Have you ever heard of United Nations (UN) tours? Do you want to know about the United Nations? My oldest memories of the United Nations is watching several of their peace keeping missions across the world, on TV. Another was watching them provide aid to families, especially in war torn areas. Thus in my mind, I knew they were ‘people who help others’ and I so wanted to be a part of them. However, when I tried to learn more about them, engage them, volunteer with them, partner with them, all were unsuccessful. I thus decided that the UN was for ‘some people’, ‘those people’ , ‘that clique’, ‘ a secret society’ that is only open to a select few. I thus pushed any thoughts of the UN to a little dark corner in my mind and decided I’d ‘give back’ to the world in my own ‘little’ way. Clearly, if I had known about the UN Visitors Service at the United Nations office at Nairobi and the tours they offer , I would have learnt and engaged with the UN earlier and more easily, instead of having a sour taste in my mouth.
So you should have seen my surprise when I received an email invite from the UN Visitors Service Office, inviting me for a tour of the United Nations office at Nairobi. At first I thought it was an erroneous mail, a mistake, is there even an office called that I wondered? It’s only after the second mail arrived that I was sure it was ‘Wangechi Gitahi’, ‘me’, that had officially been ‘identified’ by the United Nations and yes, the invite was legitimate. Dreams do come true people. Dreams do come true-keep dreaming..I didn’t even know why, what was the intention, I was just happy to finally have access to pass the heavily guarded gates , and sample the ‘grass’ across the fence of the United Nations Nairobi Office.
Highlights and Lessons from my United Nations office at Nairobi Guided Tour
1. Do not be tempted to drive up to the United Nations to ‘visit’ or ‘pass by’ as you were in the area..NO ..The security at the UN is very tight and you need to be on the ‘List’ to be granted access. In the case of one wishing to visit, explore, learn about the UN and get your name on the list, please register with the Visitor Service office, who offer guided tours. More on this below
2: Once you are vetted, you are then handed over to your minder/s who in this case is your host. You then leave your identification document i.e National ID or a valid passport at the security office and proceed for the tour. You are to be escorted at all times within the premises by your host, unless for toilet breaks. One is allocated with both a visitors badge that you should wear at all times, and a mobile Public Address System (gadget names are not my strength). This gadget incorporates an earpiece and a sort of tape recorder lookalike, thus, your narrator does not have to shout at the group. Instead, one feels like she is talking directly and only to you, even though you are a group. This honestly made me feel like a delegate, a dignitary at the United Nations .
3: You are then unofficially welcomed by the flags of the 193 member countries/states of the UN. It was great trying to identify the number of flags I could recognize easily-I managed about 20..It seems I need to expand my travels to all the countries of the world and that way, I would definitely know them offhead☺
4: The United Nations then officially welcomes you with this beautiful KARIBUNI structure that is a perfect wordplay of Welcome in Kiswahili and the United Nations. The dot on the i, is the United Nations logo. The creative who did this needs an award. This structure also allows a perfect spot for taking pictures, so go on, smile, pause, snap, selfie etc
5.) Getting the opportunity to visit and seat in the official United Nations Conference room, was so surreal. To think of how many dignitaries have sat on those seats, how many decisions affecting the world like SDGS have been discussed here, to strategies and policies being developed on that same floor made it a special engagement. Now my dream is to actually sit in on an “official UN meeting” to actually get a real experience of it and see if its similar to my imagination.
6: The United Nations set out 17 Global Goals better known as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are part of their Transforming Our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Some companies from the member states have also adapted these SDGs into their goals and thus I also appeal to each of you reading this, to pick an SDG and play your part in integrating it.
7) The United Nations Office is very active in the fight against pollution and promoting sustainable Waste Management practices. In and around the complex I noted various beautiful messages on Beating Pollution like the below artwork to learning that their New Building is running completely on solar energy.
8) The UN office at Nairobi provide these cute bikes to their staff, to ‘cycle around the 146 acres that is the UN Gigiri complex. This reduces the pollution that would be generated by emissions from vehicles, whilst keeping the staff healthy and fit.
Lessons about the United Nations:
A)The United Nations is governed by a ‘Charter’, which acts as their constitution. It came into being on 24th October 1945, making the UN 73 years, this year. It outlines the roles, duties and responsibilities of the UN.
B) It currently has 193 member states and it’s main three key pillars are:
1: Peace and Security 2: Human Rights 3: Development
C)The main headquarters of the United Nations is in New York-United States of America with its regional offices being found in Geneva-Switzerland, Viena-Austria and Nairobi-Kenya.
D) The United Nations is headed by Secretary General, Mr. Antonio Guterres, while the UN regional offices are led by a Director General. The Kenya office Director General is Ms. Hanna Tetteh from Ghana ,who was preceded by the new President of Ethiopia, Ms. Sahle Work Zewde
E) The United Nations Office at Nairobi was initially located at KICC in 1972, before the Government of Kenya donated 100 acres at the current Gigiri location in 1975. In 1978, the government then offered an extra 46 acres which means that the complex currently sits on 146 acres. It was initially just the United Nations Environment Programme Head Quarters but since 1996, the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) became the central administration of both UNEP and UN-Habitat.
F) The United Nations Visitors Service has been offered at the other United Nations Head Quarter Offices for many years before it started in Kenya. It Kenya, it started on 1st January 2012, at the United Nations office at Nairobi. This office is mandated with the task of bridging the gap between the general public and the UN. They thus try to demystify the UN, to break the stereotype that UN is for a “specific group” of people by providing guided tours to any individual who would wish to visit. The guided tours are very informative as they provide an in depth information session about the UN and its work, special briefings on specific subjects, as well as the opportunity to explore the United Nations office at Nairobi complex. The office conducts the guided tours Monday to Thursday 9:00 to 2;00 pm and Friday 9:00 to 12:00pm, with it being offered in English, Kiswahili, French, Chinese. German and Hungarian. The Rates for Kenyans are: Students (5-17 yrs)-Ksh.300, students (18 years and above)-Ksh.400, Adults-Ksh.500, Kenyan residents students (5-17yrs)-Ksh.600, Adults(18+)-Ksh.1200, Non-residents-Students (5-17 yrs) Ksh.1000, Adults(18+)Ksh.1500, Senior Citizens Ksh.1000. For more, please contact them on email: firstname.lastname@example.org and/or +254 207622034 to book your appointment.
G) The United Nations has 6 principal organs
1:Secretariat is the main administrative arm
2.International Court of Justice-Legal Arm
3)Security Council-Maintain International Peace and security
4)Trusteeship Council-Ensured trust territories were administered humanely and eventually became independent-
5) Economic and Social Council- Charged with improving living standards, setting international standards, and coordinating the activities of funds programme and specialised agencies of the UN
6)General Assembly-The deliberating arm of the UN and is made up of member states who also contribute to fund the UN with the maximum contributor contributing 22%of their GDP and the least contributor 0.0.0001.
G) There are 17 colonies yet to get independence .This was a shocker, it is still a shocker. I somehow always thought ‘colonies’ were a historical phenomena.
For more, you need to make an appointment with the Visitors Office and make your way there, for an actual Guided Tour. You honestly didn’t think I would share with you all that I saw and learnt did you? I have to leave some stuff out so that You can go and have a similar and/or even more fun and engaging experience. The team at the Visitor Service United Nations Office at Nairobi are very friendly, warm and quite knowledgeable on all things United Nations. I know some people like me had/have stereotyped the United Nations as being a “secret society” for “those people”. However, having engaged with them, having taken part in the Guided Tour, being engaged and having my numerous questions answered, has changed this notion. Noting that the tour is open to all and the rates being relatively pocket friendly, I recommend it to all. I will definitely return soon, to learn some more , in depth intel about the different offices like UNICEF, UNDP and how I can possibly get engaged in their projects-A dream has been re-awakened. I will let you know how easy or difficult that will be. My only recommendation to the United Nations office at Nairobi, is to request the Security team to be a bit more ‘friendly’, even as they implement their mandate. A smile goes a long way, hospitality goes a long way and they are the first point of contact for all visitors to the United Nations. A warm clap to the security gentleman who had on cool sunglasses, tough and hospitable at the same time- He deserves an award. Thank You to the UN Visitors office and more so Lisa, Adrienn and Verena who facilitated our tour and answered our numerous questions. You have broken the ‘notion’ that the United Nations is for a “select group” of people, but , is open to all.