New York City - Study Abroad - Master of Science in Global Medicine

A Passionate Global Call to Action: Lessons Learned at the United Nations

Contributed by Alya Aisyah Fadil Binti Norfadilah

The United Nations is not here in New York. It is not the Headquarters building where you see ambassadors and camera lights flashing on television. The United Nations is its frontline workers. It is in Myanmar. It is on the ground in Syria. It is in Sierra Leone. Remember that; the United Nations is not here,” said Dr. Cornelius Williams, the Associate Director & Global Chief of Child Protection at UNICEF. His eyes fell slowly upon our awestruck gazes. His words rang out in my ears. It felt like a dream.

As an international student who’s spent the past five years in America, and three of those in New York, the city often feels like the closest thing to home. In this corner of Manhattan, the world converges in one place. The buildings erected encompass a space where our voices matter, where our ideals are drafted into existence, and where there is accountability from the highest global order. Sometimes, it may feel as though these are only words spoken aloud in a room or scribbled on reports that later go untouched. But I was in for a rude awakening.

Delegate sign saying United States

Students were able to visit the United Nations General Assembly Floor. Photo: Jennifer Kim

The discussions we had at Headquarters, UNICEF, and UNDP covered policy, advocacy, health systems, and economics. Every meeting stimulated us to recognize policy, partnerships, and structures that are able to benefit the most. This could sometimes mean dismantling existing frameworks, such as those regarding child marriages and children in war, or simply updating our ideas to provide spaces for forgotten voices to be heard, such as including individuals with disabilities when developing inclusive programming for children. I witnessed passionate individuals working tirelessly in human rights based approaches to programming, rooted in the United Nations’ ideals. Each step is to inch ever closer towards transforming the world as detailed in the Sustainable Development Goals. Regardless of a leader’s field of expertise, international relations between governments as well as between other groups is a long process. But every door opened will only push for increased progress.

It was continuously highlighted that progress cannot happen without participation from non-governmental groups and members of civil society. Thus, we attended the Commission on the Status of Women to witness firsthand what it means for everyone to have a forum and to be involved. “Empower one another,” I heard a voice boom into a microphone, “use your voice to help others overcome sticky floors, broken ladders, and glass ceilings.” We have a duty, and the truth was set in front of me.

The United Nations is not here in New York. It is not the Headquarters building where you see ambassadors and camera lights flashing on television. The United Nations is its frontline workers.

Throughout this life-changing experience, I met people with names not recognized by the public eye. But they should be. They are truly the unsung heroes of our world today. These influential leaders continue to fight towards a more just and equitable society, and what struck me most was not their wealth of knowledge or their ability to turn a phrase, but it was in their kindness. They deal with difficult issues and challenging obstacles every day, but they have not lost their humanity. In fact, they continuously give more and that in itself is absolutely inspiring. I smiled then, and as I gazed around the delegate’s dining room filled with distinguished officers and my peers, I clasped our mentor’s, Dr. Maryam Farzanegan, hand, “I cannot thank you and the Global Medicine team enough,” I said, “No one would’ve thought a child from a developing country, who was raised in a struggling single mother household, could make it this far. All of you give me hope to go even further.” I see the same hope reflected in her eyes as she replied with a smile, “Do not thank me. The youth are our hope. You are our hope, so keep fighting.”

students standing together in UNited Nations building

Global Medicine Students pose for a group photo. Photo: Jennifer Kim

We left New York with a heavy heart but with a better understanding of not only our role in civil society, but also as future healthcare professionals in an ever-changing world. I am eternally grateful for this opportunity, and I made a promise then that I will carry their names and their ideals with me as I move forward. This time with renewed vigor for a longtime mission towards peace, justice, inclusive development, and human rights set in the very principle of fighting for all. The time is now for better role models to step up. This is their, no, our call. We are the catalyst, and it is time for action.

*Special thanks to Dr. Douglas Webb, Mr. Dan Thomas, Dr. Robert Kezaala, Professor Virginia Gamba, Mr. David Clark, Mr. Dan Shephard, Dr. Cornelius Williams, Ms. Pramila Patten, Mr. Jon Hall, Ms. Christina Lengfelder, Mr. Atif Khurshid, Ms. Lieve Sabbe, Ms. Renata Zanetti, Ms. Elisa Omodei, Mr. David Stewart, Dr. Maryam Farzanegan, Ms. Jennifer Kim, the Global Medicine team, and my peers for making this experience as rich as it was.

The Master of Science in Global Medicine program at the Keck School of Medicine of USC offers study abroad courses in over a dozen countries around the world. Find out more about these opportunities, and the MS in Global Medicine program, by visiting