Meet Isaac: An Every Child is Our Child Volunteer in Ghana

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I had the privilege of meeting Nanleeb Ishmael Isaac during our annual site visit to Ghana in February.  He is our newest volunteer for our Every Child is Our Child program and works closely with our program monitor.  Isaac is 26 years old and comes from a family of 9.  He is from Nakpanduri, in the Northern Region of Ghana.  Both his parents are peasant farmers and he describes them as “wonderful parents who would do everything they can to get all of us to school!”  He studied business and accounting before going to University for development studies, where he pursued a B.A in integrated community development, graduating in 2013.

Isaak, Bruce, one of our ECOC children and his caretaker
Isaak, Bruce, one of our ECOC children and his caretaker

When I asked Isaac about ECOC it was evident that he is very passionate about the program, women’s education, and the wellbeing of orphaned and vulnerable children.  Isaac described ECOC as the “most interesting community based program” he has come across since completing his education.  “I want to volunteer for this program because it is my goal and objective to help empower women and promote girl child education and the alleviation of extreme poverty among women in the rural poor. There is a saying that ‘when you educate a man you educate an individual but when you educate a woman you educate a whole nation’.  Women empowerment should be seen as a global issue because when women are empowered through education they will be able to change the world for the better.”

We are delighted to have someone as passionate, intelligent and hardworking as Isaac on our team and we wish him the best of luck as a volunteer and as he begins his career as community developer!

You can help our students achieve their education goals by making a generous donation. Please contact the UU-UNO office if you and/or your congregation has interest in further engaging with this program!

By Maria Militano, Every Child is Our Child intern September 2013- May 2014.  Maria visited the ECOC project in summer 2013, February 2014, and will return in summer 2014.

UU-UNO April 2014 Director’s Letter

logoReligious Freedom

Most of the time, we see religious freedom invoked to protect conservative religious views.  However, Unitarians and Universalists have a long and pioneering history of supporting religious freedom, because our progressive views have never been shared by the majority.

Lately, I have been advocating religious freedom which is violated by the anti-LGBTI laws passed by Uganda and Nigeria.  Even before the Ugandan law had been officially put in force, the Ugandan police questioned our Unitarian Universalist minister in Uganda, Rev. Mark Kiyimba, for over two hours.  He was asked why he and his UU congregation were supporting homosexuality.  Before this incident and immediately after it, I had extensive conversations with the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and the United States Department of State about the need to enforce religious freedom for progressive religious practices which are under threat by the newly enacted laws in Nigeria and Uganda.  I made the point that our faith does not promote any particular sexuality, but rather is welcoming and affirming to all regardless of sexuality. (more…)

India’s Supreme Court Asserts Rights of Transgender Community

Hijras in Laxman Jhula by Daniel Lofredo Rota, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Daniel Lofredo Rota 

The rights of India’s transgender population have been legally recognized for the first time by the country’s top court. India’s citizens now have a right to choose their gender, including a ‘third gender,’ which the government must include as a category in all its official documentation. The landmark ruling gives transgender citizens access to special government benefits and outlaws discrimination against the community.

The Supreme Court’s ruling comes as a surprise to some in light of the court’s judgment in December 2013 that upheld a colonial-era law banning same-sex intercourse–Section 377 of India’s Penal Code. This judgment reversed an earlier Delhi High Court decision that was celebrated by the LGBT community for declaring that the law does not apply to relations between consenting adults. The Government of India opposed the Supreme Court’s reversal of the earlier decision but its petition for a review was turned down.

India’s Supreme Court has multiple benches and the rulings from various benches can at times differ quite significantly.  The recent judgment on transgender rights openly challenges the December decision when it notes, “Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity includes any discrimination, exclusion, restriction or preference, which has the effect of nullifying or transposing equality by the law or the equal protection of laws guaranteed under our Constitution.”

Many had assumed that for Section 377 to now be struck down or amended, Parliament would have to pass a new law, which is unlikely to happen in the near future. Hope is not lost, however. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the 377 case again, under a provision called a curative petition, which is the last recourse to challenge a decision by the court. This provision has existed only since 2002 and been successfully invoked in just two cases until now. Hearings are due to begin this week.

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Californians are Thirsty But the State’s Fracking Wells Aren’t

As many of you may know, the UU United Nations Office is dedicated to combating climate change and environmental degradation. Staying abreast of both domestic and international issues, we are very concerned about the water crisis in California. In the midst of one of the worst droughts in the past century, this is a dire issue for agricultural, wildlife, livestock, and residents.

Orange and red are areas of “high water stress” and “extremely high water stress.”
Orange and red are areas of “high water stress” and “extremely high water stress.”

Scientists are saying, if we continue to spew green house gases into the air at our current rate, water crisis’  around the world will only worsen. In addition to addressing our green house gas emissions, we must also take a good look at how and where we are using our water. In California, you might be surprised to hear where this precious resource is going.

Environmentalists’ concerned about fracking is nothing new.  But now, some in California have put an added twist on the argument: Drought .  While California is in a state of emergency due to the water crisis, oil companies are using large amounts of fresh water. (more…)

IARF World Congress: Challenges for Religious Freedom in the Digital Age

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 12.06.06 PMRegistration is open for the IARF 34th WORLD CONGRESS which will be held from 24-27 August, 2014 at Birmingham University, Birmingham, UK .IARF ad

The keynote speaker is Karen Armstrong, leader in the creation of THE CHARTER FOR COMPASSION.  Small group sessions and outings will complement speakers such as His Grace, Bishop Angaelos, Coptic Church of the UK, Sheikh Maytham Al-Salman, IARF Bahrain, and Dr. Yehuda Stolov, Coordinator of 50 Interfaith Encounter Groups in the Holy Land:  www.interfaith-encounter.org.   See additional program details. (more…)

Sacred Roots: Indigenous Rights, Resistance, and Reclamation – Recap

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Since 1957 the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office has hosted an annual Spring Seminar. In 1998 the event became an intentionally inter-generational space that brought together youth, young adults, and adults in shared dialogue around issues that matter to our Unitarian Universalist tradition. Each Seminar calls participants to ask difficult questions about the reality of the world that we live in and the hope of the future world that we would like to create. Many participants say that the panels, creative programming, worship, and community building that make up the Seminar are transformative moments in their lives that allow them to reaffirm how their faith can be lived and embodied.

As the Seminar has transformed over the years, the UU-UNO team has similarly transformed each year. We begin to work on the next Seminar the moment the previous Seminar wraps up in order to provide the most amount of time and planning to ensure quality. Through this year long process of preparing the Seminar and implementing it, interns and staff are able to learn, reflect, and grow. However, this forward-looking lens and brisk pace sometimes leaves little time for reflecting on our past accomplishments.  As we look back on our recent Spring Seminar – Sacred Roots: Indigenous Rights, Resistance, and Reclamation (April 3rd to April 5th ) we wanted to publish this blog to reflect on some of the most memorable moments of this inter-generational and interfaith dialogue.

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The Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge

 

 

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Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu, who became the icon of forgiveness as the Chair of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu, are issuing a Global Forgiveness Challenge to coincide with the release of their long-anticipated book, The Book of Forgiving.

The Tutus have spent their lives working with victims and perpetrators of wrongs, from the unspeakable to the everyday, and this deep experience has shown them that choosing the act of forgiveness can profoundly transform individuals and our world. They believe so strongly in the importance of forgiveness that they have developed this free, 30-Day online campaign based on the Fourfold Path of forgiving offered in their book.

The Challenge is designed for everyone, regardless of belief or background. Each day participants will receive an inspirational email from the Archbishop and Mpho with a link to log in to an online forgiveness community. There they will be guided through practical exercises on how to forgive, have opportunities to join discussions, share their own stories and view resources like interviews with forgiveness experts, heroes, celebrities, and leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Sir Richard Branson, Stanford forgiveness researcher Fred Luskin, musician Alanis Morissette and media maven Arianna Huffington

Register anytime, and begin the Global Forgiveness Challenge with the online community on May 4, 2014.

In Remembrance of the Manya Krobo Paramount Queen Mother

Paramount queen mother

In Remembrance of Madam Mary Rose Quist

(Nana Manye Mamle Okleyo)

Manya Krobo Paramount Queen Mother

(1920-2013)

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During our February 7-14 visit to the Every Child is Our Child Project in Ghana, we were saddened to learn of the passing of the Paramount Queen Mother of the Manya Krobo People.  Over the years, many of us have met this beautiful woman who radiated love and kindness.  Everyone who met her remarked that they felt a sense of peace and tranquility while in her presence.  Our largest delegation met her in 2012 (See the photos below).  On the last day of our visit this year, we learned that the Paramount Queen Mother had passed away after a brief illness at the age of 93.  Her funeral Ceremony will take place in Odumase-Krobo, Ghana, West Africa and will commence Friday the 28th of March and will end with a church thanks giving service on Sunday the 30th.

Our program administrator, Joseph will attend the thanks giving service on Sunday and the UU-UNO has invited Marti Johnson Demos, a UU working at the American Embassy in Accra to represent us at the memorial services.

Our deepest condolences to her family, friends and community.

 

Paramunt queen mother with Peter Moralez

A traditional gift of Schnapps given to Bruce Knotts from the Queen Mothers.
A traditional gift of Schnapps given to Bruce Knotts from the Queen Mothers.

 

 

 

 

    

 

Healing Our World and Ourselves

con6Thanks to generous donations from members of the Climate Change Task Force and the fundraising efforts of Unitarian Universalist Justice Florida, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office’s (UU-UNO) Climate Change program intern, Caroline Achstatter, was able to attend the second annual Healing our World and Ourselves conference in Vero Beach Florida. By connecting with other UUs involved in environmental justice, her participation strengthened the UU-UNO’s commitment to the fight against human-caused climate change. (more…)

Meet Susan: Every Child is Our Child Student and Future Nurse!

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During our 2014 Every Child Is Our Child site visit I had the pleasure of meeting Susan and was immediately taken aback by the fire and determination in her eyes. Susan is one of our four Senior High School Students and the only one who is not boarding at her school. It is customary for children to board in high school in Ghana, as the curriculum is very rigorous. Susan however, stays with her caretaker and assists her as she recently suffered from a stroke.

Bruce and Susan during the 2014 Site visit
Bruce and Susan during the 2014 Site visit

Susan’s day starts at 4:00 AM with chores, cooking, and helping her caretaker with personal hygiene. She then starts her commute to school where she takes the bus and then walks about 45 minutes; she is punished if she is late. After a full day of classes, she walks home in order to save her bus fare for lunch money, and then helps her caretaker with dinner and chores, and finally settles down to complete her homework.  In spite of all this, her headmaster reports that she is thriving in school!

Susan is grateful for all that Every Child is Our Child (ECOC) has done for her and her friends and asked that I relay this message to all of our ECOC supporters.   She enjoys science & math and when asked what she wants to be when she grows up she responded that she is a “future nurse.”  When I asked her why she thinks school is important she responded, without skipping a beat: “so that all of my dreams may come true.”  I asked her about her dreams and she said it is to “help people in her community.” Susan is an incredible, resilient, and intelligent young woman and we are so proud to have her in our program!

You can help Susan and all of our students achieve their education goals by making a generous donation. Please contact the UU-UNO office if you and/or your congregation has interest in further engaging with this program!

Also, If you or you congregation would like to write encouraging letters or postcards to Susan or any of our ECOC kids, please contact us (with subject line “ECOC Postcards”)!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

By María Militano, Every Child is Our Child intern September 2013- May 2014.  Maria visited the ECOC project in summer 2013, February 2014, and will return in summer 2014.