The office space of the United Nations building

One of the things PJ and I definitely wanted to do during our trip to New York City this past week was the visit the United Nations building. We’ve walked past it before, but we’d never been inside. So this year we decided to put it at the top of our agenda.

After going through security and getting out ticket (and waiting about 45 minutes until our tour time), we followed our tour guide around to see various exhibits about the work of the United Nations. These included ones on the U.N.’s peacekeeping work, the history of the U.N., and the U.N.’s activities against landmines, hunger, and malaria.

The highlight of the tour was a brief walk through the U.N.’s General Assembly Hall, where all of the delegates meet to hear speeches and debate resolutions up for a vote. The General Assembly was in session while we were there, so we weren’t allowed to sit down or stay long. Instead, we had to quietly walk through the very back of the room up in the balcony.

The exhibits we saw were relatively simple. Most were just posters mounted on the walls of hallways. Our tour guide, who was from Algeria, and did a very good job explaining everything to us and answering questions. The most elaborate exhibits were about the U.N.’s work providing basic living supplies for refugee camps, malaria nets, and school kits.

This picture is of the tents and supplies the U.N. provides to refugees:

Refugee Tents from the UN

The U.N. also provides nets to keep mosquitoes that transmit malaria away from people. Here’s the picture I took of this exhibit:

Nets the UN provides to people to prevent the transmission of malaria

And finally, the U.N. provides schools in a box to help educate children in areas devastated by war or natural disasters:

The U.N. sent many of these to the United States after Hurricane Katrina.

While these exhibits are nice, they aren’t exactly high tech or awe-inspiring. Even so, I came away from this tour really moved. Maybe I’m too much of an idealist in general, but I came away really inspired by the work the U.N. is trying to do. With relatively few resources and fighting almost insurmountable obstacles, the U.N. is trying to solve problems around the world, problems that kill innocent people every few seconds.

Our tour guide kept emphasizing how many children died as a result of each topic she discussed, including landmines, hunger, and war. While I thought that her description of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a little simplistic and one-sided, I thought that she did a great job making us see some of the real suffering around the world.

I came away thinking how rewarding it would be to work at the U.N. Again, maybe I’m too idealistic, but it seems like this work would at least let you feel good about trying to make a real difference in solving the world’s problems. Plus, as an employee you get a cool security card that lets you in and out of the building!

The domed part is the General Assembly Hall.