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.