My New York experience as narrated by Natasha Muhoza
Falling in love with WYA
We were mentally unprepared for the unforgivingly cold air, scattered rains, and failure to reach the shuttle that had been booked to pick us up the day we arrived. Confused, exhausted and hungry, we nonetheless toughed it out and booked another bus from JFK international airport. It dropped us at the Grand Central station stop in midtown Manhattan from where the driver was kind enough to show us where to hail a yellow cab. We dragged our four big suitcases down the street with whatever reserve energy we had left and finally found ourselves at the ‘WYA house’ upper East Manhattan.
On arrival at World Youth Alliance (WYA) we were received by our supervisor, Nadja Wolfe, who welcomed us warmly. We did a house tour and were then introduced to the interns present. Next came adjustment to the – much colder than East African – weather. There was also adjustment to the new neighborhood, the city at large, and of course, time difference.
The WYA promotes respect for human dignity in all aspects of individual and societal life and fosters its members to reflect this in their work and personal lives. At the WYA house, one is generally expected to embrace and participate in enhancing community, love and mutual respect. I appreciated that regardless of position, creed, color or opinion, one never felt ‘left-out’ or undermined. The WYA house quickly feels like home, and the intentionality behind this is why WYA will always be special.
Maria-Louisa and I worked as legal advocacy interns, under the advocacy department of the organisation. Our work majorly revolved around understanding international and human rights law in relation to their influence on policies with a view to promoting sufficient recognition and protection of the inherent human dignity of all persons. WYA’s Certified Training Program is at the core of forming a solid understanding on this. It comprises comprehensive readings from texts – both classical and contemporary – and international legal documents that provide deeper insight into the philosophical foundation for WYA’s work.
By the second week, we received our UN passes granting us full access to the UN Headquarters premises for the duration. It was fascinating to be able to attend some key high-level deliberations on international instruments, their side-discussions, as well as have unlimited access to the UN library. One such event was a four day Global Compact on Migration negotiations on issues concerning definitions, status of migrants in various countries and regions and the current laws governing all dimensions of migration. Special focus was on determining the nature of protections and access granted to migrants in various jurisdictions that form the UN international community. We were additionally engaged in multiple conversations as well as research and reporting surrounding societal concerns on maternal and overall health systems, in light of present international legal and policy structures.
New York city life
One of the best things about New York was internet connection almost everywhere, including the streets. This made navigation to almost every place in the city easy, especially from train stations. This made me want to live in New York forever.
During my stay in New York, I visited the Central Park, a must visit for anyone touring New York and watched magnificent parades, dances and acrobatics in several other parks. I also had a wonderful opportunity to have brunch with friends in different restaurants both close to my residence and further away in Harlem. I also walked through the famous Times Square and attended a talk at the New York Public Library where I got to meet and listen to Zambian Economist, Dambisa Moyo. Interestingly in one of our many tours, we bumped into renowned civil rights activist, Rev. Al Sharpton. I also got the opportunity to visit Rockefeller Centre, the World Trade Centre and the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral among other places.
Indeed, New York is a beautiful place but it had its downside. In my opinion, I found the city life to be very individualistic and one could easily descend into loneliness. It is not unusual to walk past people crying to themselves, or sit by them on the train. Cleanliness is also a challenge as some nicer parts of the city are relatively kept clean while others including train stations harbor a worrying stench from dirt. Noise pollution from the ever-active streets was evident while homelessness was visible in some places. It’s not misplaced to love and dislike New York in almost equal measure, but it is one of those places whose conveniences override the discomforts and make it bearable if not addictive.
Nonetheless, I completely soaked in each day of the two and a half months in New York. I allowed the city to teach, entertain, charm and even frustrate me because it did sometimes. I also learnt some fundamental lessons: positivity, self-drive, discipline and an open-mind are life skills that cannot be taught in a classroom.
This article was written by Natasha Muhoza
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