Blog – Helen Blachford
Helen is PSCHE Curriculum Leader at a secondary school in Hampshire, Chair of ACT Council and a member of the Expert Subject Advisory Group for Citizenship.
The United Nations at 70: time to invest in our global system
A conversation with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Friday 5 February 2016, Central Hall, Westminster
As a citizenship teacher, days don’t get much better than 5 February 2016! I felt very privileged to be invited to attend a United Nations Association UK event hosting the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. I was even more excited to receive an email the day before inviting me to a private reception with Ban Ki-moon following the main event.
So it was that I found myself sat in Central Hall, Westminster – the same venue where the first ever Secretary-General of the UN was sworn in some 70 years earlier on 1 February 1946 – listening to the present UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.
He gave a keynote speech outlining some of the highlights during his 9 years in office, what his priorities are and have been as well as some of the more challenging aspects of his role. He was a warm, generous, humble man who had some great stories and some inspiring words.
He opened, speaking emotionally, with the role the UN played in his early life when as a 6 year old boy in 1950 the Korean War broke out. His family were forced to flee the country – he talked of this being a miserable time, more so for his parents who understood the true horror of their situation. His family survived as a result of the food, shelter and medicines supplied by the UN. He remains humbled by people suffering in the world and the beacon of hope which the UN provides. He urged young people not to take anything for granted and to look beyond the UK – the fact they live in a democracy which is powerful had not come for free but had taken many sacrifices by many people.
His key priorities when he came to office were climate change and sustainability, and human rights – with specific reference to LGBT rights, violence against women, and empowering women and young people. These remain areas of his work he is passionate about and they form part of the new ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ announced in January this year.
The need to be proactive rather than reactive in the prevention of violent extremism
He spoke about the ‘savagery’ in the world – with 125 million people in need of immediate humanitarian aid, the Syrian crisis, the Yemen crisis – and how visiting these areas took a psychological toll on him. He urged those who did not feel we should help to visit these areas themselves and that would change their minds forever! He spoke about violent extremism and the need to invest in prevention – to be proactive rather than reactive, a message here for schools and their citizenship curriculums.
‘Raise your voice’ – an important message for young people
Finally, in a question and answer session, a 14 year old schoolgirl asked Ban Ki-moon: ‘How will you help me to get my voice heard?’. His reply will remain with me for a long time to come. He told the girl: ‘raise your voice and I will protect and support you… expand your vision and your mindset. I have to be balanced, political, restrained sometimes but you do not, raise your voice to work for the betterment of all’. I’m not going to lie – I was blown away by this! What a fantastic message for young people – this is at the heart of citizenship education for me but to have it outlined in those terms was a true inspiration for my work as a professional. He went on to tell the girl that ‘learning to be a global citizen was more important than learning mathematics’ – I rest my case!
At the private reception following the event I was fortunate enough to meet him, shake his hand and let him know how inspiring his message was and that I would be taking it back to my school and be sharing it with the young people I teach.