It is hard for the average college student to imagine a day without clean water let alone Starbucks. But participants the Council of International Students and Organization’s (COISO) UN Day 2012 showed this reality.
COISO hosted UN Day on Wednesday, Oct. 10, enlightening the university community about some of the problems that affect the world today.
In an effort to draw attention to several pressing global issues and human rights violations, COISO erected a large tent divided into several different sections on poverty, underpaid workers, refugee life and human trafficking.
Tour guides led groups consisting of a few individuals at a time through the tent, offering explanations and statistics for each of the exhibits. Each exhibit features volunteers portraying a particular problem the UN faces.
The first exhibit initially showcased COISO cabinet member Bharthi Subramanian portraying a young Mexican woman who blamed the government for the death of her young son. Lines like “the last time I saw him, he was on his way to school” created a striking image for several participants.
Discussing her performance afterwards, Subramanian disclosed that she had been more or less assigned to the role but enjoyed it.
“It is a very wonderful way to raise awareness for a number of diverse issues that we don’t come into contact with often,” added Franklin Smith, a graduate student in Latin American Studies. “It’s important to know where products come from, especially when it’s so easy not to question things.”
Inside the air barely moved, as students listened and observed with varying degrees of confusion, disbelief and astonishment as the tour continued. After the initial section, the themes of human trafficking, the plight of refugees, labor violations, the disparity of wealth and lack of access to quality education followed.
Lorna Castillo, COISO vice president who had been serving as a tour leader, has seen more participants this year.
“So far it’s going well,” she said. “We’re definitely getting more traffic at this point than we were last year.”
The end of the tour concluded with an earnest appeal to take action and invited students to speak with the on campus representatives of Amnesty International on the exhibits they had seen and different ways to get involved. Everyone was also encouraged to sign their name to a little hand cut-out, indicating that they would take action, tying back to this year’s theme “It’s In Your Hands”.
Sophomore Helen Erlich, who had heard about the event from Facebook, enjoyed this ending.
“I thought it was a cool way to present information,” she said.
Also spotted at the event, President Donna E. Shalala, told the chair of the event Qyawne Guevara, “great job.”
Before the event, Guevara shared a behind-the-scenes perspective, explaining the preparations and reasoning that went into the event.
“The youth have an attention that is so quick,” she said. “When we were evaluating last year, apparently, there was a lot of words and information. So we’re tending toward words and pictures.”
COISO has been an integral part of UM since 1967 when it was founded by international students to fulfill needs that not being appropriately addressed by the university at the time. Since then, it has become one of the most respected and recognized student organizations on campus. Its membership consists of over 30 cultural student clubs and international students from over 110 countries.
Its UN Day is one of a few events throughout the year in which organizations under COISO come together to enlighten the university about world issues.
Guevara hopes that UN Day continues to inspire participants.
“Yeah if there’s anything we can do to change perceptions in this really incredible selfish, materialistic consumer-driven world, then we can do so much more for people who are less advantaged and don’t have the things that we have,” she said.