Ahmed's Journey at the GFMD in Quito, Ecuador
By Ahmad Farzam Karimi, UNA-Canada Service Corps delegate
What does perspective mean? It seems to be a word that commonly accompanies any activity, event or goal as a means to “cover all their bases”. Perspective, in this context, works wonders to help the layperson attach themselves to a worthwhile goal. What’s missing frankly, and not for lack of effort, is the ‘how.’ How does one achieve the ability to take another person’s perspective, is it through asking, visualizing, traveling? For the longest time when I would encounter people from completely separate situations and I was tasked with understanding their life story, needs, desires and goals I felt stuck. For some context, I’m in my third year of my undergraduate degree in Health Sciences and have created my own humanitarian-focused organization in 2016 with various other extracurricular activities thrown in the mix. Throughout these humble years, I’ve never had an issue with mentally walking a mile in one’s shoes, but it was not until I was proposed an experiment by a dear friend of mine that I woke up. His proposal was to see ‘the dress’ and asked me its colours. This was at the midst of ‘the dress’ craze and it was then that I was first exposed, seeing it as ‘white and gold’. We spent the rest of the time arguing over how insane the other must be for seeing it any other way. In an odd turn of events later in that same day I saw it as ‘black and blue’ and ever since I’ve never seen it the other way since. Now definitely a rather trivial experience, but the fundamental lesson that my friend inadvertently taught me was that, at its roots, perspective is more than just imagining what the other is saying, it’s understanding that even at the most basic level we even ‘see’ life differently.
Now, to fast forward a few years, I have been invited by the United Nations Association in Canada (UNA-Canada) to act as a delegate for three conferences all integrated under the larger umbrella of the Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD). The forum this year was hosted in Quito, Ecuador, the capital of a country nestled in between Peru and Columbia, and the epicenter of a major mass migration event. The GFMD itself was populated by the various UN organizations and my fellow delegates and I in tandem represented UNA-Canada and the United Nations Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY). From the moment I landed to the time I was off to Canada, I had it firmly nestled in my mind that I would take this opportunity to gain perspective. Now I did not mean to just approach my goal traditionally, I wanted to use my time to focus on the senses, feelings and repressed voices of the various leaders and other individuals I met along my way.
I met with world leaders, mayors from major cities, high-level UN officials, youth leaders and activists producing incredible change throughout the world. Every day I set out to discuss or talk about a subject that I felt the other person was not only qualified to talk about but could passionately talk about until to their last breath. I wanted to hear the ‘why,’ why they pursue their goals relentlessly, why choose the path they do and why make the changes they hope to see in the world. My journey to perspective also had me engaged in lengthy discussions with locals, refugees and citizens alike to discuss what they felt was ignored by their media. It didn’t seem enough for me to taste their food and observe their way of life in an effort to gain an understanding of culture. At the basis of all of that was the people themselves, their motivations and their goals. The restaurant owner just a few hundred meters away from the conference wasn’t just confined by their occupation, they were someone who had endless stories to tell about their experience as an indigenous person. Or the humanitarian lawyer that could go on for hours about Football (Soccer) or if prompted, the Venezuelan refugee crisis. Despite the varying level of relevance, these conversations were to my subject matter of interest, I was still learning.
At the core of the lengthy and sometimes irrelevant conversations, I would consistently have was passion. Every individual I talked to, when prompted to communicate what drove them and how they seek change simply exuded a passion I saw shared among the conference-goers and locals alike. It offered me a greater understanding that while there may not be any universally shared perspective, there is underlying everyone a passion somewhere for meaningful change. My own experience as a refugee even felt similar to the Venezuluen refugee story. At the end of the conference, I had spent my time feverishly talking and listening to anyone that would bare my admittedly lackluster Spanish, I can confidently say I succeeded in my goal. As I sit and type weeks later, I realize that perspective-taking can’t be confined to the likes of a goal to “network with others”, it’s a fundamental part of being human.