Western Student Attends 73rd UN General Assembly in NYC

20-year old Harjas Grewal attended the UN General Assembly in New York on September 24, 2018, becoming an example for youth and women of colour at home in London.

Among hundreds of foreign ministers and heads of state, Grewal got to see Superwoman, a Punjabi-Canadian Youtuber, and Justin Trudeau give speeches about peacebuilding and the Youth 2030 Agenda.

“UN and other huge organizations say we want youth to be involved and have a voice at the table but when you do actually see anyone under 35 speaking,” the fourth year Global Development student asked rhetorically.

At the roundtable discussions that followed the speeches, the Brampton native offered youth perspectives on UN’s Sustainable Development Goals as a Campus Ambassador for the Youth Assembly.

“I feel like it's my responsibility after coming back to get youth involved in peacebuilding and high levels of organizations,” said Grewal.

Though she’s an advocate for the UN, Grewal believes there is “still a lot of work to be done” in areas of youth involvement and the empowerment of women of colour.

The aspiring Human Rights Lawyer recalls that she was the only Western Student to attend the 73rd session of the UNGA this year to her knowledge.

After completing an Urban Development and Humanitarian Emergencies certificate from Harvard University last year, Grewal became passionate about participation in national and international discourses that could shape future generations.

However, getting to the UN was a long journey for Grewal.

“I’m Sikh. We have this notion of giving back in sewa—community service. [As a kid,] I remember telling my mom to take me to the gurdwara [because] I wanted to serve people meals….” said Grewal. 

“It took years and years of rejections from many organizations that I finally got my foot in the door,” Grewal said. “I thought there was no way I was going to get it—seeing your dreams coming alive in front of you is the most insane feeling.”

When asked to elaborate on her Facebook caption that read “I’m so humbled that I can represent the diversity of Indian-Canadians on this level”, Grewal responded by saying, “I always tell [South-Asian] girls that we need to put our talents forward . . . because that way we can start representing those sectors and become leaders.”

Grewal is grateful to have attended two UN Youth Assemblies, a UN Department of Public Information NGO Conference, and have been present “in a momentous part of history” at the UNGA where social and political officials talk about peace-building and partnerships between nations.  Grewal will be attending the Winter Session of the Youth Assembly in February and will be looking for other students attend as well. 

“Eleven-year-old me wanted to go to the UN and twenty-year-old me made it. I feel like I'm breaking some [stereotypes] . . . Even though I’m brown, even though I'm a girl, I can make it too.”

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