By Inasa Umar, Youth Representative from the Maldives
It all started when UNDP Maldives called to know my availability for a conference called Case4Space, which was to be held from November 30th to December 2nd at the United Nations Office at Bangkok, Thailand. I was told that the purpose of the conference was to understand the extent of youth participation in Asia Pacific, considering the existence of various legal, social, technological and political frameworks that may promote or infringe the engagement of youth participation.
Wait, wait, I am not going to bore you with explanations of case4space. So as I was saying, after talking to Yasmin, my UNDP focal point and partner for the trip, my excitement rose to an unexplainable level. This wasn’t any surprise as she was talking about my first international trip and naturally, I felt a little bit undeserving of the opportunity. On top of that, I was being nominated as the youth representative of Maldives, which assigns lot of responsibilities on my shoulders to represent the youth of my country!
November started with preparations for the trip, with lots of paper work including applying for my brand new passport. I received emails from either Yasmin or organizers of case4space almost every two days, I somehow pulled off every document or anything which they asked from me.
Enough about my preparations, let me take you to the big picture.
THE BIG PICTURE
As I am based in the most northern atoll of the Maldives, I had to catch a flight to Male’ in order to travel internationally. Unfortunate or fortunate, I had to spend 1 day in the capital city of Maldives, Male’, as the flight from my island, H.Dh. Kulhudhuffushi, was scheduled a day in advance of the Bangkok journey. To be very honest, I couldn’t sleep the whole night, I didn’t know which was more bothering, the butterflies or the excitement.
On my way to Male’, I kept worrying myself by the fact that there won’t be any relative or friend to pick me from the airport and accompany me to the hotel in Male’. This was not only my first international trip, also this was the first ever time I was travelling alone. Was I scared? Well, that would be the understatement of the year.
I was very new to Male’ city, the roads, the traffic and the people too. But I reached the hotel safely, and informed my parents as they were more tensed than me. My family was pretty surprised that I pulled off it calmly. Yay me! The next day I had to go to UNDP Office to collect some documents and I had no idea how to get there. But but but why worry when you have a smartphone and 3G? So I took a bit help of Google Maps and successfully reached UNDP Maldives office. I was so worn out that I couldn’t talk much to Yasmin even though she was very excited to see me or maybe she’s just way too energetic.
THE BIG-BIG PICTURE
The big day finally! The night before my flight to Bangkok, I could barely sleep because of my excitement at experiencing Bangkok for the first time, (can’t say I didn’t miss my own bed back at home!).
The sun couldn’t rise sooner! It was 0900am, I woke up and freshened up in a jiffy. I took the breakfast from the hotel and reached the ferry terminal to the airport where I met Yasmin. I was a bit embarrassed as I had huge luggage bag and Yasmin had a tiny little one. After some boring airport stuff, we were finally boarding our flight. 4 hours seemed so long but I had no other option other than to wait. Maybe sleeping was an option, but you know, I couldn’t, it seemed like Bangkok was the place I’ll be able to sleep after 2 sleepless nights.
How am I supposed to express my excitement when I reached Bangkok, Thailand? Obviously, words aren’t enough for it. I quickly informed my parents and family that I’ve reached while I was in the taxi to hotel.
Once we checked into the hotels, we met downstairs to have dinner and take a quick stroll nearby. I saw my first dog while we were in a shop to buy some stuffs, which was quite scary to say the least!
There wasn’t much time to do anything on the night as it was quite late in the night. So we decided to take dinner and hit the sack.
THE BIG DAYS
The 3 days flew so fast.
The United Nations Building was huge and amazing! More importantly, I got to meet with some incredible youth from across the Asia Pacific. It was very inspiring and every participant had dealt with some sort of struggle to lead the way and contribute to the society where they came from.
The event was superbly organized! Savi, who was the moderator of the event, never let us get bored as long as he’s speaking with his great sense of humor.
Every day, different speakers across the Asia Pacific gave inspiring talks and shared valuable information. Every day we had a breakout session which was focused on different topics. On the first day, I joined a breakout session about volunteerism which I am very passionate about. On the second day, I attended a breakout session about policy engagement of marginalized youth at the international level. Last day, the breakout session was about technologies and IT solutions to open civic spaces for young people.
These breakout sessions were the place where I felt confident enough to share my ideas and views. As it is, I am not very comfortable talking in big groups. I vowed to give my 100% anyway and the last day was very effective as I shared how volunteers in Maldives were informed about events through mass messaging, which was pretty new to other people. Also, from them, I got to know about how volunteers are managed and what the challenges they faced during their events. I am not saying it was less effective than the other two, but I gave most input on the last day.
Case4space also helped me in other different ways. It opened my eyes to think from different angles; the disabled, the indigenous, the rural and so on. As my Facebook statuses mention, it surely was motivational enough to take initiative to change the world. John Sweeny from Global Center of Excellence, Singapore, shared so many different angles that we should consider in our quests to change the world with very inspiring quotes. Out of all the sessions, I could remember how John Sweeny made me listen to him without getting lost in jargon. But, he wasn’t the only person who inspired, every single person whom I met from the hall (including Yasmin) was inspiring enough to pull a star from the sky.
As I’m currently working on my volunteer mobilization app, I tried to use the conference as a learning opportunity to make sure my app is developed well. Sikdam from Indonesia, who was a disabled person, opened my eyes to think from the angle of people with disabilities. Jake from Google, made me realize that cyber bullying is a big issue, which shouldn’t be an issue while my app comes out. UN Volunteers’ website which was displayed in the conference gave me a lot of ideas to develop my app with the best features. And this list goes on.
I felt so undeserving to be there with lots of smart people like 17 year old Geon Hee Leon from Korea who always asked the most intelligent questions, Deepak and Vikram from India who always made sure that the things that speakers were talking could be implemented in India, a guy from Vietnam, who always reminded everyone to think from the angle of the people who can’t access the latest technology.
Case4space also helped me to know that English shouldn’t be a barrier to reach wherever you want to reach as there were lots of people who had the same struggle as mine to speak properly in English.
As last but not the least, Yasmin, she was the person whom I shared all my doubts and my concerns with about anything and everything. She was there with me to listen to whatever I said no matter how stupid or how foolish it may sound, (doesn’t mean I said stupid stuff). Also I got to learn a lot more from her, whether it came to travel tips or career tips. She surely is one inspiring human being. I was very fortunate to get to travel with her.
FOOD & SHOPPING
Bangkok is famous for shopping, so we didn’t waste any minute after the conference. I did lots of shopping those 3 nights. And enjoyed to the max.
Oh the food, I am so picky when it comes to food! I must admit I didn’t like the food most of the time. But I didn’t let myself starve, I had the most awesome dessert cakes I ever had. Yes, I ate cakes most of the time, whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner. Cakes are always the best.
TRIP TO AN END
So long story short, I returned to my island on mid night of Dec 5th, which was the hardest but the most awaited time. I am unable to express my gratitude to UNDP Maldives and of course Yasmin for giving me the opportunity to go to Bangkok and have this wonderful experience. I hope to visit Bangkok and other countries in near future.
‘And finally leaving is sometimes called falling in love.’