The UN SDG Action Campaign participated in the World Humanitarian Summit on 22-24 of May in Istanbul, co-hosting the Virtual Reality hub, along with Samsung Mobile Turkey, RYOT Films, UN Women, OCHA and the WHS Secretariat.
The World Humanitarian Summit – the first summit of its kind held by the United Nations – brought together participants from the global community which included hundreds of delegates and leaders of Governments, crisis-affected communities, private sector leaders, multilateral organizations, international and national NGOs, youth representatives, civil society, diaspora, civil-military, and academic leaders.
The UN is producing films using Virtual Reality (VR) technology, and through this new and powerful approach, they are changing the way how organizations raise awareness and funds. These films highlight some of the most pressing global challenges that the humanity faces, including the Syrian refugee crisis and climate change issues.
At the Summit’s Virtual Reality hub, visitors were able to watch 9 immersive films produced by the United Nations and RYOT films, using Samsung Gear VR and Galaxy smartphones, which were provided by Samsung Electronics. Continue reading “World Humanitarian Summit”
The UN SDG Action Campaign collaborated with the World Humanitarian Summit, UNOCHA, DFID and Samsung UK to design and coordinate two exhibition booths showcasing Clouds Over Sidra during the Supporting Syrians conference in London on 4 February.
The exhibitions gave world leaders, conference attendees and volunteers the chance to experience the Syrian crisis through the eyes of Sidra, a 12 year old girl living in the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan.
The conference raised over US$ 11 billion in pledges in total. This included $5.8 billion for 2016 and $5.4 billion for 2017-20 to enable partners to plan ahead for the response. Commitments were also made to improve education and economic opportunities for refugees.
Those who were able to experience Virtual Reality were moved by the film, exclaiming that everyone should see it and returning with their colleagues and friends. Several visitors cried envisioning the harsh conditions many Syrian refugees face, especially children. One young visitor declared that VR would be extremely useful in his classroom to understand world issues. He was part of an exchange program between an English and Lebanese children.
In April 2016, the SDG Action Campaign visited the Lehigh Global Union Program, coordinated by Director Bill Hunter, to kick off a closer relationship. Lehigh University is an accredited partner of the UN, the sixth university in the world to gain official recognition as a non-governmental organization by the UN Department of Public Information. The Global Union for the United Nations Program regularly provides possibilities for interactions between students and the UN. Students are able to see UN affiliated speakers lecture on campus and at the UN, and many serve as NGO representatives, youth advocates and volunteers.
The UN SDG Action Campaign’s Kristin Gutekunst visited campus for a two day open pop up exhibition. During the visit, students learned about the Sustainable Development Goals by exploring MY World 2015 data, and pilot testing MY World 2030 ahead of its official launch in July. Over 200 students were also able to truly immerse themselves in the global challenges of today through the United Nations Virtual Reality Series.
The collaboration drew upon the support from student volunteers to promote and coordinate the visit and to document the process through photo and video – providing a multitude of students from diverse backgrounds an outlet for their respected disciplines.
The experience generated two reflective blogs, one by Kelsey Leck and another by Katie Morris. Sophomore Katie Morris wanted to do more to increase global awareness by including the stories and images of others. A dual major in Global Studies and Journalism, she collected votes and stories for the Humans of MY World. This photo-narrative project, hosted on a Facebook page shares the personal stories of some of the individuals who voted in the MY World survey.
Sophomore Nadine Elsayed documented the students’ reactions to the UNVR films in a special video.
The two day event closed with a special panel discussion discussing the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where the school is located. This region has one of the largest populations of Syrians in the country. Invited panelists included Abbas Khalaf, Case Manager with Luthern Children and Family Service, an Iraqi refugee who had resettled in the city, and now dedicating his time to helping others making the transition, and Hasshan, another professional working in supporting with refugee populations.
Abbas had the chance to speak candidly about his experience resettling in the United States as a refugee from Iraq. He also told us his feelings after watching the virtual reality film, Clouds Over Sidra, about a young Syrian Refugee.
On 12 November Date, the UNMC and UN Visitors Center co-hosted a special workshop on refugees with eighth graders from the Woodside Intermediate School 125. Following a screening of Clouds Over Sidra, three young refugees in various statuses in their legal application processes spoke to the students about their personal experiences.
The workshop was a part of the Teen Thursdays Program, a collaboration between the NYC Mayor’s Office, NYC Department of Education and the UN Department of Public Information’s Visitors Center. During an 8 week program, seventh and eighth grade students participate in workshops and tours at the UN to learn about and become engaged in the UN’s mission. This screening of Clouds Over Sidra was the first in a planned sequence of of workshops in partnership with the program. The Millennium Campaign hopes to further expand the program so Virtual Reality can be used as an educational tool in informing young people about critical issues underlined in the SDGs.
Clouds Over Sidra is the story of a 12 year old girl, Sidra, who is a Syrian living in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. The experience gave the students a glimpse into the daily life of Sidra: her favorite subjects in school, her family, her hopes for the future, and her desire to leave Za’atari and the Syrian conflict behind. Many of these students were the same age as Sidra at the time of filming.
The eighth graders were joined by three young students from Salve Regina College: Sinan, Karma, and Uma who told their experiences as refugees seeking asylum from Syria and Nepal respectively. Sinan explained how the Syrian war interrupted his studies and how the United States presented the opportunity to finish them. Karma was in the US when the Earthquake struck Nepal, and now she is seeking temporary asylum. Uma’s family were originally refugees from Bhutan. Her heartfelt story touched on how the UN helped her family through tough living conditions in a Nepalese refugee camp, and guided them through asylum application in the US.
The response from the children showed a maturity beyond their age. One student stated: “It’s really heartbreaking listening to [the stories of the Sidra and the other presenters] because, we worry about having the newest game when many people are worried about getting food to eat”. This is especially poignant as many of the students knew little about the Syrian conflict or other important issues underlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prior to the workshop.
Clouds Over Sidra and Virtual Reality experiences like it were designed to support the Millennium Campaign’s efforts to draw attention to some of the world’s greatest challenges, allowing people living through them to tell their stories in their own words. Previously, the vast majority of screenings had been directed towards decision makers, many of whom are involved in the international community. This screening was considered pilot testing to find the best practices in using Virtual reality as a learning tool in the classroom.
On Thursday November 19th, the United Nations Millennium Campaign (UNMC) partnered with the Office of the President of the UN General Assembly to make Virtual Reality available to the entire General Assembly via google cardboard. This effort brought the voice of a Syrian refugee straight to decision makers and marks the first time the UN has been able to distribute its films in a way to directly advance the UN’s advocacy efforts on a larger scale in a more sustainable way.
During the meeting, UNMC placed Google Cardboard viewers and information sheets for delegates and observers alike to gain a better understand of the human side to the Syrian refugee crisis through Clouds Over Sidra. H.E. Mogens Lykketoft, President of the General Assembly invited delegates to use the cardboard to understand the reality of refugees in his opening statement —
On your desks, you will see a small box through which you can watch a short film about one of these people: Sidra, a twelve year old girl who has fled her home in Syria due to the ongoing crisis. Having watched this video myself, I recommend it highly as it really brings home just how difficult life can be for a refugee in our world today.
Our meeting, however, is an opportunity to help refugees like Sidra, an opportunity to identify key actions to advance a more comprehensive and proportionate response to the overall global humanitarian and refugee crisis.
The President of the UN General Assembly called this informal meeting of the General Assembly three weeks prior due to the growing crisis in Europe. The meeting, entitled “Global awareness of the tragedies of irregular migrants in the Mediterranean basin with specific emphasis on Syrian asylum seekers” included H.E. Mogens Lykketoft, President of the UN General Assembly; H.E. Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General; Mr. Antonio Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Mr. David Miliband, President and CEO of International Rescue Committee; Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; H.E. Ms. Kristalina Georgieva, Co-Chair of the High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing; Mr Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Ms. Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme; and Mr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, Corporate Secretary and Special Envoy of the President of the World Bank Group.
The meeting was separated into three panels, which addressed protection and legal asylum measures, ensuring adequate financing, and resilience efforts to advance support for countries dealing with the largest burdens as well as the connection between humanitarian and development efforts. Each was permeated with discussion moments from member states.
Coordinated by the UNMC for the past year, the United Nations Virtual Reality (UNVR) series has attempted to use Virtual Reality as a way to advance empathy and understanding for people living through some of the world’s greatest challenges. As the UNMC works towards advocating for marginalized communities and other critical development issues, new mediums of communication have shed light on critical issues in new, imaginative ways.
To coincide with the event, UNVR.org, was launched to organize information on the series into one location. The website highlights the importance of using UNVR for advocating for bold action towards critical issues presents in the Sustainable Development Agenda and especially for focusing on the most vulnerable.
By Di Cao – Global Youth Advocate at the UN Millennium Campaign
(L-R) Olympic Champions and IAAF Ambassadors, Joanna Hayers and Dwight Phillips, IAAF President Lamine Diack, UNDP Country Director Agi Veres & UNDP Head of Policy and Partnerships Hannah Ryder.
UNDP and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) co-hosted a celebration of the social responsibility program Athletics for a Better World (ABW) in Beijing’s iconic Bird’s Nest stadium on Aug 26th during the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015. The two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding to celebrate international partnerships in sports and cooperate to promote sustainable, inclusive human development to make the world a better place. This reception is a series of events UNDP is hosting to celebrate the UN Day for South South Cooperation.
UNDP invited members of the Beijing international diplomatic community to attend the event, which included delegates and representatives from over 40 Countries and many partner organizations. The Virtual Reality film screening became the highlight of the night. The UN Millennium Campaign office brought two VR films to the audience to demonstrate global development challenges from around the world. Launched in early 2015, the film Clouds Over Sidra follows the life of a young girl living in the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Waves of Grace features a community’s recovery amid the Ebola epidemic. Both films were designed to support the UNMC’s efforts to highlight the plight of vulnerable communities.
Attendees explored the ground-breaking technology through the virtual reality headsets with enormous passion, and the powerful, immersive watching experience brought the real lives of people in Jordan and Liberia straight to the Bird’s Nest. The audience were profoundly moved and gained deeper empathy of vulnerable communities.
“The most amazing watching experience ever before.” Exclaimed one diplomat working in Beijing after watching the VR Film. He added, “It’s like they are looking at me and talking to me, they are around me.”
As the world’s second largest economy, China achieved many of the Millennium Development Goals ahead of schedule, and has become increasingly important in the overall global performance on the newly approved Sustainable Development Goals. In the MY World Global Survey, which aims to link voices of citizens to global leaders during the process of defining the new development agenda, Chinese people contributed 321,395 votes with a high level of involvement of youth. Better transportation and roads, support people who can’t work are the two most popular priorities among Chinese voters.
On the 30th of September, the UN Millennium Campaign welcomed US Ambassador to the United Nations H.E Samantha Power at the We the Peoples Hub. Ambassador Power was given a private walkthrough of the Hub along with reporters from Associated Press to see many of the instillations present at the hub.
During her visit, she was able to view the Virtual Reality film, Clouds Over Sidra, the story of a day in the life of Sidra, a twelve year old Syrian Refugee living in the Za’atari Camp in Jordan. Following this experience, Ambassador Power had the opportunity to step into a Portal and have a one on one conversation with Sidra, made possible by a collaboration with Shared Studios and UNICEF Jordan. Power and Sidra discussed topics from Sidra’s favorite classes to her aspirations for the future.
Virtual Reality helps decision makers like Ambassador Power step into the shoes of those living through some of the world’s largest development challenges, allowing them to experience their reality in a very real way. Portals are a global network of interconnected shipping containers that form a community center where people can engage one another in ways otherwise impossible. The Portals installed in the We the Peoples Hub gives individuals the unique opportunity to have a conversation and gain insight from someone living in the Za’atari Camp. These conversations bring a human element to global issues, helping bridge the gap between what we hear on the news and what is actually happening on the ground.
Ambassador Power was very impressed with the ability of the We the Peoples’ Hub to bring the human element to issues like the Syrian Refugee Crisis stating, “what the portal does… it doesn’t just give you those faces… [instead] you feel like you are right there”. Ambassador Power was also hopeful in supporting the introduction of a permanent We the Peoples’ exhibit in the United Nations’ headquarters as well as encouraging members of the U.S State Department to watch the film as well.
Power’s statements come at a time where the United States are committed increase the number of refugees the United States is accepting with U.S Secretary of State John Kerry stating, “We are committed to increasing the number of refugees that we take. And we are looking hard at a number that we can specifically manage with respect to the crisis in Syria and Europe”. As of September 2015, the United States have announced plans to accept a greater number of refugees globally, including a minimum of 10,000 Syrian refugees.
Clouds Over Sidra,which was created to support the United Nations Secretary-General’s MDG Advocacy Group’s call for partnerships to build resilience in vulnerable communities, immerses the viewer in the life of Sidra, a young Syrian girl living in the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. Gabo Arora — one of the co-creators of Clouds Over Sidra — says that the inspiration behind the project was to use virtual reality to give a platform for viewers to gain a better grasp of the conditions in camps like Za’atari stating, “if we used virtual reality and made them actually walk in [Sidra’s] shoes…. they would care and be moved to action”.
The event used Samsung Gear VR headsets to give people the opportunity to experience the daily life of one of the many children whose lives have been changed dramatically by the conflict in small groups. These intimate screenings were followed up with a Q&A session moderated by Arora along with Dr. Wei Kunlin, Associate Professor at Peking University, Olivier Oullier, Professor of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at Aix-Marseille University; and Yobie Benjamin, Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer of Avegant Corporation. The Q&A session discussed the impact virtual reality can have on outreach and advocacy for global issues such as the Syria Conflict that would otherwise be impossible with conventional forms of media.
In addition, the WEF took the screening as an opportunity to announce their plans to fund the translation of Clouds Over Sidra into Mandarin, bringing further light to a vital issue both to influential decision makers as well as the general public.
The UN Millennium Campaign and the UN Kosovo Team are hosting a #PeoplesVoices exhibit featuring virtual reality movies and a Humans of MY World photo exhibition at Dokufest, from August 8th to 14th by the stone bridge from 12-2pm & 4-8pm. Visitors will have the opportunity to experience the world’s most pressing challenges firsthand by watching two virtual reality movies: “Clouds Over Sidra” which allows the viewer to step into the life of a 12-year old Syrian girl named Sidra living in a refugee camp and “Waves of Grace”, which captures a young woman named Decontee’s struggle for life amid an Ebola epidemic in Liberia.
The United Nations Millennium Campaign participated in the Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS) put on by the UN Economic and Social Affairs Council (ECOSOC) at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 17-19 June 2015, with the support of OCHA.
This event provided a unique opportunity for Member States to address challenges, operational and normative progress on the humanitarian policy agenda. This year’s focus was on the future of humanitarian affairs: towards greater inclusiveness, coordination, interoperability and effectiveness.
Over 300 participants from various NGOs, member states, and UN agencies, including the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien, had the opportunity to “travel” to the Za’atari camp in Jordan and witness the daily life of 12-year old Sidra by immersing themselves in the virtual reality experience of Clouds Over Sidra. Participants noted:
“I was really blown away by Clouds Over Sidra – amazing technology and such a moving story. I have a twelve-year-old girl myself, so it was particularly poignant.”
“I have always been a bit old-fashioned and skeptical towards new technologies that are said to be game changers, but this one definitely is!”
Clouds Over Sidra is the first in a series of United Nations Millennium Campaign Virtual Reality films, with the goal of ensuring that citizen’s voices are directly involved in the design and accountability framework of the new international development agenda.