My Summer with the UU-UNO

Hi everyone,

Like my fellow intern Zandy, today marks my last day as an intern with the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. Through the last ten weeks with the office I have had such an amazing experience and will thoroughly miss it. The other interns and staff members I met here will be connections and friends for years to come I hope, and the opportunity to work on important causes about which I am passionate has been both affirming and inspiring.

My name is Sage Mitch, and I am a junior at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. I came into this internship without any clear expectations for what this internship might look like or what my role with the office would be. While searching for positions this summer, I discovered the UU-UNO, and thought as a life-long UU and budding international relations enthusiast, the position would be a perfect fit. At the end now of a summer here that passed altogether too quickly, I know that I was right.

The small, but ambitious nature of the office allowed me to explore many different interests and participate in several projects. Like Zandy, I began my summer making calls to our Envoys in congregations across the US and Canada in order to get feedback on the program and update our database of contact information. It was inspiring to speak with such dedicated volunteers, many of whom have been involved with the office for years and years. It was intimidating at first as a brand new member of the office to be speaking to such expert enthusiasts, but I quickly came to enjoy the task. It was really a great reflection of the care and passion in so many UUs that envoys, young and old, would take the time to speak with me quite extensively about their ideas and experiences. After speaking with so many people about their passions, I was eager to begin working with my own at the office.

After doing a little work with the Every Child is Our Child program, I began working chiefly as the climate change intern within the office.  As the climate change intern, I prepared to be in contact with Climate Action Teams (CATs), research climate issues and potential projects, and encourage the expansion of the CAT program. In the first week of July though, I heard murmurs about the People’s Climate March. Between inquiries to our office and our own research, it quickly became clear that this March was going to be a big deal, and something we had to get involved in. I made the necessary contacts with UUs involved in the early organizing, and we reached out to our Climate Action Teams. I thought that this would be a good event for the office to participate in in September, but not a major project. Then sometime toward the end of the month, the March exploded into action. I feel as though I’ve spent most of the past month in communications about the March and the activities and workshops scheduled surrounding it, and I have loved every minute of it. The March is scheduled for Sunday, September 21 to correspond to a UN Summit for world leaders on climate change the following week, and is supposed to be the largest climate march in history. Thousands of UUs will be involved among a massive interfaith movement. Witnessing the connection between so many different faiths and climate justice has been truly inspiring. It is very difficult for me to have to leave this project now and miss the March itself. I wholeheartedly encourage anyone who can to participate in the myriad of UU and interfaith activities that weekend and to carry the messages of climate justice beyond!

In addition to my work with climate change, I did some work with the NGO committee on Disarmament, Peace, and Security, specifically with the publication they produce called The Disarmament Times. In this work I was able to research and learn about leading disarmament experts and efforts. Through this work, I also learned more about the interconnected nature of many of the human rights issues our office works to address. For instance, between my two main areas of climate change and disarmament, I was able to see how an increasing climate crisis and dearth of natural resources is leading to more global political conflict; and in reverse, the defense industry is a major contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. And the connections extend throughout the realm of human rights; in helping to prepare materials for congregations to celebrate UN Sunday I repeatedly saw the connection between this year’s theme of indigenous rights to my focus of climate justice – among the many other areas it can connect to including women’s rights, SOGI/LGBT rights, and economic justice. Because our office addresses such a broad range of issues, I saw more the universal effects of human rights abuses and the need for action in all areas.

I leave my internship impassioned to take these lessons with me in my work in the future. This summer I had the opportunity to shake hands with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and see Mala Yousafzai speak (both of which left me feeling star struck and inspired), but was most impressed by the work I see going on in the UU-UNO every day. I learned this summer how much work goes in to true progress and the role that I can play in working for human rights. I hope to have the opportunity in my work in the future to pursue something I am as passionate about with as talented a group of people as the staff and interns at the UU-UNO this summer.

In Peace and Justice,

Sage

UU-UNO LogoIf you are interested in learning more about the UU-UNO internship program, please email Nickie Tiedeman at ntiedeman@uua.org.

LOVE REACHED OUT: UU-UNO General Assembly Recap

2014 GA logo

 

Thank you for joining the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office during our General Assembly 2014 Events!

 

UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts speaking at the LGBTQ and Immigration panel
UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts speaking at the LGBTQ and Immigration panel

UU-UNO Director, Bruce Knotts, spoke at LGBTQ and Immigration – An Intersection of Human Rights, hosted by UURISE, on Thursday, June 26th. Bruce discussed the plight of LGBTQ immigrants who seek refuge from persecution, only to find limited or no protection under US immigration law.  He explained the current limitations of immigration laws, and how UUs can combine their LGBTQ and immigration reform advocacy efforts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Borders: Implementing Intercultural Conversations, hosted by the UU-UNO occurred on Friday, June 27th.

logo

“Think globally, act locally.” Panelists addressed ways to promote cultural and spiritual inclusion and the importance and value of global understanding. We invited participants to look at their strengths in human rights and climate justice to encourage them to strengthen their efforts by extending their passions to a global stage. Teresa Cooley, Bruce Knotts and Kamila Jacob spoke on these issues. Alley Wolff also spoke briefly about the Envoy Program.

 

The Dana Greeley and Blue Ribbon Awards Reception took place on Saturday, June 28th.

The Dana Greeley Sermon Award winners were announced and honored. This year’s winning submission came from the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship in New Jersey. The intergenerational team (Gabor Kiss, Shari Loe, George Hays, James McMormick, and Sarah Matsushima) put together a United Nations Sunday service that addressed the theme of the 2013 Spring Seminar (LGBTQ Human Rights).

This year’s Dana Greeley Award winners with UU-UNO Director Bruce Knotts

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office extended our gratitude to the Blue Ribbon Congregations for their hard work in achieving this status. They have successfully held a UN Sunday service or event, made a congregational donation or committed to an annual “UU UNO” budget line, had 15 members or 5% of their members donate as individuals to the office, and have an envoy or envoy team.
DG_BR_5

DG_BR_1DG_BR_3     DG_BR_7

 

See our Facebook page for more photos from the Blue Ribbon Ceremony!

 

The Envoy Breakfast took place on Saturday, June 28th.

At the breakfast, we discussed the successes and challenges experienced by congregational envoys, and we helped brainstorm ideas and techniques to enhance our future envoy endeavors.

 

 Watch Bruce talk about our influence at the United Nations during General Session V at 13:26!

 

Youth Envoys loved GA!

“I only attended two days of the UUA’s 2014 General Assembly, but while I was there was I able to participate in UU-UNO related events. At their Beyond Borders workshop, Kamila and Bruce brought speakers who talked to us about what the UU-UNO does and their various programs, including their efforts to combat LGBTQ inequality; they placed an emphasis on helping those whose voices are not often heard. In the morning I attended the envoy breakfast where current envoys and envoys-to-be met and discussed our past successes and failures when trying to spread the word about the UU-UNO at our respective congregations. It was nice to meet other UUs from all around the country who care and know about what’s going on at the UU-UNO, especially because our ages and backgrounds were all varied.”

-       Sarah Matsushima, 17, Morristown, New Jersey

 

“I’ve been going to GA every year since my freshman year in high school, so I was very excited that this year I wouldn’t have to travel far because it is in my region. General Assembly is always a fun experience; it is great to meet UUs from all over the country, and when you sit in a huge conference center with all the people you realize just how many of us there are. GA is especially fun for the youth because of the Youth Caucus, which provides great programming for youth to get to know each other and do fun things like trivia night and the dance they have every year. The UU-UNO has a presence at GA, they have a booth in the exhibit hall and do workshops throughout the week. There is also the Envoy breakfast, and the reception for the Dana Greeley award and the Blue Ribbon award winners.”

-       Corry Sullivan, 17, State College, Pennsylvania

 

“The UU-UNO reception provided a perfect setting to honor certain congregations for their exceptional collaboration with the UU-UNO. We were treated to an excerpt from the exceptional service that earned the Dana Greeley award, and 33 congregations were honored with the blue ribbon award. Overall this event graced its attendees with food, knowledge, and goodwill towards the incredible action the UU-UNO is working towards.”

-       Ben Gaffigan, 18, Frederick, Maryland

 

FUSW Youth Exchange Program

globes

U/U youth are invited to participate in an international youth exchange program through the First Unitarian Society of Westchester (FUSW). Since 2008, American U/U youth have been exchanging with U/U families in Europe for a couple weeks each year, experiencing the profound transformative power of cultural immersion.

The fee for participating in this program is nominal, entailing round-trip airfare and spending money; host families provide room & board, welcoming visiting youth into their homes to experience day-to-day life in the host country.

If you have a youth traveler interested in participating, or if your family is interested in hosting, contact John Cavallero, FUSW’s Director of Religious Education with questions.

View the application for further details and submit it to FUSW by April 10, 2014.

INTERNATIONAL U/U YOUNG ADULT LISTENING PROJECT

.la foto.

 

If you’re a U/U young adult living outside the US, we want to talk to you! The UUA International Office is conducting a listening project. If you’re interested, book Shawna Foster or send her an email.

What’s a listening project? It’s when an interviewer spends time with a certain group of people with carefully developed questions to find out what is going on in their lives. The UUA International Office wants to listen to youngadults to see what their lives are like and how Unitarian Universalism plays a part in it. Through these interviews, we will understand what your needs are as a young adult outside of the United States and can start organizing to meet common needs. As stories are told and published, we can see how our movement is a global movement that touches so many people’s lives. Find out how we’re all in this together by signing up today!

New Climate Change Religious Education Curriculum

CaptureHi! My name is Lily Hartzell and I’m an intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. I live in California, and I’m entering my senior year of high school. This summer I have been creating a religious education curriculum geared towards fourth and fifth graders. Its goal is to spread awareness and action about the effects of climate change to a young age group, and in doing so, increase support for global environmental initiatives.

 

The United Nations works in many areas related to climate change, and I used these categories to form the foci of my lessons. Each of the six lessons is about one aspect of the issue, including climate change and religion, food shortages, human health, natural disasters, energy use, and tragedy of the commons. Many of the resources provided relate to the UN, such as a board game created by United Nations International Children Fund (UNICEF) about disaster prevention and the story about a woman helped by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The international focus of the curriculum is motivated by the fact that climate change is a truly global problem. We gratefully acknowledge the UUA Tapestry of Faith program “World of Wonder” for stories in sessions one and five. globe_east_20481

 

It is imperative that this generation not only understand the nature of the problem of climate change, but has the motivation and tools to take action. This curriculum is meant to make participants knowledgeable about the many ways climate change is already changing our lives and the potential it has to do more damage. However, Do One Thing projects are included to encourage participants to take action in one area of their lives, such as reducing the carbon they release to get to school. Stories, activities, discussions, case studies, and background information are all provided to give the students a solid understanding of each topic.

 

An important part of the curriculum is its ties to Unitarian Universalism. Our religion is one based in social action, and climate change is one of the biggest action items of our time. The seventh principle of respecting the interdependent web of which we are a part is also a call to action on environmental issues.

 

This curriculum can be used by any congregation as religious education or a separate program. It can be expanded or condensed to fit specific situations. I encourage you to bring it to your congregation to spread awareness and engage with youth about finding solutions to climate change. Follow the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office on Twitter and on Facebook for more updates or visit our Climate Change Initiative Program page.

Half the Sky Film Screening

uu-uno The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office has partnered with the Half the Sky movement which raises awareness about critical women’s rights issues, opening a space for a deeper discussion and action steps. The UU-UNO has developed a resource packet so that congregations can host screenings and guided discussions. Suggestions for immediate action steps that can be taken by individuals and congregations are also outlined in this packet.

On April 12, Arun Lobo, a UU-UNO intern through Fordham University, half-the-sky1flew to Durango, Colorado to facilitate the discussion at the Half the Sky Screening at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Durango.This film was inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s bestselling book “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.” Hidden in the overlapping problems of sex trafficking and forced prostitution, gender-based violence, and maternal mortality is the single most vital opportunity of our time – and women are seizing it. From Somaliland to Cambodia to Afghanistan, women’s oppression is being confronted head on real, meaningful solutions are being fashioned.

Arun Lobo
Arun Lobo

UUFD is a small congregation, but it is not a barrier for them – they took the initiative to host this screening and discussion in their Sanctuary. Maureen Maliszewski, the Chair of the Social Justice at UUFD, organized this event with 48 participants who participated actively in an enlightening discussion. The event began with lighting of chalice by Arun and an introduction of UU-UNO. Arun is a Franciscan Priest from India who has worked on many of the issues described in the film. He was able to provide the audience with firsthand accounts to reinforce the Half the Sky film. One of the participants said, “Maureen, we are so fortunate that Arun was able to come to Durango to share firsthand experience with us related to issues covered in Half the Sky. Arun brought home hard realities that often seem far from our daily lives in Durango.” Nine people who attended the event were so inspired that they are in the process of forming a local ‘Half the Sky’ action group and as a whole, the attendees raised over $500 to support the work of the UU-UNO on critical women’s rights issues.You can read more about this screening in the Durango Herald here.

Audience in Durango, Co.
Audience in Durango, Co.

The next screening of this film will be held in New York City at the Community Church of New York, on May 12th. If you would like more information about the upcoming screening or you are interested in hosting a screening of the 40 minute, condensed version of Half the Sky, please contact us at unitednations@uua.org.

 

 

 

Sex, Love and Violence: Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity in a Globalized World

uu-unoThe Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office hosted the annual Intergenerational Spring Seminar on April 4th through the 6th. The title this year was Sex, Love and Violence: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in a Globalized World. We had 135 attendees of all ages from all around the United States and Canada. The seminar illustrated two different perspectives on how to advance equal rights for all humans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The first perspective examined the importance of governments and inter-governmental organizations, such as the United Nations, working on equal protection under the law, by passing laws (countries) and setting global standards (United Nations). The second perspective explored changing the hearts and minds of people, thus creating sustainable change. This can be created through efforts in different constituencies in our communities: Religious communities and sports are two important examples. Change starts within yourself, one person at a time.

Panel on Global Discrimination & Criminalization of LGBTQ.
Panel on Global Discrimination & Criminalization of LGBTQ.

At the heart of our Unitarian Universalist faith is a call for universal salvation. In humanist terms this salvation is not contained under the rubrics of “acceptance” or “tolerance” but rather the rubric of “love.” Similarly, this salvation is not inert or predetermined but is instead living and fluid. In other words, for  Unitarian Universalists, salvation is lived. The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office’s 2013 Spring Seminar on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity took up this issue of lived salvation in a myriad of ways. (more…)

Justice Con: JUUstice for All Souls

DC flyer The UU-UNO Youth Conference, “Justice Con” was first executed at First UU in Brooklyn, NY with the help of the Metropolitan New York Youth/Adult Committee (YAC). “Justice Con” was designed to work across districts with flexibility to include district-based schedules and traditions while updating workshops as needed.

The Joseph Priestly District Youth Steering Committee (JPDYSC) hosts 4 Youth Conferences (Cons) a year – Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.  JPDYSC routinely works with guest presenters in the Winter, but this year took on something new; JPDYSC partnered with the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office for the annual Social Justice themed WinterCON.

Participant photo

We worked together to set the schedule, structure the workshops, and include JPD CON traditions.  We had meetings, we had conference calls – so many conference calls – and next thing we knew, registration was open!  Justice Con: JUUstice for All Souls was being advertised in JPD congregations, on our webpages, and – of course – on Facebook.   As the date got closer and closer, we had more and more participants register.  The participant total reached a new record high at WinterCon, 137 participants!

Opening night, we started off by learning about JPDYSC and the CON Covenant. Participants were introduced to the youth and adult leaders who ensured us we would have a wonderful weekend at the congregation of All Souls DC. We then played a rousing game of UU-UNO Trivia: Are UN or are you out? The Friday night worship was joyous, celebrating the international language of laughter. (more…)

Rebuilding the UU voice on Women’s Rights Issues

International Human Rights has only been a documented declaration for half of a century however; nation states and governing bodies around the globe have been concerned with human rights issues for centuries. Under this Human Rights umbrella, Women’s Rights are drawing increasing attention.

Half the Sky is an amazingly well written book by two journalist, Nicholas Kristof and  Sheryl WuDunn, who have traveled the world recounting first-hand stories of Women’s Rights violations at the individual and community level. Some of the issues covered include gender based violence, female genital mutilation, sex trafficking, maternal health, gender inequality in education, and economic empowerment. On October 2nd and 3rd the Half the Sky movement premiered a two part documentary film on PBS, in an effort to raise awareness surrounding these critical Human Rights issues. As the authors have proclaimed, “these are not women’s issues, they are human rights issues.”

Poverty, conflict, and lack of education are critical factors in the prevalence of these issues at an international level, but what is the United States excuse? These are U.S. issues too, domestic violence and trafficking are prevalent within the U.S. borders. As a country, the United States speaks and advocates on behalf of women’s rights. President Obama just gave a speech at the Clinton Foundation in support of efforts to end human trafficking. Yet, as a country, we are not living what we advocate. The United States is one of 6 countries (out of 193 nation states) that has yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. These are not issues of others; these are domestic and international issues and violations that transcend gender and geographical borders.

Violent and discriminatory acts directly impact all aspects of women and girls lives, their destructive nature also permeates the larger community, impacting economic growth and social stability. These are issues that directly challenge the value of women within a culture and within societies. The lack of value that cultures place on their women is seen repeatedly through actions within communities. The use of rape as a weapon of war, the lack of access to basic maternal health care, the act of “controlling a woman” through mutilating her genitals, the ability to sell a woman into sexual slavery, failing to provide education for girls, choosing to abort fetuses or kill infants based on gender; the list of brutal acts of discrimination and displays of devaluation are numerous.

It is gut-wrenching to see, in the film, that women are also sometimes the perpetrators of violence; seen through the brothel owners and women performing female circumcisions. This speaks yet again to the lack of value afforded women, sometimes even from themselves. This devaluation based on gender dually works towards dis-empowering these women. Dis-empowerment is a dangerous poison. In the face of violence and discrimination women are left feeling powerless, ashamed, and fearful. How can they not be when they are shunned by their own communities and unsupported by their law enforcement and legal system?

Do not make the mistake however of thinking of these women as victims, calling them victims only continues to dis-empower them. They are survivors, and they are the key to making fundamental cultural shifts within their communities. Watching the film, I was struck by the amazing resilience and drive of many of these women. In spite of all the brutality they have and continue to face, they are taking a stand. In order for movement and cultural shifts to continue, these women need leadership skills and a voice in decision making and peacekeeping bodies.

It is critically important that change is enacted at the grassroots level. This movement is a call to action to both men and women. To support and promote human rights for women, men must also serve as allies in effecting change. We are all human, and as human beings, we have a social responsibility to aid these women in accessing resources and empower them with education and economic capacity building. Nicholas and Sheryl offer a solution for beginning to create this shift, education. So many people take education for granted, yet in many countries around the world it provides a safe haven for girls, an opportunity for a new life. The “ripple effect” of educating girls is addressed in the book and the film, discussing how educating a girl can change the family as well as positively impact the community and economic structure of a country.

Despite having read the book prior to watching the documentary, I had a physical reaction to seeing such raw, real emotions and stories of women around the world brought to life. Awareness is the first step to change, and so many of us around the world remain unaware. Half the Sky is an enlightening book and film, which draws attention to the prevalence and severity of Women’s Rights issues with such shocking clarity that it is impossible not to be moved to action.

Please visit www.halftheskymovement.org or call the Unitarian Universalist-United Nations Office at 212-986-5165 to learn more about these issues and how you can get involved. If you are interested in hosting a 40-minute screening and discussion of the film, Half the Sky, please email unintern@uua.org.

* In the end it is not only women that suffer from these violations, our world suffers*

Youth are Inspired to be the UNwired Generation

by Derek Gumb and Allison Hess, Interns at the UU-UNO

Youth and young adults from around the world met at the UN last week for the 11th Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations. Twelve interns, staff, and UU youth attended the conference and represented the Unitarian Universalist UN Office. The Youth Assembly was addressed by around 40 panelists and speakers over the course of the three days, focusing on work being done right now for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals and action youth can take to make a difference and bring their ideas and passions into fruition. We got the chance to hear from some amazing leaders and innovators, to exchange ideas from our peers around the globe, and even to visit some permanent missions to the UN, including Liechtenstein, Angola, and Antigua and Barbuda. Throughout our experiences, we realized how the principles of UU and the UN dovetail together so well and below we reveal to you some connections we made between our experiences at the Youth Assembly and our UU faith.

Intern Allison Hess in the UN General Assembly Hall

The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, along with the rest of the United Nations and its affiliates, promotes global citizenship and understanding for a more peaceful world, along with the sixth UU principle: the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. One way to work towards this peaceful world community was brought to light by Mrs. R.N. Ramgoolam, the Consul General of Trinidad and Tobago. She suggests creating peace through cultural sharing. In order for all peoples of the earth to get along and understand one another, we must learn about each other’s cultures. Youth sometimes feel powerless; since we have not yet developed career skills, we feel as though we have nothing to share with the world. Mrs. Ramgoolam proposes that youth in fact have much to contribute to the world community. While we still have much worldly knowledge to acquire, we do know our own cultures and can share our cultural songs, dances, art, food, stories, etc. with others that we meet. In this way, we all broaden our horizons by learning about a different way of life, and our perspectives can change from local and secluded to global and welcoming. (more…)