In 2007, with a $2,000 grant from The Temple of Understanding, thanks to the kind intersession of Sr. Joan Kirby, the NGO/DPI Executive Committee launched a new and exciting project in collaboration with the Institute for the Study of International Organizations at Long Island University/Brooklyn. The grant allowed a group of graduate students from the LIU UN Graduate Certificate Program and their professor to travel to Costa Rica to meet with and recruit NGOs from Central America into association with DPI. Since then, successive groups have travelled to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and the Dominican Republic. To date, 58 students from 30 countries have participated in the project.
This year, the project was broadened to include the Caribbean region. In May, a group of ten LIU “ambassadors” travelled to the Dominican Republic. The mission was organized with the assistance and support of the Office of the Resident Coordinator in Santo Domingo. During our nine-day visit, we met with local NGOs engaged in a wide range of substantive activities and projects covered by the UN system in the Dominican Republic – in human rights, gender empowerment, education, health, the environment, etc. – and we learned a great deal about their important work at the local level. We hosted a breakfast meeting for NGO leaders, at which we explained the benefits of association with DPI.
In New York, Spanish-speaking graduate students volunteer to ensure completion of the application process. They frequently serve as Student representatives to newly associated NGOs at UN Headquarters. Much more needs to be done in the region, including creating a network of like-minded NGOs where mutual support and exchange of best practices can take place. This will require the sustained support of the NGO/DPI Executive Committee and is the goal of the UN Graduate Studies Program at Long Island University.
Apart from the clear benefit to the Department of Public Information, our visits to Central America often have had a profound impact on the students. Prior to going on mission, they engage in a semester-long class on NGO structure and how the UN interacts with civil society. Seeing with one’s own eyes what can be accomplished by a small group of dedicated citizens helps cast aside any doubt that the world is just too complex to get things done. Some students have gone on to establish their own NGOs, helping the most vulnerable in their own communities.
Professor Phyllis Lee
Long Island University/Brooklyn
Principal Officer ret., UN Secretariat