As I go about my Europe trip, it seems as though more and more events tie back to my time in Australia. My trip to Brussels is no exception. If you read along with my travels in Oz, you may remember Matthew and I's first night in Straya. We stayed in Surfer's Paradise in a real hostel—a first experience for the both of us. It was here that we met several interesting characters, one of which being a solo female traveler from Belgium that profoundly influenced me with her bravery. (You can read the original story here.)
When I realized I was going to Germany and flying out of Bonn, which is near Cologne, I also realized how close Brussels was, so I took a shot in the dark and messaged this girl from Belgium. I asked if she lived close to Brussels, what she recommended I do in Belgium and if possible I might stay a night or two at her place.
Nirina immediately messaged me back with full enthusiasm, I was welcome to stay whenever I wanted and she lived an hour north of Brussels in Antwerp. We then made arrangements to tentatively meet up, depending on when my travels led me there. Over the next few weeks we kept in touch and in the end it worked out that I would join her and her coworkers in Brussels for a free event on economic sustainability. Little did Nirina know that this event was right up my alley and right in line with the work I would soon be engaged in back home.
When I found Nirina in the crowd I was so excited to see my acquaintance-friend from over a year earlier. Like all of us—she was beautiful when not backpacking! I mean that in the most flattering of ways. It's just that, well, as backpackers we're all quite stinky and quite messy. When I met Nirina we were both san make-up, jewelry, hair-product and nice clothes. Today I meet her in full business dress, bright red lips and beautifully straightened hair. She hugged me enthusiastically and I could smell her perfume and immediately I hoped she couldn't smell my lack of pleasant scent.
One of her coworkers was also from Belgium. She was very friendly and spoke with only a slight French accent. Her other coworker was actually straight off the plane from Georgia. She was interning with Nirina's company for the summer. We exchanged a quick American dialogue about the struggles of public transport and heavy suitcases before the four of us entered the building where the event would take place.
In cue I asked Nirina and her colleagues a dozen questions about what they did and what exactly was going to happen at this event. Nirina was very good to dive into extended explanation of everything I was curious about.
Nirina and her colleagues worked for something called CIFAL which can be translated as an acronym for the International Center for Training Authorities and Leaders. CIFAL is recognized by the United Nations and therefore is quite influential. The organization's current focus is project 2030, which is a total of 17 goals set by the UN to help make the world a better place. They plan on doing so through projects that deal with world poverty, gender rights, accessible education, clean water and many other things.
The original 17 goals were created in the year 2000 but were not completed. In 2015 the UN met to reassess the goals for another 15 years of work towards the goals—hence the name, 'Project 2033.' I was further surprised and impressed to hear that Nirina was actually in the same field of work as I would soon be. She was the Communications Director for the Flanders region of CIFAL. No wonder we got along so well!
I was impressed when the first item of the night included welcoming the Queen of Belgium. She gave a short, uplifting speech and then we heard from several other speakers in various UN positions.
I thought it was interesting when the Director of Earth Institute from Columbia University in the United States was questioned about Trump's recent decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement involving climate change. Maggie and I had talked extensively on the subject and as an American in Europe I felt the vastness of the issue much more strongly than I would have back at home. The speaker handled the question well, though he was very honest in his answer. He verified that the decision was the product of a corrupt system; a political system supported by private investors. I had been preaching this same message throughout my entire trip.
I also enjoyed a short speech from the Prime Minister of Norway. She encouraged the young leaders to use their voices to keep the government accountable. She talked of how today's youth understand interconnectiveness and globalization in ways that former generations never could. We have the internet and it is easier than ever to project our voices and make demands from our government and piers.
This point was brought home when two UN youth ambassadors presented one of the speakers with a framed mirror. They explained that the government has to do their best to create a frame for change, and all of us—politicians and civilians—must consistently look in the mirror to ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to help create a more sustainable planet.
At the end of the night I felt like I had experienced something unique. Here I had experienced a global effort to create positive change. This was the furthest thing from a typical tourist event and so I caught a glimpse of an authentic European mindset. Who could have guessed that a random roommate in Surfer's Paradise would lead to this?