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Lehigh University > United Nations Partnerships > Lehigh Student Interns at United Nations > Ashley Pritchard

LU/UN Student Committee

Hidayah Amin
Ashley Pritchard
June - December 2009 Intern

Police sirens echoed constantly between skyscrapers, helicopters circled overhead, and large army boats patrolled up and down the Hudson. This was it. The 64th Annual General Assembly was about to start and 192 country world leaders rolled in motorcade after motorcade. The entire Secretariat building had noses pressed up against the glass windows trying to guess who was in which motorcade. “Oh look, that one is Monaco and Prince Albert II.” “Only a 13 car motorcade for Brown. That’s too bad, Blair’s was twice that size!” I witnessed snipers on the roofs of New York City buildings, security guards who spoke the international language of “Don’t mess with me” and watched journalists trip over themselves running trying to catch the perfect shot of another figurehead entering the building.

Being able to sit in the same room with the world’s biggest political figures was astounding. I was able to hear President Obama, Libyan leader Muammar Al-Qadhafi, President Sarkozy of the French Republic, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, President Chavez of Venezuela and more give their rants, pleas and pitches to the rest of the world.

Working at the United Nations (UN) in the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Section of the Department of Public Information (DPI) at Headquarters in New York City entailed a steep learning curve to say the least. I learned a remarkable amount about the workings of the United Nations and the importance of cooperation between the UN and non-governmental organizations around the world. And I also absorbed every acronym, security protocol, and consulate code of conduct.

My primary duty as Section 1 editor coordinated the weekly Briefings held at Headquarters every Thursday for approximately 175 of the NGO/Non profit community leaders. This entailed choosing a topic, selecting and recruiting speakers (typically 3-5 per Briefing), publicizing the event, and managing the panelists. After each Briefing, I edited and compiled notes on each conference to create a press release summary and handled routine media inquiries. Recruiting speakers became the most challenging aspect of the job because it required extensive research and persuasion (since the UN does not pay for travel accommodations, panelists must cover their own travel expenses, even when coming half way across the world). Nevertheless, I was able to secure some fantastic panelists, including Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi for her understanding of Islam; climate change activist for small island states, Ambassador Dessima Williams of Grenada; Australian youth delegate and children’s rights advocate Chris Varney; former child soldier, activist and author Ishmael Beah; and Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team (serendipitously, just weeks before the UN Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen). The experience has been extremely rewarding as it has not only taught me composure in the presence of celebrities, dignitaries, and large audiences, but most importantly, it has taught me how to think on my feet, trouble shoot, delegate and work with others who may have very different goals.

In addition to my Section 1 duties, I was asked to accompany the United Nations to Mexico City to help run their 62nd Annual NGO Conference, this year on disarmament. Mexico City was indeed a cultural experience and a heartfelt combination of beauty infused with extreme poverty. My heart broke every morning as we walked past all of the beggars and small children who looked like they hadn't eaten in days. There was a lot of work and I certainly wouldn't call it a vacation - we were up past 2am every single night working on last minute scheduling changes and speeches. My main responsibility was planning the Secretary-General’s visit to the conference and the plethora of media opportunities surrounding his short two-day visit. I conferenced nearly every day with the Spokesperson’s office, the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, international journalists, television companies, and other press. I wrote the Secretary-General’s talking points on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons for his media press briefing and collaborated with the UN Office on Disarmament Affairs to ensure that the message was both accurate and detailed. I drafted the Secretary-General’s opening address at the Conference and coordinated his two “Iconic Events” which were side events involving the youth of Mexico City (requiring me to teach the Secretary-General how to tweet a message online in front of an audience of 500!). Overall, it was a whirlwind. I don’t think I ate, slept, bathed or breathed during the 48 hours that the Secretary General was in Mexico, but it was the most invigorating experience I have ever had.

The most humbling part of my experience, aside from this incredible learning venue, was the opportunity to engage with many different leaders in the world – not solely political figureheads, but scientific leaders, celebrities, activists and humanitarians. I felt transported to a fairy tale of diplomats and Nobel laureates. I was able to bring Iranian lawyer, activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi to our briefing on Islam and spent a great deal of time talking with her about her groundbreaking work enacting legislation for human rights in Iran. I helped coordinate the induction ceremony for Stevie Wonder as Ambassador for Persons with Disabilities and escorted Goodwill Ambassador Jane Goodall preparing her for her press briefing (she even carried her chimpanzee stuffed animal around with her!) Furthermore, I helped Roberto Zamora, peace activist and practicing lawyer from Costa Rica rehearse his closing ceremony speech for the 62nd Annual conference in Mexico City. Each day at work was filled with chances to sneak a personal moment with these visionaries most of us admire from afar.

I have gained tremendous experience “walking the walk” for a premier non-profit, and felt the power the United Nations has on surfacing problems for international discussion such as disarmament, female genital mutilation, the civil war in Darfur, AIDS, children’s rights and more. My time at the UN has been, without a doubt, a once in a lifetime opportunity that has taught me a great deal about myself, the international community and the NGOs who work to make the world a better place.

Read my full blog here.

For more information, contact Dr. Bill Hunter at

LU Student Interns at UN

United Nations