by Joanna Blaz, UNA-SNY Young Professionals Editorial Director
sThe United Nations Foundation hosted a reception last week to welcome the sixth annual U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations, Munira Khalif.
The U.S. Youth Observer is appointed through a competitive, politically active pool of 18 to 25 year olds. The program is run by the U.S. Department of State and UNA-USA with the goal of engaging youth in international affairs.
Khalif will represent American youth at the 72nd UN General Assembly and at other United Nations events throughout her year-long term.
On Saturday night, the newly-appointed Khalif was eager to share with UNA-YP what she would like to achieve during her term.
“Oftentimes there are these high-level meetings… about issues that affect young people and young people are not at the table,” Khalif said.
One of Khalif’s defining experiences in activism was with the United Nations Foundation program Girl Up. As a Girl Up Teen Advisor, Khalif saw how many young women often feel marginalized and overlooked when she lobbied for the “Girls Count Act of 2015.” This law (then bill) ensures that women in developing countries obtain birth certificates and become legitimate members of society. “How do you make those people visible and make sure they’re counted?”
Khalif’s passion for women’s rights started early. Growing up in an immigrant family, Khalif was aware of the sacrifices her Somalian parents made.
“My mom is one of those women who is just such a strong advocate for women that you can’t help but become passionate for women’s issues and just gender equality in general,” Khalif said.
It’s no surprise that the Sustainable Development Goals that Khalif is passionate about are “Gender Equality” and “Quality Education.”
“Even though I had access to education, education was something that wasn’t easily accessible to girls just like me in many parts of the world, including Somalia.”
This inspired Khalif, with the help of her siblings, to start “Lighting the Way.” The organization aims to make education more accessible in east Africa.
Khalif sees other education activists as role models, and actually got to meet one of them in her home state.
“(Malala) is literally one of those examples of overcoming… immense obstacles that were put in her way to receive an education. That’s really what I’m inspired by.” Khalif said she met Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai when she came to Minnesota to speak to recent immigrant Somali girls and refugees about the importance of education.
“You have this education… we have these degrees, but it’s just the question of what are you doing, how are you making a better world, not only for yourself and your family, but also for the people around you?”
While advocating for others to learn, Khalif is pursuing her own education as an Economics major at Harvard University. Besides her education and advocacy, Khalif still finds time for her creative hobbies.
“I’m a nerd!” She laughed through her bold pink lipstick, while admitting she enjoys blogging and writing poetry.
As U.S. Youth Observer, Khalif is looking forward to meeting people from different GenUN chapters and finding out what they are passionate about.
“These institutions like the United Nations exist not for some people, but for all people,” Khalif said. “You don’t really have to look too far to actually realize where you could have an impact.”
As fall approaches we wanted to update UNA-SNY members on the best ways to continue to advocate for and learn about the most pressing sustainability issues. See below for events and resources:
Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to be notified of advocacy actions and panels and discussions led by UNA-SNYs Energy Project.
Saving the Planet
by George Garland, UNA-SNY President
At the Social Good Summit, a day after the climate march in Manhttan, the Greenpeace Executive Director noted the planet will be fine without people—oceans won’t acidify, forests will flourish, groundwater will recharge—it’s the people who are at risk.
The vast majority of the global community supports the Paris Accord. Bill Mc Gibben, 350.org, cited agreement that a 1.5 degrees centigrade increase would keep the global community safe. Yet agreed actions lead to a 3 degrees centigrade increase. The Clean Power Plan, a key US action, now not supported by US leadership.
Forecasts from complicated mathematical models aside, the Great Acceleration shows why global action is needed. Major increases in both environmental and socio-economic indicators from 1950 to present bring us out of the Holocene, the last 10,000 years with temperature variations limited to about one degree centigrade. This favorable climate for human development now gives way to the to the Anthropocene. Now human activity can take us into uncharted territory including the ability of acidifying oceans to supply fish, deforestation changing rainfall patterns, and water scarcity.
The Great Acceleration continues in the Age of Sustainability. The Earth Institute’s Jeff Sachs points out that global product will triple by 2050 while carbon load must be cut in half—change by a factor if 6 in carbon intensity to keep us safe. We will add many more mega-cities and global increases in purchasing power will put pressure on supplies of food, energy, and water.
Our global challenge is well summarized in Doughnut Economics. Raworth combines the Planetary Boundaries of Johan Rockstrom’s Stockholm Resilience Institutes Planetary Boundaries with the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals to demonstrate a safe space for humanity.
Moon Shot Mentality Vandana Shiva argues for a massive effort to restore the functionality of soils versus geo-engineering schemes such as filling the atmosphere with pieces of aluminum. Partnership with the microbial universe is indeed the way forward with energy from biomass, food and energy savings from green roofs, vertical farms which need much less water, and composting of animal manures to restore the carbon capture and ground water recharge capabilities of soils as the goals of a sensible latter day Moon Shot.
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.
<< Donate Here >>
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.
The Tenure of Ban Ki-moon
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.
Supporting a UN Peacemaker
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.
Race, Criminal Justice and Human Rights: A UNA Southern New York Division Consultation
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.