What it Takes To Serve at UN Geneva

The IIMA-VIDES Human Rights Office, which is located in Geneva, does a great deal of work advocating for human rights at the United Nations (UN). This means that we, as interns, are trained and formed in the three months we are there, to intervene on behalf of our organization, which is a non-governmental organization (NGO).

In my first week we went through a crash course on the UN and its structure and how IIMA and VIDES fit into it all and, as interns, where we fit in. Needless to say, we were busy. Dependent on our skills we had jobs specially assigned to us. Some had to do translations, some videos/technical support, and others were editors. However, this is just a part of our daily tasks. The underlying understanding is to be flexible and willing to go with the flow.

Due to the nature of the office, we never are certain exactly what we will do, because even with a weekly schedule, we find ourselves changing jobs day to day, hour to hour. The main work we’ve done thus far is our intervention at the UN during the Human Rights Council (HRC). We had a chance to write our oral statement and to speak on behalf of our NGO in front of the HRC and the state representatives. It was an amazing feeling!

1805 Theresa Nguyen IIMA Human Rights Office (1)

The daily routine is ever flexible. We start work at 8:30 AM and end the day at 5:30 PM. This is a shifting scale which is dependent on whether we need to go to the UN for meetings and sessions, which could go over the work schedule. In this case we might have to show up early to the meetings and stay until the sessions are over, which is usually 6 PM. Please note that because the sisters’ house is in Veyrier, which is about 45 minutes from the UN by bus, we often take the 7 AM bus to get to the meetings on time.

As far as transportation is concerned, the sisters suggested that we buy the monthly Swiss pass. My only suggestion here is to calculate if this is going to be beneficial for you before you invest for the three months you are here. For some it is worth it, others, not so much because of the number of times it was used. For those under 25 the cost is about 40 CHF and for those over 25 the cost is 70 CHF. The cost of a one way ride in Geneva is 3 CHF and a day trip within Geneva costs 8 CHF. Test out the first month and see if this is something you wish to invest in.

Meals are as follows:

Breakfast is dependent on you. Lunch is served in the school dining room next to the sisters’ convent around 12:45 PM. Dinner is eaten with the sisters near 7 PM.

Noteworthy tidbits:
During the weekdays it is difficult to go out because of the alarm system. During the weekends, if you would like to go out, make sure you make plans in advance and tell the sisters of your arrangements so they know of your whereabouts and whether to save you food and expect you back or that you will be sleeping somewhere else. If you wish to do a bit of exploring, it is also a good idea to consider traveling with the other interns in order to save money. Things are 3 times more expensive in Switzerland than in the US, so if you want to travel or buy anything, be mindful that nothing is cheap here. If you find a good deal, take advantage of it.

Lastly, the best advice I can give is to start learning Italian and/or French if you want to converse with the community here. The sisters do not speak English and it would be wise to know conversational Italian and/or French. However, if you are a fast learner, you won’t have any problems. Just be open to the many languages that are going to be spoken and start to immerse yourself.

Ultimately, this volunteer/internship experience is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced and is a very unique service offered by VIDES. Remember to be open to change and to share joys and challenges with Suor MariaGrazia, the Director and the sisters and interns. It is always better to converse and speak out when something is bothering you. Your experience is what you make of it.

Theresa Nguyen
VIDES volunteer in Geneva, Switzerland

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