In the pursuit of peace, it is easy to become overwhelmed by turmoil.
At the 2017 MCC-UN Office Student Seminar this past October, speakers and students alike worked to grapple with such problems in the context of Central American immigration.
Taking place October 26-28 in New York City, the conference worked under the title “Migration, Faith, and Action: An Exploration of the Central American Experience.”
Six Goshen College students--Jenae Longenecker, Rudi Mucaj, Vanessa Navarro, Bekah Schrag, Sijan Shrestha and Mandira Panta--made the trek to the UN headquarters for the annual seminar, along with Joe Liechty, professor of peace, justice and conflict studies.
The seminar worked with students from around the country to open conversation regarding relevant issues of migration in today’s political climate, as well as allowing students to see how the MCC-UN office and civil society groups interact with the UN. Students were given a tour of the UN building, and most events were held at the Church Center for the United Nations.
The keynote speaker was Saulo Padilla of Goshen, who is the MCC US immigration education coordinator. He weaved stories of personal experience with the complexities of migration movements. He discussed the ways in which MCC staffers are working along the U.S.-Mexican border and around the world.
“What makes MCC unique at the UN is that they have connections to people on the ground in places of conflict around the world,” said Jenae Longenecker, a senior. “Government officials might have access to people who live near those conflicts or experts who have studied on those conflicts, but MCC employs people to be present in those areas and thus, MCC has unique access.”
The conference concluded by discussing how advocacy programs can play out in different situations. A statement from the MCC UN Office states that they hope seminar attendees “left with a firmer grasp on this balance between getting lost and taking action, and took with them a strengthened desire to learn from and walk alongside migrants.”
Rudi Mucaj, a junior, attended the seminar as a way to learn more about Central American immigration and to see how the UN and social security groups are interacting to solve problems related to immigration. Being an immigrant himself, Rudi feels that knowledge is the only way he can successfully work to aid other immigrants.
“I know how it feels to live far away from your family, friends and culture. I want to work in making other immigrants’ journey to a new life as pleasant as possible, and I can do this only if I know more about different groups of immigrants and the pull-push factors,” said Mucaj.
While at the conference, students attended meetings with civil society groups, heard lectures and met with UN officials. For one student, however, the most memorable encounter occurred while exploring the city during down time. Vanessa Navarro met a man from Arequipa, Peru, where she completed the service portion of SST.
“It was very amazing being able to meet a migrant from Peru during the time I was in NYC for a seminar on migration,” said Navarro. “I was able to connect with him since we shared something in common.”
Navarro commented on the point that migration happens constantly. It is important to learn about the issues migrants face in order to see from their perspective and work to solve the problem. A children of migrants, Navarro sought to learn about the many reasons people choose or are forced to migrate.
“I learned that people do not only migrate for job opportunities, but also for so many reasons including environmental disasters, poverty, violence and lack of health care and/or education,” Navarro said. “It is valuable to learn these reasons so we...can be a support system to migrants.”
Students who attended the conference report are returning with a wider understanding of the breadth of the issue, and the importance to raise awareness, educate others and advocate for immigration and migration policies. The main goal of the UN is to bring together nations and find peaceful solutions to big problems. It is under this that MCC and other organizations are able to work alongside the UN to tackle complex humanitarian issues.
The general philosophy of the advocacy discussed at the seminar is that if civil society groups work together, their unified voices will be stronger than singular ones. Opposites must be seen as friends instead of foes. The seminar emphasized the importance of listening to the complexity and depth of stories and personal accounts. While advocacy and the path to a solution may seem daunting, its core is based simply in understanding and equality.
“People can have power if they come together,” said Mucaj.