Upon graduating from Beloit College last year, I began work at Quaker United Nations Office in New York as a program assistant, eagerly applying my interests and studies at the international policy level. QUNO works out of the Church Center of the United Nations, a center for faith-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) initiatives, located directly across the street from the United Nations. But QUNO’s unique quiet diplomacy and bridge-building work is carried out at Quaker House a few blocks away.
Diplomats, staff, and nongovernmental partners are invited to Quaker House to discuss issues of Quaker concern in a quiet, off-the-record atmosphere. I work with Jessica Huber, one of the Quaker UN representatives in New York, on the Emerging Conflicts and Crisis (ECC) program, which centers on under-attended conflicts that need greater involvement of the international community, big emergencies on the Security Council’s agenda, and areas of potential major conflict. QUNO’s ECC advocacy at the United Nations is rooted in the peacemaking, peacebuilding, and conflict resolution work carried out by numerous Quaker agencies, including American Friends Service Committee, Canadian Friends Service Committee, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, and local Quaker community-building organizations.
The regular exchanges between QUNO and Quaker service agencies greatly enhance peacebuilding efforts at the international policy and local levels. Working at QUNO I regularly participate in providing rhetoric-free, credible feedback from what is happening in the field, since the information that ambassadors and UN officials regularly receive is often politicized. The attitudes, concerns, and policy recommendations generated by presentations in Quaker House are spread throughout the UN community. Our work in creating the space for exchange between the most vulnerable populations worldwide—including Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories, the internally displaced people of northern Uganda, or the people starving in North Korea—and the policymakers who are trying to quell conflict is a key ingredient in helping the UN fulfill its primary role of peacebuilding and preventing violent conflict.
For example, Kathy Bergen, director of Friends International Center in Ramallah, recently gave a thorough yet troubling account at Quaker House of the travel restrictions placed on Palestinians living in the West Bank. Her account served as an entry point for a broader discussion on the issue with UN officials and NGO representatives.
What brought me to QUNO? Why do I have such an interest in international affairs? As a child, my parents took me to Wilmington College’s annual Westheimer Peace Symposium and there I developed a love and admiration for people building peace locally and around the world. My personal quest for this began when I was 13 years old, when I took part in peer mediation initiatives at my public school. After that I participated in relationship-building at the community level; and later, in college, I studied International Relations with an emphasis on Peace and Conflict Studies. I studied abroad in Ireland where I learned about the Northern Ireland peace process and the challenges facing all levels of government in implementing the Good Friday Agreement. Focusing on divided-island questions in another setting, I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on the "Cyprus problem" and prospects for island reunification.
The history of Quaker bridge-building and opening the space for dialogue at the UN is based upon the idea that there is that of God in each of us, and working at QUNO has given me a wonderful opportunity to apply this profound principle at the UN and witness its effects. QUNO’s work does not stop there, however, but addresses the great need at the international level to achieve durable peace and security for the affected populations. It was disheartening for me to hear recently from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, how the international community has to struggle to implement the multifaceted strategies to achieve sustainability of peace or prevention of violent conflict. UN peacekeeping missions have traditionally been the sole mechanism for bringing peace to war-torn regions; however, leaders from all regions of the world are becoming more and more skeptical of the military-based approach of peacekeeping operations. Consequently, QUNO sees a great opportunity to support the newly established Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), which seeks to operationalize positive peace at the international level by leading countries to establish distinctive political, economic, and community-building approaches. Quakers continue to encourage diplomats at the UN to consider fully the most innovative alternatives to military use in peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts.
Although QUNO’s work is often done behind the scenes, I believe that the people and their communities where QUNO has focused its efforts reap the benefits tenfold. For example, people in northern Uganda are beginning to experience peace for the first time in 20 years. As Richard Foster, a Quaker theologian, writes in The Celebration of Discipline, "If a secret service is done on their behalf, they are inspired to deeper devotion, for they know that the well of service is far deeper than they can see. It is a ministry that can be engaged in frequently by all people. It sends ripples of joy and celebration through any community of people." My experiences working in the NGO community at the United Nations affirm this statement. I call on Quakers young and old to continue carrying out their own "secret" ministries that will have a ripple effect locally, nationally, or globally. Working at the global level may seem overambitious for individual ministries, but that is where QUNO comes into play, carrying the expertise and the capacity to extend God’s love and grace across the spectrum, locally to internationally.