Responding to Requests for International Contributions

In the context of war and violence, mounting injustice, natural disasters and countless other severe challenges around the world, Unitarian and UU leaders in many countries are responding in creative and impactful ways to the issues they face locally.

In recent weeks, requests for financial contributions to support some of these efforts have been received by members of UUA congregations and the response typically reflects a depth of care and generosity that is inspiring.

The response to the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU)’s campaign to support the members of the Unitarian Church in Burundi is an especially vivid example. This generosity has been a great blessing.

Sometimes global Unitarian and UU leaders reach out for support through networks of friends and colleagues – occasionally even through unverifiable email or Facebook messages.

When this happens, we urge individual UUs and congregations to pause and consult with the UUA International Office, the ICUU or the UU Partner Church Council before deciding to send a contribution.

Usually we can help congregations consider important questions about mutual accountability, unintended consequences, and other matters without diminishing the deep caring, commitment to shared justice work, and generous intentions involved.

For further information, please see this memo about “Faithful International Partnering: Proceeding Carefully and Intentionally” from the UUA, UUPCC and ICUU which includes contact information.

February Update on Situation for Burundi Unitarians

Image credit: Amnesty International

Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana, founder and minister of the Unitarian Church in Burundi, has shared the following update on the current situation in Burundi. For further context and background information, read “Making Sense of the Burundi Crisis.”

You are welcome to share this article widely.
Please consider making an online donation to support Burundi Unitarians.

The situation in Burundi remains of concern with widespread violence mostly in Bujumbura but also in rural areas.


As a consequence, many deaths are registered and dead bodies are still found on the streets and other people are killed through fighting between armed groups and the police and the Army.


A report from Amnesty International stated that mass graves are suspected and many people are buried in those mass graves.


The peace and Security Council of the African Union suggested a 5,000 people strong force to protect Burundi civilians and awaited a decision from heads of states. Last weekend, the heads of states and governments didn’t agree to send the troops. There is now a high profile mission to Burundi headed by the current African Union head, the president of Chad, that will visit Burundi as soon as this week.


According to news available, the UN general secretary is also expected to visit Burundi in the course of February. All these efforts are aimed at convincing all parties to get to the negotiating table and the government to accept the foreign troops.


As far as the Unitarian church is concerned, members are still scattered outside Burundi and shelters have been arranged for people to stay and have basic needs provided. About 17 people are housed in those shelters in addition to some who live in individual rented houses but do get support as needed and appropriate. These shelters are mostly in east African countries.


Arrangements are made to support people who remained in Burundi. We are glad to report that the church has remained open throughout these difficult times to the point that no worship service has been cancelled so far and additional measures have been taken to secure the church building and the people who use it.


We are praying that the situation gets a peaceful resolution soon and people can go back to their respective homes and jobs as well as thinking about long term solutions.


We are grateful to all of you for your support and your constant encouragement.

UUPCC Youth & Young Adult International Opportunities

UUPCC Young Adult Grants for ICUU Conference & Council Meeting 2016

The UU Partner Church Council has set aside funds to provide assist young adult participants (ages 21 – 35) to attend the International Council of Unitarians & Universalists Conference and Council Meeting in July 2016. It is hoped that these funds will make it possible for young adults to join in the important international work of our shared faith.

In the interests of open access and transparency, grants to attend the ICUU Council Meeting and Conference to be held July 2016 in the Netherlands will be determined via an application process.

To be considered for such a grant, a completed application form must be returned to ICUU Young Adult Program leaders by email and to arrive no later than 15 March 2016. Download Grant Application (PDF)

Each applicant must be approved by the governing body of their national or regional organization and no more than two such recommendations will be considered from any country. For Canadian and US applicants who function under Congregational Polity you must submit a letter of recommendation from the minister or governing body of a congregation.

Subsidies are given only to people who cannot otherwise afford to attend and an applicant agrees to provide on request any financial or other information that UU Partner Church Youth & Young Adult Initiative Team may need to consider applications.

The following factors will be among those considered in making grants:
– Priority is given to delegates and to persons who have not been funded to attend an ICUU event within the last three years
– Priority will be given to young adults who wish to or are developing leadership skills within their faith U/U communities.
– All grant recipients agree to participate fully in the Conference/Council meeting and the Young Adult Program.

The applications will be considered by the UU Partner Church Youth & Young Adult Initiative Team.

We may not be able to provide grants to applications from all that apply and receipt by UU Partner Church Youth & Young Adult Initiative Team of an application should not be regarded as a commitment or promise to provide a grant. Grants may initially be available for only one participant per country.

Those whose are subsidised to attend the meeting are expected to arrange for and fund their own visas, if required, and to fund domestic transportation in their own country to the international airport, except in exceptional circumstances. ICUU will provide an international return air ticket to the site of the conference and cover the on-site conference costs for the participant up to the amount of the grant for travel and conference costs.

Grants to include coverage of the following:

Travel Expenses
Philippines/India/Africa Participants 10 total $900 each

European and E. European Participants 10 total $100 each

US and Canada Participants 10 total $300 each

Young Adult Conference Costs:

Philippines/India/Africa Participants 10 total $400 each

European and E. European Participants 10 total $200 each

US and Canada Participants 10 total $100 each


International Youth Camp in Transylvania

UUPCC and the Hungarian Unitarian Church are partnering to create an International Youth Camp. It will be designed to serve high school teens who wish to be part of a pilgrimage and mission experience in Transylvania. Youth will journey to sites that are sacred to our religious tradition, and learn why they are still relevant to our modern faith movement. They will also participate in a service-oriented work project in Transylvania to benefit our Partners there. This camp is designed to allow youth groups, as well as individual UU teens who do not have access to a regular Group, to participate in Partnership.

Approximate dates: beginning of August, 2016

Approximate costs: $1500 for airfare, and $1000 dollars per teen for in-country travel, room and meals.

Getting ready: Qualified teens must be attending high school as of September 2016, be available for Zoom/Skype meetings as the year unfolds, and successfully complete a weekend Youth Group “bootcamp” in the Boston area before leaving for Transylvania in August 2016 (where all North American teens will learn to function as a successful Youth Group)

Overseas travel: will include flying into Koloszvár, several pilgrimage sites in and around Kolozsvár, daily Youth Group meetings, time for games, skits, and lots of meals—and a service-oriented stay in a Transylvanian village.

Total travel time including East coast “bootcamp”: 10-12 days

For more information, or to apply, please direct your inquiries to Jennifer Emrich at



70th Anniversary of the First UN Resolution to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons

Protesters advocate for the elimination of nuclear weaponsOn January 24th, 1946, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously passed its first resolution, which called for the establishment a commission to monitor nuclear energy around the world, and for the elimination of atomic weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. This January 24th, 2016, we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first resolution as we continue to advocate for nuclear disarmament.

The Unitarian Universalist Association has been active in seeking nuclear abolition as a part of its respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and for the interdependent web of life. The UUA released a Statement of Conscience in its 2010 General Assembly stating: “We support international efforts to curtail the vast world trade in armaments and call for nuclear disarmament and abolition of other weapons of mass destruction… In an interdependent world, true peace requires the cooperation of all nations and peoples.” The UUA strongly stands against nuclear proliferation and mobilizes cooperation for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In 2014, a number of representatives from varying faith-based organizations signed the Statement of Conscience Concerning Nuclear Weapons. The statement condemned as “inherently immoral” the enormous loss of life and environmental destruction which the use of nuclear weapons would cause, and called for their elimination.

The devastation a nuclear war would cause could have irreversible effects on humanity and nature to the point of threatening the extinction of the human race. The use of nuclear weapons in a region could ensure the death of millions from burns and radiation poisoning, and provoke a global famine putting billions at risk. A global nuclear war would cause severe climate change due to smoke, soot, and nuclear firestorms resulting in a drastic lowering of the global temperature. It would ultimately leave our planet uninhabitable.

The signatories of the 2014 Statement of Conscience Concerning Nuclear Weapons called for action by the United States Government to abolish nuclear testing, weapons, and nuclear armament, urging government officials, for example, to:

  • Seek the commencement of serious multilateral negotiations, aiming at the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, on a mutual and verifiable basis;
  • Reaffirm support for the Non-proliferation Treaty; and
  • Seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,

The 2014 Statement of Conscience declares that the use of nuclear weapons is inherently immoral because of the “horrific and indiscriminate effects it has on civilians and the environment.” There is no moral justification for the continuation of subjecting people and the planet to this extremity of danger. The obliteration of human life and food resources affected by nuclear weapons makes an indefinite delay morally unacceptable.

Currently, many organizations and bodies affiliated with the United Nations are dedicated to advocating and working for a nuclear-free future, including the UN Office of Disarmament Affairs, non-governmental organizations, and committees. Monitoring the Iran Nuclear Deal and North Korea’s nuclear test on January 6th are vital cases in which the United Nations is working to disarm the world of nuclear weapons. On December 7, 2015, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 70/48, “Humanitarian pledge for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons,” with the support of 139 nations.

Learn more:


Making Sense of the Burundi Crisis

Rev. Fulgence Ndagijimana, founder and minister of the Unitarian Church in Burundi, has prepared an article that will help interested people understand the context and background of the current situation  You are welcome to share this article widely. Donate online to support Burundi Unitarians.

“But as for me and my people, we will work for lasting peace” 

Burundi was a rather organized kingdom until the late 1800s when the Germans came to colonize the country.  Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa lived side by side under the leadership of a king.  The Germans didn’t stay long as they had to leave the country due to the events of WWI.  Belgians took over and ruled the kingdom, operating under the widespread divide et impera principle.  They mostly favored the Tutsi, who they compared to an aristocracy when they arrived; this created resentment in the Hutu population which represents 85% of the population.

The struggle for independence was fought by both Tutsi and Hutu under the leadership of the Prince Louis Rwagasore, but immediately after the independence, on July 1st 1962, tensions arose. At independence, Burundi became a constitutional monarchy.   The prince was killed in 1961. Afterwards, the government included both Tutsi and Hutu with a Hutu prime minister.  The prime minister was killed by a Tutsi gunman and the king appointed a Tutsi prime minister.  The Hutu were angry that they were not represented enough in the government and attempted a coup in 1965 against the King.  The 34 officers responsible for the coup were executed and this led the king to flee the kingdom, leaving behind his 18 year old son.  In July 1966, the prince deposed his absent father and became Burundi’s new king.  In November, the Tutsi prime minister deposed the young king and Burundi became a republic with Michel Micombero as President.

The tensions didn’t stop, on the contrary. In 1972, there were uprisings in some areas of the country, especially in the southern and the central provinces.  Tutsi families were killed and others were threatened. The government responded with a brutal repression; many Hutu were killed and almost all the educated Hutu were killed or had to flee the country, mostly towards Tanzania.  My brother once told me that his Hutu elementary school teacher, who was liked by everyone, was taken from the classroom while teaching!  Thousands of Hutu fled the country and the government distributed or sold their houses to Tutsi, especially those in the administration.


A history of coup d’Etat and violence

Beginning with the coup in 1966, there was coup d’état roughly every 10 years.  The second one was in 1976, led by Jean Baptiste Bagaza who continued the same policies as his predecessor when it came to power sharing; Tutsi had the lion’s share.  In education, it was close to impossible for a Hutu to move from primary to secondary school; good schools were concentrated in Bujumbura, the provincial towns, and the southern provinces dominated by Tutsi.

The third military coup in 1987 brought a shift in perspective vis-à-vis the ethnic question.  Education was now open to everyone, and Hutu youth flooded the education system from secondary to university. There was open discussion about the Hutu and Tutsi issues and this led to a Unity Charter in 1992: Hutu and Tutsi accepted through referendum that they would live together, have equal access to resources, and call refugees to return home.  I want to clarify that the Tutsi, still in the minority, held power/government positions under the 1st and the 2nd republic.

The democratic wind of the 1990s was blowing over Africa and hovering over Burundi as well.   There was a clear openness in the political space and many refugees started to come back home; educated Hutu came to take part in the elections. Multi-party democracy was accepted and elections were organized in 1993.  As expected, a Hutu won the election because of the rule of the numbers .The Tutsi were frightened: they didn’t know what to expect and feared vengeance, killing, and conflict over land ownership after years of not so good governance.

The newly elected president was killed by the Tutsi dominated army only after 3 months in office. After the death of the president, the Hutu in many villages around the country killed their Tutsi neighbors; 50,000 Tutsi were killed in only a few days. The Hutu elite were shocked: some stayed and continued the political struggle, and some went on to start a rebel movement.  There was a transitional government led by the then speaker of the parliament.  There was fighting between the army and the rebel movement and chaos spread around the country.  The rebel movement was to fight the Tutsi dominated army that was allegedly responsible of killing the Hutu president.  No independent investigation has been done to date.

In 1996, another coup d’état was carried out by the president responsible of the 1987 coup, Pierre Buyoya, who had made great contributions towards Hutu and Tutsi living together. He deposed the former speaker of the parliament.  This was a decisive moment in our history.

The new president, President Buyoya Pierre, with the help of the respected former Tanzanian president, Mwalimu Nyerere, US president Jimmy Carter, and Nelson Mandela, started peace talks between all the active forces in the country: the political parties from sides (Hutu and Tutsi), religious leaders, and civil society organizations, rebel groups.  After 4 years of negotiations, Tutsi and Hutu reached an agreement about the future.  A final document, called “Arusha Peace Deal for Peace and Reconciliation,” was signed by over 20 interest groups.  This peace deal paved the way for a new way of looking at one another, a way of solving problems, and a way of sharing resources and power.

The Arusha deal says that each of the two major ethnic groups must make up 50% of the army, all the appointed positions from the administration must be filled 40% Tutsi and 60% Hutu, and all the political parties with more than 4% of votes during general elections have to be part of the government. The same Arusha peace deal says that NO president in Burundi can run for more than 10 years or two terms. Arusha gave birth to the current constitution, which also stipulates term limits for the president (two five-year terms are permitted), as well as the way presidents are elected. The controversy is about how the president got elected for his first term, not by the people directly but by the MPs.  He doesn’t want to count that term as a “Term”.


 And here is the key to understanding the current situation.  The ruling party decided that the current president can run for a third term, in violation of the Arusha peace deal and the constitution that stipulates 2 terms, no more.

People were afraid that if the president is allowed to run, the country will face the kind of injustice that people suffered pre-2000, before Arusha; there is no peace without justice.  People think that the demons of 50 years ago are coming back to haunt them. Almost every family in Burundi lost some one during the recent civil war and during different repressions by different regimes, and many had to flee either their home or the country.

The demonstrators and now the people contesting the regime in Bujumbura are fighting against more than the 3rd term; they are demonstrating on behalf of lasting peace and true justice and stability in the country.

This was the first time in Burundi’s history when Burundians from different political parties and from all ethnic groups were meeting on the streets with one goal: to save peace by nurturing justice.  The foundation, on which the country stood for the last 15 years, since Arusha was signed, is being threatened. This is the reason why voices from within the country (including political parties, civil society organizations, churches) and from outside the country (including Belgium, with which we have strong ties for obvious reasons as a former colonial power, the European Union, the USA, the UN Secretary General and Security Council) are united in calling for the president not to run for a third 5-year term.  He used the legal system that he controls to validate his term and held elections contested by the opposition and the international community.

A chance for peace was missed and …

The president persisted and refused to step aside as stipulated by the constitution and the Arusha deal. As I write this note, over 500 people have been killed( some unofficial figures talk about 1000), 6000 are in jail and 220,000 fled the country for their safety and are in Rwanda, DR Congo, Tanzania and Uganda and other places.

The action of police and the ruling party youth wing have been bloody towards those opposing the status quo.

Are the Ethnic demons back with the current crisis?

The people who are calling for calm are from all ethnic groups (Hutu and Twa) and this can be seen within the victims of the police atrocities, people in jail and those in refugee camps in different neighboring countries.

The struggle to protect the Arusha peace deal and the current constitution is also done through a platform “ CENARED” (Le Conseil National pour le respect de l’Accord d’Arusha pour la Paix et la Réconciliation au Burundi et la Restauration d’un Etat de Droit.) which is  led by Hutu and has Tutsi members.

The ethnic may be brought back by a ruling party rhetoric calling the struggle an attempt by Tutsi leaders to come back to power, but it is clearly very hard to convince that the struggle is a one ethnic group show.

 A Logic of war

Over the recent decades, Burundi, as a country is unfortunately developing a culture of violence.  We are losing the long held and respected tradition of wise men bringing parties together and help find an amicable solution to problems.  Burundi and particularly Bujumbura (Capital City) has become a battle ground between the police and the young armed people.  The capital city has become also a killing ground for people suspected to be sympathetic to the people fighting the police by not giving information about them.  This logic and vicious circle need to be reversed by  a logic of peace.


The need for a Logic of peace

It is clear that the sustainable path to peace is dialogue between people and groups who want to build a peaceful Burundi where there is room for everyone, human rights are respected and positive values promoted.  Should we include the people responsible for wrong doing both now and in the past?  That is the question the people in peace talks recently inaugurated in Uganda and due to continue in Arusha, Tanzania will have to respond.


The Unitarian Church of Burundi has been playing and wants to play a role in this logic.  The church is committed to continue the work begun for several years now of promoting the values of tolerance and diversity, to work on the root causes of the divisions in Burundi that have been  exclusion and using violence as a means to solve problems.  We want to influence a paradigm change in the way problems are looked at and people live together and share their common destiny.

Our values may be not appealing for the immediate interests of the ruling class but we will continue to uphold and promote them.   And despite the difficult conditions, we are committed to keep our doors and our hearts open.


Is there any hope?

I recall the song by Carolyn Mcdade “… And I will bring you hope when hope is hard to find ….a rose in the winter time”.   Looking at the situation; social, economic, ethical,….it is really to find hope.

But, Hope is permitted because there are people in Burundi who refuse the status quo, who want change and who, in many small ways, are working for it to happen.   I know of lawyers who risk their lives defending people unfairly arrested and jailed, I see people who visit prisoners and offer a presence, I am aware of nurses and doctors who go to their work every day even when roads are blocked and the possibility of being arrested and killed is real. All these are brave signs of resistance to the status quo and they will eventually bring peace and harmony.

Hope is permitted because Burundians are not alone in this struggle.  We are part of the human family.  Individuals and institutions around the world are not only wishing but working to make this happen.  How many letters have been written, how many prayers have been said, how many petitions have been sent, how much money has been raised so that things change for the better?

Hope is permitted because organizations at regional, continental and global level have been calling both parties to find a solution and for the government to play its role.  Pressures have mounted upon the government for accountability and refrain.

Things may look gloomy and indeed they are, some people may be brutal and they really are.  But there are thousands others working for change in many different ways and the mystery will slowly unveil one day.

As for me and my congregation, we will work to build lasting peace.

Prepared by Rev. Ndagijimana Fulgence

Further donations will be need to the meet the ongoing needs of Burundians in exile. Please continue to support the ICUU Burundi Appeal. You can donate online via credit card or PayPal.




ICUU Conference and Council Meeting 2016

Dear Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist Friends Around the World:

The International Council of Unitarians and Universalists (ICUU) warmly invites you to attend the 2016 ICUU Council Meeting and Conference planned for July 2016 in the Netherlands.

Highlights of the event include the opportunity to help chart the future direction and programs of the ICUU during a participatory Council Meeting conducted in an exciting new way, a theme program focusing on our spiritual response to climate change and our environmental concerns, as well as leadership development workshops.

Event Summary


ICUU Conference and Council Meeting 2016 – Register Online Today!


Sunday, July 17, 2016 – 3:00pm to Saturday, July 23, 2016 – 3:00pm


Be part of the 2016 ICUU Council Meeting and Conference from 17 to 22 July at the beautiful and socially responsible conference center – Mennorode – in Elspeet, the Netherlands, easily reachable from Amsterdam. Mennorode conference centre is focused around environmental sustainability featuring:

  • Use of energy from thermal power and solar panels
  • Collection of rainwater for flushing the toilets
  • Sustainable services and materials: FSC wood, environmentally friendly cleaning, fair-trade products
  • Meals include up to 65% organic products and offer a range of regional and seasonal products derived from
    local suppliers.

Mennorode Conference Hotel has a unique history as a centre for reflection and gathering. It was created in 1925 as a so-called “fraternity house” of the Mennonite community. This is a small, non-dogmatic and open group within the Christian tradition, with attention to meaning, personal growth and social commitment.

Single and double rooms will be available. The site is surrounded by nature and bicycles are available to explore the local countryside. Nunspeet railway station is a short distance by shuttle bus with easy access to most of the Netherlands by train. Accommodation is also available before or after the ICUU event at Mennorode. Bring the family and combine your participation at this important ICUU gathering with vacation time in Europe. Check out a bird’s eye video tour of Mennorode!


A Monumental Achievement: Unitarian Universalists at COP21

COP21 panel on equity and INDCs
This UUA co-sponsored panel addressed How Nations Have and Should Consider Equity and Justice in Setting INDCs

Climate change has become a huge focus in the last couple years, politically and socially. Some of us have been working on it much longer, but it’s inspiring to see the commitment spread to more people and gather more support.

Even Beyoncé is involved, having starred in the Global Citizen’s Festival in New York City last summer, which highlighted the effect we all can have on the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

French President Francois Hollande addresses an assembly at COP21.
French President Francois Hollande addresses an assembly at COP21.

This momentum is not without cause, as this past December, the United Nations hosted the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Paris, France.

Over 38,000 delegates from 196 nations convened in Paris to discuss our collective environmental future.

This gathering aimed to establish better accountability for the many different nations of the world who commit to the goals that they’ve signed on to. The document that concluded COP21, the Paris Agreement, was agreed upon by all 196 nations and is widely considered to be a huge milestone on the road to a sustainable, low-carbon future.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) was proud to send six credentialed observers to this year’s climate talks through the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO).

UUA representatives Rev. Peggy Clarke, Jan Dash, Lynn Dash, Doris Marlin, Bill McPherson, and David Tucker attended the conference to network, witness, and participate in the conference events. Here is their official statement: (more…)

Celebrating the Declaration of Religious Freedom and Tolerance


On January 13, 2016 the Hungarian Unitarian Church honours the 448th anniversary of the Declaration of Religious Freedom and Tolerance, an edict which might be considered as the first legal guarantee of religious freedom in the Christian Europe.

448 years ago, in 1568, on January the 13th, the Diet of Torda (Transylvania) proclaimed:

„His majesty, our Lord, in what manner he – together with his realm – legislated in the matter of religion at the previous Diets, in the same matter now, in this Diet, reaffirms that in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall abuse the preachers, no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the previous statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching. For faith is the gift of God and this comes from hearing, which hearing is by the word of God.”

The Hungarian Unitarians are celebrating this special day with events in Torda and Kolozsvár. The celebrations start in the morning in the Unitarian church of Torda with a worship service led by rev. Alpár Solymosi, minister of the Csíkszereda Unitarian congregation .The service will be followed by a visit to the Museum in Torda, which hosts the famous painting by Aladár Körösfői-Kriesch, commemorating the event.

The celebrations will continue with an evening worship service in the Unitarian church of Kolozsvár, with István Török, Unitarian minister of Olthévíz and dean of the Háromszék-Felsőfehér district as preacher, followed by greetings from representatives of other denominations and guests. A concert featuring the Pálffy Ákos Choir from Homoródszentpál and the Concordia quartet will enhance the festivities.

The day will be closed with a reception at the Unitarian headquarters.

In 2015, the General Assembly of the Hungarian Unitarian Church voted in unanimity to recommend to Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists around the world to join in the proclamation and celebration of January the 13th as Day of Religious Freedom.


Odumase-Krobo, Where Every Child is Our Child

By Tatiana Reis (Women’s Rights Initiative) and Daniel Snyder (Climate Justice Initiative)

UU-UNO Program Interns

“I want to be a nurse,” says Grace, the first in her family to reach high school—a monumental task in regions such as Odumase-Krobo in Ghana—explaining the importance of education and the opportunities ahead. Due to high fees and lack of government subsidies, low-income children in Ghana have limited access to education and rely on private assistance.

The Every Child is Our Child (ECOC) program of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) helps children like Grace pursue their aspirations to become nurses, pilots, engineers, doctors, soldiers, bank managers. ECOC provides school uniforms, books, school supplies, shoes and access to basic medical healthcare to children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

On November 6, a delegation from the UU-UNO visited Ghana to assess the needs of the schools sponsored by ECOC. The week we spent taught us much about human creativity and finding happiness in harsh circumstances.

Since 2005, the UU-UNO has sponsored 130 children—orphans and children at risk of HIV/AIDS—working towards achieving the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals of universal primary education, fighting HIV/AIDS, reducing hunger and poverty, and promoting gender equality. Of the 130 children currently in the program, 124 attend three basic and middle schools, and six attend high schools.


With our trip’s packed itinerary ahead of us—places to see, people to meet, medications to take—the one visit that intimidated us most was meeting the Queen Mothers. Serving as unofficial counsel, mediators and facilitators between the community and the government on regarding health care and education, the name alone commands respect. We also wondered about the children—would they welcome us? Would we feel comfortable? Could we ask honest questions and get honest answers? Was a week enough time to start understanding their reality? We were all preparing for an emotional rollercoaster.

Arriving in Accra

The airport in Accra, Ghana, was busy the night we arrived. Nighttime felt ominous, as if the sky wanted to make us aware of its power. In profound contrast, the daytime exploded into vibrant color, making us aware of a complementary power. Ghana is a place of raw, intricate beauty. Dwellings pepper the dramatic, lush landscape; vivid geometric patterns speckle beads and clothing. Life is everywhere.
Our first stop was a meeting with Manye Esther, a Queen Mother who supervises the program. Queen Mothers, designated by appointment or blood, serve as diplomats to local and international leaders. As such, they receive foreign aid and manage the funds from faith-based organizations for the schools. The Queen Mothers Association, an NGO established to formalize their role in the community, receives international aid. Manye Esther works as a principal collaborator on expanding and improving the project.



Manye Esther’s acumen, authority, and warm, inclusive approach taught us more about diplomacy and leadership than any scholarly text ever could. She exudes soft-spoken power and candor. We discussed abortion, contraceptives, and sex education. She explained the importance of values that express solidarity and compassion.

“I’m here on this Earth to help girls in need,” she said. “It’s my call to life, it’s why I live, to improve their lives.”

Although she went blind from an infection years ago, her vision of a better future for the girls she nurtures compels her ever forward. She expresses gratitude for collaboration and partnership, making everyone involved feel important.

Her accomplishments do not manifest as plaques of recognition on the walls of her meeting room; they are seen in the respectful eyes and admiring gestures of those around her.

We held hands for a long time: a spiritual experience that will stay with us forever.


The Schools and Students

Visiting several schools over the following two days shifted our notions about an effective schools’ facilities and organization. Potent learning can take many forms, even in precarious settings. We met students and teachers, powerful beyond measure, who viewed education as a mission and a privilege, an opportunity not taken for granted.

The sweltering heat unsettled and surprised us, but the children’s cascade of smiles bathed our souls and restored our energy.

The teenage girls were polite, welcoming and shy. We had an all too brief 15 minutes to meet each pair of students; although our interviews were fluid, time constraints impeded conversational elaboration, with some answers limited to “yes, please” and others difficult to summarize. Our paper and pens also seemed to lend an unwanted air of gravity.

Every student expressed gratitude for ECOC’s support, sharing how the program has impacted their lives. Some revealed anxiety about an uncertain future, seeking assurance that the program will continue for years to come.


We had the students share their stories through short essays. A girl named Mary wrote about a fear of harassment during her long daily walk to school, wishing for a safer learning environment.

Then we met Grace, a high school senior who wants to travel the world and study nursing. College fees in Ghana are steep and the UU-UNO hopes to sponsor her too.

When we asked her what made her strive for an education in a country where education for young women isn’t often supported, she said something incredible:

“I want to finish school because in my family, there are only two girls,” she said. “My older sister put other things first and then it was my turn to choose. But I didn’t want those things. I wanted to show my family and friends that education is just as valuable as anything else. I want to change things. So that’s why I’m here.”

Photo taken by Allison Hess

Like Manye Esther, Grace knows she has a purpose and is pursuing her dreams. She believes nothing can stop her from achieving what she wants.

Our week in Ghana was unforgettable. Although the community we visited endures food insecurity, crime, and unemployment, poverty-alleviation programs that provide access to education and health care greatly improve the chances for youth to build bright futures.

Above all, it was invaluable soul education. There is no stronger testament to the power of the interconnected web of existence than to live in community with partners, to hear their hopes and fears, and to see firsthand the impact of programs like ECOC. We saw it for ourselves.

Your gifts put our faith into action. Please consider making a generous donation to the Every Child is Our Child Program. With your support, we can help more children in Ghana receive the education and medical attention they need to fulfill their true potential.

Giving Tuesday #BecauseofUU


In the United States, we have one day for giving thanks, two days for getting deals; now, globally, we have a day for giving back: #GivingTuesday.

On Tuesday, December 1st, families, students, community centers, businesses, and charities around the world come together for the common purpose of celebrating generosity, and to give.

Please join the Unitarian Universalist Association in this celebration of giving by sharing posts of generosity. You might share a description, image, or video on social media of what you are doing to celebrate Giving Tuesday, or, tell us why you give, with the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #becauseofUU.

Whether you can give $7, $70, or $700, your gift between now and midnight tomorrow makes a difference and will go even further by helping us to earn a special #GivingTuesday match. Frank Basile, president of All Souls Unitarian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, encourages all of us to give to the UUA in honor of our seven principles. Frank has offered a generous matching gift if at least 77 people contribute to the UUA for #GivingTuesday.

Need a few ideas? How about exploring the work of the Coalition of International Organizations for inspiration! Here are a few sample tweets of UU values in action, globally:

As you consider which organizations to support on Giving Tuesday, please consider making a contribution towards international Unitarian Universalism!