A quick bus ride down the FDR Drive delivered Class 7 to a collection of gleaming silver high-rises in the midtown neighborhood of Turtle Bay. After a brief wait, during which the students played cards, read books and posed for group photos, the much-anticipated tour of the world’s largest intergovernmental organization, the United Nations, got underway.
Divided into their four English sections (A, B, C and D), the students and their teachers passed through a security checkpoint before meeting their respective tour guides – part of a distinguished team of multilingual ambassadors – on the first floor of the General Assembly building. Although each group was assigned their own guide, the contents of the tours were the same.
“The United Nations was founded in 1945 after World War II,” Yuta Tanaka explained to section C as the students admired a model of the headquarters and its 193 miniature flags, one for each of the member countries (called “states”). The students also learned that the current Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres of Portugal, took office on January 1, 2017, and is the ninth individual to hold this position.
Mr. Tanaka, who told the students he is from Japan, gave an overview of the UN’s founding charter, which includes three primary areas of focus: peace and security, human rights, and development. “All the members gather in one place to help maintain international peace and diplomacy,” he noted.
The students made their way through the wide corridors, stopping here and there to admire the attractive displays, before filing into the Security Council chamber, an incredibly beautiful conference space with an elaborate painted mural, circular seating and textile-inspired wallpaper. They discovered that there are 15 geographically diverse Security Council members, including five permanent representatives and 10 who are elected on a rotating basis.
Mr. Tanaka described the kinds of resolutions that are deliberated on in this revered hall, which is often bustling with activity and typically closed to the public. Among the topics currently being discussed were security and conflict prevention during international crises (for example, the war in Ukraine and ongoing combat in several African countries).
He also pointed out the interpreters’ boxes, situated along the top of the chamber, and asked the students if they could identify the six official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish).
While viewing the stunning Trusteeship Council chamber, which functions as a multi-purpose gathering space, the students were particularly excited to learn that this was the precise room where actress Emma Watson, a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, spoke about the importance of gender equality in 2014.
The students spent a few minutes taking in an arresting exhibition of dozens of human rights declarations. One said: “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.” Another stated: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
A few yards away, they admired a mural inspired by Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting “The Golden Rule,” which honors our shared humanity by depicting a tapestry of adults and children from many different backgrounds.
In front of a screen announcing the UN’s sustainable development goals, Mr. Tanaka asked the students how they might advance sustainability in their own lives. Their excellent ideas included: “Use reusable water bottles”; “Take public transportation”; “Take shorter showers”; and “Don’t waste food.”
Before the tour wrapped up, the students had the rare opportunity to peek into the majestic General Assembly chamber, which was in session – an unexpected treat. Afterwards, they were reminded that, in this exact location, President Biden and other world leaders had delivered vital remarks, expounding on urgent topics like climate change, international and civil wars, and Covid-19.
With a chorus of “thank yous,” Mr. Tanaka escorted section C to the elevator, where they reunited with the other groups on the lower-level concourse. Chatting about their informative and fun morning, Class 7 climbed aboard the buses and headed back to Chapin, just in time for lunch.