UNA-USA Essay Contest Winner: #SDG Infinity
Walking into the glass structure of a high school in Japan, 7th-grade me was
speechless. It was my very first Model United Nations conference, one that both
terrified and excited me beyond limits.
As groups of tuxedoed and pencil-skirted high schoolers brushed past, I couldn’t
help but reminisce. I joined our school’s MUN team only a few months earlier, but with
already so much research, discussions, and mock speeches. Before then, I had my sights
on becoming a cardiologist; I would dream of saving someone’s life on the operating
Never had I imagined that I would’ve been rebutting, yet also collaborating with,
delegations from China, Canada, and 20+ states, all in the same room, dreaming of
changing the world.
At Pacific Rim International MUN, our topic in our General Assembly
committee was education. Representing the Philippines, I recall fondly the first gavel
bang, the first crisis, the first tea n’ talk with other delegates, and the first Honorable
Delegate award I received.
Yet, what I remembered most was the discussion, and more, the discussion with
people. The speech-to-speech conversation of why education mattered—and why its
connections to other problems mattered too—hit my heart so hard that even the
cardiologist self I initially dreamed of becoming wouldn’t have been able to resuscitate
I realized then, it wasn’t just education or one topic that had really captured my
mind, heart, and spirit. Rather, it was the amalgamation of these topics taken as a single
field of study, the interplay between all of them, that truly captivated my attention. The
phrase “international issues” had taken on a meaning so much deeper than I ever could
have imagined – and I felt an urge to tackle them in reality. But where did this all come
Visiting its headquarters for the first time the following year, in 8th grade, I
found my answer: the United Nations.
Strolling through the multiple art exhibitions, the same arms of Zanetti’s mural
guiding me to see the black-and-yellow display of small arms and light weapons, my
first encounter with how “the world is over-armed and peace is underfunded”, all the
way until we reached the real General Assembly room, the first word and world I
associated with the UN … I realized that there was so much more to the topics we
countlessly debated in the model version of the UN. That there was so much more to the
awards at the end. That the true award was what united all, each of us representing our
own passions for resolving world crises. And that the UN was my home, inspiring
young advocates like me to fight each and every day for the SDG Agenda. Though not
I recall my tour guide mentioning that the United Nations was home to
international borders. Back then, I knew, but did not understand what that meant … yet
now, I do.
Flash forward to 2018 in high school, past my MUN conferences, as I spoke at
City Hall as a Youth Ambassador for UNA-USA’s Youth Solutions Summit on
immigration, my eyes looked fervently around the room – and what I saw were those
international borders, crossed by the attendance of so many young, diverse activists.
And I realized: we are the United Nations, each of us a nation uniting for a better
world, not an award.
Now, as a Teen Advisor for Girl Up, a UN Foundation initiative, I know what
that means, walking into another glass structure with my fellow TA’s from Colombia to
Malawi. I know what it means as I clutch my Gender Equality notebook, when I explain
what the #5 Goal means. Now as I launch ArtVocacy, a movement to spread awareness
on global issues through visual art, I continue to find the connections that unite all of
us, as nations and people, together. It was the United Nations that first intrigued and
continuously nurtured my understanding, towards conflict and collaboration, and the
change others want to be.
And I am impacted … because it impacts and has impacted others. I am not only
impacted by the UN, but by the unity of the nations we strive to help. This is truly an
infinite sustainable development goal: not only the glass structure I walked through in
7th grade, but the structure I hope to build with and for others, beyond 2030. To change
the world for the better, to reach that goal …
Will you join me?
Angela Zhang is a 16-year-old ARTivist from Los Angeles, California, currently part of the first graduating class of Geffen Academy at UCLA! Realizing how even ‘woke’ hubs like her home city aren’t fully aware of societal problems, Angela founded ArtVocacy (artvocacy-co.org), a youth-led platform aiming to spread awareness on hidden global issues through the creative arts and galleries; the organization recently launched “Community during Crisis”, its first virtual gallery shining light on many -isms youth artists nationwide have faced together during the pandemic. Honored to have served as a ’19-20 Girl Up Teen Advisor and this year as Co-Chair, she’s incredibly passionate about gender equality, international relations, mental health, and the intersections of all with art, a world she’s known since 4. Angela hopes to use her voice to help others find theirs, joining them in changing the world in a positive, innovative, and unique way. Above all, she stands for and towards justice, with you, during these times.