BY MARY LOUISE PABELLO
Before I sat down to write this, I re-read the application I submitted for my second year. Just to see where my mind and heart were 9 months ago. “In the same way that choosing to do a volunteer year felt right, like god put Loretto back in my life just when I needed it most, a second year with Loretto brings the same pull of rightness,” I wrote.
Good to know that’s still true, at least. Even if working as a Loretto representative to the United Nations feels laughably insignificant more often than not.
Not to say that the UN doesn’t do amazing work, because it does! Their humanitarian aid programs and dedication to protecting human rights are admirable, and I would say so are their best-known activities here in the United States. But that work doesn’t involve Loretto, not directly. We’re not out there on the ground acting as observers, or delivering aid packages. Neither are we meeting with government officials, nor participating in big important meetings with heads of state. In fact, to listen to other non-governmental organization representatives describe it, “space for Civil Society is deliberately shrinking” (accompanied with a disgruntled huff and shake of the head). “Civil Society” being UN-speak for NGOs and citizens not associated with a government or business entity.
My mom asked me about it. “Do you think you’re making a difference, anak? I feel like you did so much more last year.” I told her yes, of course; that results take longer to see because it’s the nature of policymaking, especially when you have 193 countries and 3,500 non-government organizations with whom to collaborate--and those are just the ones recognized by the United Nations! Some days, though, I have trouble believing my own words. The goals the United Nations have set are so high-reaching and intended to be applicable for the whole world that it’s easy to be pessimistic given the state of the world now--famine, continued conflicts, questionable leadership, increasing xenophobia, a whole laundry list of issues. These issues are difficult for any one government to tackle, let alone an international body of collaborators with no actual enforcement power. Remembering, too, that the UN’s primary directive is to promote peace and security in the world is an even loftier and seemingly impossible aim.
But maybe that’s the point. The United Nations was meant to be an ideal, something of an example. What can happen when humanity puts aside nationality, party membership, and personal biases to act in the best interest of the whole, rather than just those with authority or privilege. And our role as NGOs, as members of Civil Society, is to remind those with authority that that commitment is the only way forward. You want peace? Work for justice, for equity, for a world united first and foremost as living beings.
Mary Louise Pabello is from Creve Coeur, MO and graduated in 2016 from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO with a degree in history. Fun fact: Mary Louise is a graduate of Nerinx Hall High School (one of our placement sites)! Last year, she volunteered at the Interfaith Committee on Latin America in St. Louis (IFCLA). This year, she is representing Loretto at the UN with Beth Blissman in New York, and hopes to continue on to law school after with a focus on immigration law. In her free time, Mary Louise enjoys singing and reading all manner of books.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.