New York University, Columbia University, both with outstanding international programs. Also George Washington University, U of Chicago, and Boston U, to mention just a few. At KIHS, she’ll be entering her third year taking Spanish, so going to a Latin American country could be on the horizon for Willow where Spanish is the dominant language. She said she would also be interested in exploring the possibility of learning Portuguese, the language of Brazil.
At the conference, Willow chose to participte in the international topic of gender equality. She said, “I was surprised that of all the nations who support the resolution in the U.N. of formally working toward gender equality, the United States is one of only seven nations that has not voted for the resolution!”
Willow has already had experiences traveling outside the U.S., starting when she was 10, she traveled to Paris, France, with her family, and just a few years ago, visited Vancover, Canada. These two trips, along with the U.N. experience, have strengthened her interests in global studies. “Maybe I’ll work at the U.N. someday,” she said.
At the U.N. Youth Assembly, there were three full days of sessions and topics to attend. Aug. 10, the first major topic was “Decent Work and Economic Growth,” presented by speakers from the World Bank Group. Other topics included Climate Action, Life Below Water, Life on Land, Clean Water and Sanitation — all major global environmental issues.
Thursday, Aug. 11, Willow attended the Gender Equality conference, coordinated by the office of Deputy Executive Director of UN Women. A plan was put forth titled: Reduced Inequalities, Quality Education and Zero Hunger, also session topics.
Friday, Aug. 12, the final full day off the assembly, Youth Involvement at the U.N, and Affordable and Clean Energy were the major topics.
Willow stayed at a dormitory at Pace University just a few blocks for the U.N. Others stayed at Columbia University.
The first evening, Aug. 10, a celebration and dance was held for all the participants. Everyone was asked to dress in “typical native attire” representing their nation. Willow wore a nice dress. Someone asked Willow why she didn’t where a “cowboy/cowgirl outfit” to the dance, as that’s the stereotype of Americans in many countries around the world. Willow, a longtime equestrian and president of the KIHS Equestrian team, laughed about that statement at the dance. She said that was about the closest thing to an equestrian discussion she had at the assembly with anyone.
Having been a member of Queen Anne’s County 4-H since she was 8, Willow has learned how to speak in public very well, having earned many awards in the annual 4-H Public Speaking Contest. She also helped start a new club at KIHS last year, related to the Gender Equality issues discussed at the U.N. The club, “The Pro-Girl Collective,” focuses on female issues and causes: “improve self-image, fundraising for breast cancer research, information about domestic violence, even discrimination Muslim women have been facing in the U.S.”
One of the fundraisers the club participated in last year went to the Mala Fund, named for Malala Yousafzai, of Pakistan. She lived in a region taken over by the Taliban and because she spoke out for full educational right for girls, the Taliban attempted to assassinate her. She was shot in the face, but survived, and as a teenager was invited to speak at the U.N. Mala became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The final evening of the assembly a boat cruise was arranged for all participants. The ship sailed up the East River and along the Hudson River. They saw the Statue of Liberty at night and went past Ellis Island in NY Harbor, both symbols fitting of a U.N. visit.
Willow’s senior year appears to be starting with a full schedule. Her recent global experience may indeed lead to a career. The U.N. experience will certainly guide her life for the immediate future, she said.
Inside the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations. Top row, Left to Right: Carla Schröder, Munich, Germany; Simon Schröder, Munich, Germany; Manu Goswami, Calgary, Canada; Marie Mueller-Elmau, Munich, Germany. Bottom row, Left to right: Molly Paul, Raleigh, NC, USA; Paula Domit, Mexico City, Mexico; Brittney Wong, Toronto, Canada; Willow Podraza, Queen Anne, MD, USA.