India’s ambassador to the United Nations gave Castle Hill Middle School students in the Bronx, NY a lesson on diplomacy on Monday, June 5. Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin talked to seventh-grade students who are part of the NYC Junior Ambassadors program about the challenges he faces as diplomat, imparting the message that young people don’t have to wait until they’re adults to change the world.
His visit started with an exciting welcome, the like of which he said he has never gotten before, “I’ve been to many schools, public and private, and I’ve never had a welcome like this,” he said. Akbaruddin told the students about his role at the UN and said that he alone represents a “country of one billion people with both sides”, good and bad.
“One of the things I love to do is interact with young people,” Akbaruddin said. “We don’t really get the chance to do that.” Another perk of being in the Junior Ambassadors program is a chance to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the U.N headquarters in Manhattan.
The Indian envoy said he does not get much time at home because he can be working any day of the week, including weekends, and even though there may not be much room for personal life, he still enjoys his work as he is contributing to the world.
He told the class that he was happy to be there as he never gets to interact with young people and mentioned the fact that 65 percent of India’s population is under 30 years old, stating that it is a young country. He then went around the room asking students: “In one word, tell me what comes to your mind when I say India?”
Answers poured in, with words like: dance, tradition, prestigious, Bollywood, colors, music, Yoga, food, movies, jewelry, culture and clothes. Akbaruddin also addressed the fact that June 5th is World Environment Day and asked students what they, as individuals, wanted to do for the environment.
One student said he wanted to help out in the medical field to make it easier for people to get the care they needed at a more affordable cost. Another said that she wanted to spread the message and teach other people what the environment should be like while another wanted to plant more trees to provide more air. A few other students said that the world “should come together as one” and “tackle global warming otherwise there will be no future.”
When the ambassador asked the students what they didn’t like about India, they listed: high poverty rates, air pollution, child marriage and arranged marriage, to which one student showed concern that not enough attention is given to women’s rights as well as men’s rights regarding this topic. It prompted the Ambassador to say that today, both men and women are equal unlike what it was years ago.
“Every time you think of India, multiply the U.S. by three,” he said, also mentioning that India is like an elephant, “we are slow but we will get there eventually.” He added: “English is spoken by about say 400 million people in India so there are 800 million or so still who don’t speak English so there are very interesting combinations happening of our Indian languages and English. So naan pizza is one of those combinations where you try to mix a local culture with an international approach,” he said. “Soon you will have words in English which were originated in India and you had never heard of,” he added.
He explained how he got to where he is today and said that “joining the Foreign Service was unheard of” noting that he came from a small city in India and that he wanted to explain to the world what India is all about.