by Lidia Koljancic
On the occasion of World Refugee Day, Christopher Swain, a courageous, experienced swimmer and advocate for refugees, swam two miles across New York Harbor, from the Statue of Liberty to Manhattan, then walked four miles to the United Nations, to bring attention to the millions of people forced to leave their native countries by persecution and war in the worst refugee crisis since World War II. His aim was to highlight the vital work of the UN for saving lives, protecting rights and trying to build a better future for refugees.
The event was part of a fundraising effort of the UNA-USA Westchester Chapter to support schooling for child refugees in Kenya as part of the UNA-USA and USA for UNHCR “Adopt a Future” campaign.
At a reception in the conference room of the UN Foundation, Rachel Bowen Pittman, UNA-USA Senior Membership Director, greeted Christopher. Ninette Kelley, Director of its New York Office, spoke on behalf of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and former Kenya ambassador to the UN Bob Jalang’o, of the UNA Westchester Chapter, described the “Adopt a Future” campaign and the schooling efforts in refugee camps in his country.
Christopher Swain gave a very moving speech -- not just the words of an heroic swimmer but also the words of a descendant of refugees from the Irish Potato Famine, an American who advocates for a strong positive role for the USA in the world, and a father who wants a bright future for his and others’ daughters. He urged that we recognize the refugee and immigrant heritage of most of us, that we realize the USA could use its role and resources as a global superpower to change the lives of millions of refugees, and that as humans we can and should embrace all of our human family.
The message of the evening was that World Refugee Day must be important for each of us: We are all humans. In supporting the “Adopt a Future” campaign we should care for and give to refugee children as if they were our own – for ultimately they are. It is still possible to make donations. Your donations will be matched by a generous philanthropist.
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by Mikhail Shklyarevsky
The United Nations Secretary General recently stressed the responsibility countries have to help refugees assimilate. On March 28, 2017, Antonio Guterres visited the Za'atari Refugee Camp in northern Jordan and remarked that "solidarity with Syrian refugees is...not only an act of generosity, it's an act of enlightened self-interest."
Guterres referred to refugees who have been forced to leave war-torn countries like Syria, perilously journeying to an unwelcoming and politically-polarized European Union. Guterres was elected Secretary General in January 2017, based largely on his work as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. According to a United Nations Press Release, from June 2005 to December 2015, Guterres managed conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
Syrians still need help. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 6.3 million have been displaced in Syria and more than 13 million need humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, because of the politics and strife in the Arab world, many of them have not been able to receive the assistance they need.
Consequently, these displaced people have braved the venture to Europe, where they hope to restart their lives. Those who belonged to the middle and upper classes in their countries have an advantage - their professional skills can be an asset to the economies and societies of various European countries. There are many ways European countries can assist refugees in their assimilation into a new and foreign society.
It is to the Europeans’ advantage to help with the assimilation process as refugees from the Arab world will likely stay in Europe. Europeans must attempt to empathize with their new neighbors; refugees fled their native countries due to civil unrest and Europeans cannot reasonably expect them to return to a perilous fate. As a result, European authorities and the United Nations will not likely be able to enforce ways to convince them to leave Europe and need to avoid deporting them. Otherwise, European authorities risk the possibility that these refugees could turn to criminal activity because of their desperation to provide for their families.
Considering these risks, European authorities instead need to make an effort to utilize the refugees' skills and build them up in the local societies. Hassan, an asylum applicant from Afghanistan, exemplifies such potential skills. According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Hassan volunteers for the Federal Volunteers Service, a nation-wide, government-run volunteer program to help new arrivals resettle in Germany. Such volunteers can help to foster cooperation and trust between Europeans and refugees by eroding the stigma of terrorism associated with Muslims. Volunteers such as Hassan also exemplify that the process of assimilating refugees from the Arab world can be successful with the right opportunities, such as encouraging prospects and offering guidance to child refugees. These programs provide hope for the prospects of refugees in a politically-polarized Europe.
The European Union and the United Nations need to support people like Hassan as leaders in their communities. Government entities could create programs in which dedicated and determined Europeans help with developing such leaders. Once these leaders have developed the necessary skills, they can work with Europeans to create various programs to develop the skills and minds of refugee children. Europeans of Arab and African descent could particularly play an important work role in such programs because they may share cultural similarities with the refugees.
Despite the good intentions of these programs, it is possible that the parents of child refugees could become concerned about their children abandoning religious traditions during the assimilation activities. In such cases, the Europeans could find a compromise, such as observing the traditions and finding a substitute for the activity. European authorities and the United Nations could use such compromises to justify their investment of time and resources in helping refugees, ensuring a secure economic, social and political future for Europe.
With such investment in the assimilation of refugees, the European Union and the United Nations are effectively encouraging their acceptance. By working more closely with refugees, Europeans can understand the benefits of living alongside them. Simultaneously, European authorities and the United Nations are allowing refugees to find their niches in this new order and better understand the process of assimilation into European society. As a result, they have provided these groups with ways to realize their "enlightened self-interest" with choices that can allow them to live together in peace.
by Joanna Blaz, UNA-SNY YP Social and Economic Development Committee Director
Fashion models sprinkled a bit of nature into our concrete jungle Wednesday night. Each holding a leaf or flower, models from the sustainable clothing brand Susty walked the National Arts Club runway, their re-purposed shirts urging the audience to “recycle” and “live responsibly.” As some got to the end, they twirled a rose or carnation over their heads: a small symbol that we’re together in the effort to protect our planet.
The fashion show kicked off this year’s United Nations Association-Young Professionals annual Cocktail Event & Awards ceremony. Each of the guests reflected a few of the core issues that UNA-YP advocates: sustainability, international development and refugee aid.
Designer Maria Martonyi also took to the runway, as models showed off her “peace silk” tops and other looks from her sustainable line. Martonyi prides herself in using plant-based dyes on all her items, which she hand dyes herself locally in NYC.
As guests mingled over wine and cheese ravioli, another model, keynote speaker Meredith O’Connor, shared her own story. Although she’s a successful singer and United Nations advocate today, O’Connor struggled with bullying throughout her career. Even though she said she felt alone, she overcame the self-doubt. Her message to young professionals: “If you’re lucky enough to be different, never change.”
Dr. Azza Karam echoed the importance of using our differences for the greater good. As the Senior Adviser of the United Nations Population Fund, Karam is exposed to various cultures and religions, as she engages faith-based organizations to work together. “[Religion] shapes what we believe and how we behave,” Karam said, recounting her own Egyptian upbringing.
The UNA-YP Young Professional of the Year recipient also used his cultural background to create a rewarding career in public service. Chernor Bah became a refugee at 6 years old in war-torn Sierra Leone. Bah’s passion for his work started when he noticed the gender disadvantages and violence towards girls in Sierra Leone.
“I refuse to believe that life should be determined by your circumstances.” Bah now leads the Population Council’s programs to benefit Sierra Leonean girls, from co-founding the “Adolescent Girls Learning Circle” to educating those at risk for HIV. “What keeps us going is a belief that we are better and we can be better,” Bah said.
The second awards recipient of the evening also dedicates his time to improving the lives of refugees. The UNA-YP Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Erol Kekic is the Executive Director of Church World Service, a refugee agency with offices across 21 states. Kekic recalled the struggles his organization faced during the recent travel ban. He told the story of a Somali woman whom CWS was assisting. She arrived at the airport on the day of the Executive Order. She was eventually turned away and forced to return to the refugee camp. At eight months pregnant at the time of the ban, she later gave birth to a stateless child.
Kekic said 80% of refugees are women, children or disabled. He urged the audience to volunteer or keep supporting organizations such as the UNA.
As the evening came to a close and winners picked up their silent auction items, many reflected on the themes of the evening. Whether your passion is advocating for sustainability or assimilating refugees, one thing is clear: you are not alone.
by Mikhail Shklyarevsky
UNA-SNY Young Professionals Social and Humanitarian Affairs Committee (YP-SHAC)
On December 31, 2016, Ban Ki-moon was succeeded by Antonio Guterres as the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon leaves Guterres an organization that has seen great progress during his tenure in the areas of women's rights and climate change. He has created women's rights initiatives, such as the Agenda for Humanity, that make United Nations member states responsible for the empowerment and safety of women and girls. In addition, Ban Ki-moon appointed Major General Kristin Lund of Norway as the first female Force Commander of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus. He also created the Climate Neutral Now initiative, in partnership with multinational corporations, like Sony, and convinced Edward Norton, the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, to encourage people worldwide to mitigate the impact of climate change. This article will commemorate Secretary-General Ban's achievements on gender equality and climate change, as well as explain their importance in regard to the United Nations.
By Natasha Louis
Dr. Farah’s demeanor was surprisingly reserved when he sat down with me in his gray, loose-fitting suit. Just arriving from a conference at the United Nations, he was quiet and calm, possibly also exhausted from his hectic schedule. While Dr. Farah speaks modestly, it should not mislead on his ability to be remarkably succinct and articulate. During our discussion, he never faltered or had to search for words; the conflict in Somalia was a matter he knew well. Talking so logically about such an arduous conflict almost gave me the impression that I was conversing with someone very intelligent but far removed from the issue. However, upon making eye contact, I could see something deep within him and witnessed that this was a man who has seen and experienced copious tribulations, yet contests it with such an unremitting spirit. To state Dr. Farah is courageous is an understatement. His unwavering commitment to peace and his country even after the loss of his arm and surviving three attacks, carried out by the very people he tries to disengage and rehabilitate, is incredibly commendable.
by Joanna Blaz
Shaking hands with a United Nations leader last week was no regular greeting. Dr. Abdiqafar Yasin Farah, who lost one his right arm in an attack in Somalia on September 18, 2006, remained hopeful and optimistic as he visited the United Nations Foundation and talked about surviving two explosions, his work with the United Nations and the future of his country.
Farah got his start in 2006 as an advisor to the Somali government, because of his background in Economics, Defense and Security. Within two months of starting work, the first suicide bomber in Somailia struck his small unit and he lost his arm that day.
But Farah continued working to eliminate the same violence that he experienced. Farah is now the National Officer of DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration) at the United Nations Mission in Somalia. Through their disarmament efforts, Farah’s team stripped more than 2,000 members of the militia of their weapons and sent them back into the community. Every three months, the government follows up. They usually find that the former Al-Shabab fighters are now new business owners, active in their town.
“Help these guys so they can come out and be good citizens, that is the goal,” Farah said.
Farah’s commitment to peace was tested again in July 2016, when he was caught in another attack by a suicide bomber at the Mogadishu International Airport, adjacent to the Somalia UN compound. He reported to the UN security officer who took him to the hospital. The attack made international headlines, with 13 people killed.
Despite witnessing the terror attacks, Farah said he has seen a lot of progress in his country. He said the Somalian government is now functioning, with former warlords and militia integrated into the security forces. The political environment is also improving: although Somalians still elect leaders based on a clan system, they now have an outgoing president and parliament that Farah points out were not there two decades ago.
Farah’s hope is unwavering. After losing friends in the attacks and losing his own arm, Farah’s goal for the future remains the same: “to make some peace.”
The United Nations Association is leading a fundraiser to get Farah a more functional prosthetic arm. So far the group has raised $1,500 of the $8,000 needed. To donate please visit: https://www.crowdrise.com/support-a-un-peacekeeper.
* The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.
By Jeanne "Ginger" Betstock Stillman, UNA-SNY Vice President of Chapter Development and Former UNA-SNY Division President
On August 17, 2016, the UNA-USA Southern New York State Division held its third consultation on Race, Criminal Justice and Human Rights. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, former NYS Senator and now Special Advisor to Governor Cuomo for Policy and Community Affairs at Homes and Community Relations, joined in planning this program and gave remarks on the importance of our work together. Jeanne Betsock Stillman, organizer of the event, described interactions in 2016 between the United Nations and the U.S. related to race, criminal justice and human rights. These included visits to the U.S. and statements by the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, and a letter from the Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. All spoke to the positive elements they observed in U.S. policy and actions and their recommendations for change. Also important to the framing of the discussion was the Report of the President’s Task Force on Community Policing (2015). Troy Wolfe, UNA Education Director, introduced the small group discussions.
The event was held in the office of the UN Foundation in New York City. The 38 participants included clergy members, police officers and consultants, legislative staff, university faculty members and other educators, attorneys, staff of agencies assisting prisoners or those released from prison, experts in human trafficking and violence against women, public health specialists, Human Rights specialists, NGO representatives, UNA-USA chapter and Division leaders and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority members, and included several people who were formerly incarcerated.
After introductions Ms. Hassell-Thompson offered remarks on several topics she thought important for our meeting:
Troy Wolfe announced the small group topics and methods. The participants chose from: (1) the school to prison pipeline and related education issues; (2) housing for youth aging out of foster care and sick adults leaving prison; and (3) race and justice issues including community policing and courts and reintegration into the community. In a plenary session the each group reported on its discussions. Next steps are to spread widely the final report through the networks of participants and to send it to Ms. Hassell-Thompson with the aim that key ideas might be included in the Governor’s State of the State address and budget.
by Joanna Blaz
As UNA-SNY Young Professionals took their seats in Colors Restaurant on Thursday night, one simple item tied the room together: a chalkboard with a Cesar Chavez quote scribbled in blue and pink.
“We don’t need perfect political systems; we need perfect participation.”
The reasons for participation in UNA’s “At The Intersection of Business and Development” panel and networking event were as diverse as the audience itself, which included international entrepreneurs, college students and a sustainability event planner.
Exploring Corporate Social Responsibility with the UNA-SNY Young Professionals Sustainability and Economic Development Committee (YP-SEDC)
By Joanna Blaz
Placing social issues as a priority in the workplace is not an easy task. But can proximity to the world’s largest humanitarian organization offer some inspiration? With the United Nations right in their backyard, New York City corporations and organizations are taking advantage and applying their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts on a larger scale.
Nielsen, a global independent measurement and data company with operations in New York City, has partnered with the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) as an opportunity to use its data and expertise for social good.
In 2015, a team of Nielsen data scientists volunteered their skills to help WFP revolutionize its mobile data collection process. This pro bono project enabled WFP to survey people in remote areas and gather data on their needs during times of crisis when sending workers into the field would be too dangerous, including during the Ebola epidemic.
by David Stillman, Board Member UNA-SNY
David and Ginger Stillman led a roundtable on Goal 16 (Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies) at the UNA-USA Leadership Summit in Washington, DC on June 12th.
Participants included members from chapters in Northern Colorado, Beverly Hills, Tampa, National Capital Area, Seton Hall University, Georgetown University, UCLA, Pomona Valley, Nebraska, Wisconsin, New York and the Southern NY State Division. Individual knowledge ranged from little familiarity with the goal to a person who teaches about the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights at Georgetown University to a peace activist from Wisconsin to a woman who worked for the United Nations in the 1950s. A member of each group acted as rapporteur, using the questions from the goal description page as a guide.
The participants broke off into three groups to discuss Goals 16 and its 2030 targets. The groups had the following recommendations based on work their chapter or division has done:
Ultimately, the groups concluded that UN Association chapters and divisions can work together and in their local communities to specifically address Goal 16. This can be achieved through a Refugee Task Force of the chapter and its partners focused on regugee welcoming and assisting in integration as well as working with the local Health Department on refugees in the community. Through organization and raising awareness UNA chapters and divisions can help promote just, peaceful, and inclusive communities - and it starts right in each of our communties.
Peace and justice start in your community and at the grassroots level. It begins with us and if we start here we can continue to fight for peace in other countries.