Bridges of Understanding Annual Gala, 12 December: New York
Bridges of Understanding is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, nonpolitical organization established in 2007 to enhance positive relations between the United States and Arab World through one-to-one connections between thought leaders and the creation of original youth focused programs.
The Campaign has had a partnership with Bridges of Understanding since June 2016 to promote empathy and understanding around the refugee crisis, co-develop educational and new media activities and to increase awareness and action around the SDGs.
The Campaign organized a We the Peoples hub during the annual Gala. The SDGs were on display, featured as a selfie tool at the step and repeat photowall. Guests also had the opportunity to watch Clouds Over Sidra & My Mother’s Wing on virtual reality headsets. The gala honored Arianna Huffington and Chaker Ghazaal for their contribution to promoting global citizenship, connecting people, countries and cultures.
This upcoming September 2016, the UN General Assembly will address large movements of refugees and migrants at a High-level Summit in New York that will precede the annual General Assembly Debate. In the lead up to this, the UN Sustainable Development Goals Action Campaign will be partnering with the UN Department of Public Information and UNHCR on an exhibition to draw attention to the plight of refugees, showcasing the individual stories and faces of those who are in in need of immediate help and desperate for the international community to reach and implement comprehensive and sustainable solutions. Through artistic installations that include infographics, photography, video, virtual reality, and a Portal, the exhibition will feature the personal stories of refugees as well as UNHCR’s latest facts and figures about the crisis. The exhibition will be open to the public in the UN Visitors Lobby from 20 June until mid-September.
As part of the exhibition, the UN SDG Action Campaign will bring you two immersive experiences, United Nations Virtual Reality + Portals, that allow visitors to feel first-hand what it means to be a refugee in the Zaatari Camp in Jordan. The Zaatari Camp is home to roughly 80,000 Syrians fleeing violence and war. Children make up half the camp’s population.
Clouds Over Sidra is an award winning United Nations Virtual Reality film, which enables you to see Zaatari through the eyes of a young Syrian Refugee girl living in the camp. Individuals and groups may also schedule an appointment to visit the UN Portal that will and allow them to engage in dialogue and programmed events with Zaatari
Dialogue with young boys living in Zaatari Camp, inside the Portal
The combined experience enables people to access locations and situations they would otherwise never experience, providing context for some of the most complex issues. Interactive experiences such as these also help build understanding of how successful implementation of the Goals can improve the life of a single person, and hopefully inspires action in helping to improve their lives, however small. Ultimately, the aim is to transform understanding of critical global issues that must be addressed in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals into a medium that is instantly empathetic and universally relatable.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Action Campaign is a special initiative of the UN Secretary-General that seeks to create an enabling environment for SDG Implementation by building new multi-stakeholder partnerships and empowering people with the knowledge and tools to become actively involved in supporting their governments with the implementation of the SDGs. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are the world’s plan and guiding principle towards a more sustainable and equitable planet. These are a universal set of goals, interconnected and focused on leaving no one behind. While these are long-term goals, they are also highly relevant during pressing moments of crisis as well.
United Nations Virtual Reality (UNVR), coordinated by the UN SDG Action Campaign, uses high tech headsets to immerse viewers in some of the most complex global challenges. Building upon its mandate to amplify the voices of those who are often unheard, particularly the world’s most vulnerable, the project seeks to show the human story behind development challenges, allowing people with the power to make a difference have a deeper understanding of their world, and hopefully to act to make a difference. See more: www.UNVR.org #UNVR @sdgaction
Portals is part of a global network of interconnected shipping containers with immersive audio and video technology that allow visitors to converse face-to-face with people across the world. Together they form a global community where people can engage one another across myriad forms of distance. The Portal is made possible by a partnership between the UN SDG Action Campaign; Shared_Studios, a multidisciplinary arts, design, and technology collective focused on carving wormholes in the world through the use of new technologies and partnerships; Bridges of Understanding Foundation, a 501(c)3 not-for-profit, nonpolitical organization established in 2007 that enhances positive relations between the United States and Arab World through one-to-one connections between thought leaders and the creation of original youth focused programs; and UNICEF Jordan. See more: www.sharedstudios.com/ #UNPortal #ZaatariPortal @sharedstudios
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.
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.