“How I made it to the UN in New York”

Interview made by Stefan Alievikj

Slagjana Sokolova has a say : It is the easiest thing in life to become Everyman, but it is a little bit more difficult to become Someone. If one is up to achieving something in life, one need to put a lot of efforts, investing into the future and some days results for sure will be here. How can you escape from the almost inevitable warp of unemployment?  It is a big noisy and competitive world out there and it is better for youth to engage to a certain kind of cause, making their way up the ladder.

Is Macedonian youth engaging with valuable causes? Slagjana Sokolova, coming from Radovish, Macedonia shares a story of success, having started as a youth activist since the age of 15. Witnessing the issues that for sure are prominent in Macedonian environment, Slagjana has involved herself with the causes of human right, gender equality, domestic violence, sexual and reproductive health and youth participation. Being an outstanding youth activist she applied for a fellowship at UNFPA in New York and she was chosen among thousand other applicants from around the world.

“With vision that someday I can change something, make my society a better place to live, I actively got involved with the NGO sector, first visiting trainings, seminars, workshops, gaining knowledge about the issues that concerned me. NGOs are true source for non-formal education on these issues, plus there is the working experience on the field, and the opportunities to work on projects. Consequently you are good to go up the ladder,” says Slagjana about her beginnings, but let us hear more from her

1.      What are the most prominent actions you’ve been part of, so far?

SLAGJANA: “I have held many activities, workshops, trainings and they are very important experiences for me. However, something that lifted me up was winning the fellowship at UNFPA Head Quarter in New York. This fellowship helped me to be more visible to the young people from Macedonia and other countries; an opportunity which gave me chance to motivate and encourage more young people to take an active role in their societies. In October, 2011 I had the chance to attend the Press conference making the day of 7 billion, an event which opened a whole new world for me as a young activist. As well, month afterwards there was the Woman in Leadership Conference, held at YALE University where I could share with students on my international experience and gender equality engagements.

2.      How did you get chosen for your fellowship at UNFPA?

SLAGJANA: When I saw the call for applications I did not believe that I will get this fellowship because I knew that there are many young activists from all over the world who have applied, but I still applied and wanted to see how far would I go.  My experience working on the field gave me self-confidence and I was hoping that my knowledge and motivation are strong enough to convince these people that I deserve this opportunity. When I got the first e-mail that I am shortlisted I start believing that I have big chances to be part of this program where only 5 young people are lucky to get in this life-changing fellowship. I guess that when you really believe in something, than you get it. I was selected out of 1200 applicants from all regions as a fellow from Europe.

“But today – this Day of 7 Billion – is not about one newborn, or even one generation. This is a day about our entire human family,” has stated Mr. Ban Ki-moon at that Press Conference.

3.      How did you adapted in the city that never sleeps? 

SLAGJANA: The first few days were tough but exciting.  New York is the most dynamic city and the lifestyle is so different than the lifestyle here, but I caught the rhythm of the city after some time passed. Life is very quick in the City that never sleeps, but it took me some time to feel like I lived there. The first few months I was living in the International House where around 700 young people from all over the world are living and that made it very easy for me to meet people, to get to know the city, to make new friends. At the office, the UNFPA staffs were very welcoming, opened for sharing their experience, and we, as a special youth fellows were treated very professional. Due to obligations, I was going to the UN building for high level meetings or conferences. The first time I entered, I just couldn`t stop staring at the general assembly; for me that space is something special and I believe that every person who enters the UN building finds this “room” most amusing.

4.      Who is the most prominent leader you met on your journey through the Big Apple?

SLAGJANA: “I met many leaders, but as most exciting experience I can point the Press conference marking the day of 7 billion, where I took part as a panelist among with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, President of the General Assembly and the Executive Director of the UNFPA. UNFPA Special youth programme is established in 2004, giving opportunities to young people from developing countries. Their very objectives are to build capacity, knowledge and skills to young people and UNFPA staff. During my fellowship at the HQ of UNFPA, all the fellows are involved in ongoing projects, thus they are to attend High level meetings and conferences. Meeting the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was an outstanding experience – it is the kind of experience which boosts you to grow personally and professionally. I found the focus of my interests, as well as I enforced my knowledge. It was an environment filled with experts from all over the world and you get the chance to learn from the best; from people coming from all seven continents.”

5. Gender equality is one of the main causes you are engaged to. How did the experience from Women in Leadership conference mingled with it?

SLAGJANA: “Greater equality and more flexible gender roles give everyone more opportunities to develop to their full capacity as a human being. In contrast, restrictive gender roles can limit opportunities. Despite gender inequality (or similar barriers), every day millions of individuals seek to fulfill their dreams. Although everyone does not automatically enjoy the same opportunities, many individuals achieve their dreams by fighting for a fair chance and working hard to take advantage of the opportunities they obtain.

The Women in Leadership Conference, on the panel Women in the world organized and held at YALE University, was a conference where I shared with YALE students on the topics of gender issues, human rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. It was an amazing experience just to visit the Yale University itself, and the opportunity to speak to the students and exchange experiences and thoughts was definitely something that I would like to do again. After the conference many students approached me with more questions, they wanted to know how to get involved to work on this issues, which makes me very happy, because that`s exactly my aim, to engage more young people, to raise our voice, to be heard and to make a change together.”

6.      After the fellowship journey, where is Slagjana standing today?

SLAGJANA: After New York I came back to Skopje to continue with my university, I had to catch up with the pile of exams, but now the exam session is over and I am back in Radovish, my home town where I am working in the Women`s action NGO every day, holding workshops, trainings, working on projects and engaging more young people. However, this is not my stop point. At the end of July I`m to travel to Washington DC for the 19th  International AIDS conference.

11 thoughts on ““How I made it to the UN in New York”

  1. Congratulations,young people should give such good example!

    May I ask what kind of fellowship exactly was that and do UNFPA provide it on a regular basis?

    Thank you!

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