Religious Actors Preventing Violence

We are pleased to be part of a new UN plan of action calling for “Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that Could Lead to Atrocity Crimes.”

The inaugural event was held during the July 2017 High Level Political Forum. The Temple of Understanding is proud that our board member Dr. Ephraim Isaac spoke at the September session, as the UN encourages broad stakeholder participation in this crucial initiative. His full address, which is offered below, focuses on personal experience of atrocity, and recommends art and music as part of the solution. He concludes with a quote from Einstein: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”.

The entire September 25, 2017 session is available on UN Web TV online.

 

Please also note this valuable resource published by Search for Common Ground:

Transforming Violent Extremism: A Peacebuilder’s Guide

This guide offers guiding principles for peacebuilders and on-the-ground practitioners as they navigate this important yet high-risk area of work around violent extremism.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

A Personal Testimony on Atrocity Crime

at

Implementing the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement

to Violence that Could lead to Atrocity Crimes (Plan of Action)

UN 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly Side Event

Ephraim Isaac, BA, BD, Ph.D., D.H.L. (h.c.) D. Litt. (h.c.)

Institute of Semitic Studies

September 25, 2017

 

EXCELLENCIES & HONORABLE GUESTS: I am honored to stand here and give my full support to the Implementation of the Plan of Action for Religious Leaders and Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that could lead to atrocity Crimes. Our world is today awash with atrocity crimes and the perpetrations of huge atrocities against humanity. I therefore not only wholeheartedly support and endorse this Plan of Action but will do my best to promote it as far as I humbly can in collaboration with the Ethiopian Peace and Development Center whose Board I chair.

Right at the outset let me, however, on behalf of my Ethiopian Peace & Development Center and myself congratulate the UN office of Genocide Prevention, in particular, His Excellence Ambassador Adama Dieng who has worked so diligently to put this plan before us. His personal commitment to the subject, his hard work, and his humility in undertaking this huge task is admirable. As Chair of the Board of Peace and Development Center of Ethiopia, I thank him very much for inviting me to be a partner of his admirable effort. My humble gratitude also goes to all the co-sponsors of this project, the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on Religion and Development, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect.

The recognition that Religious leaders and practitioners can and must support and promote this effort goes without saying. In order to emphasize why I support this Plan of Action, in this brief address, I share with you four things: a) my own direct personal experience of the effect of violence b) my indirect personal experience of the effect of violence, and c) my philosophical understanding of the problem of violence d) the commitment of our own Peace & Development Center of Ethiopia to support the recommendations of the Plan.

DIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

I am a scholar of ancient Near Eastern and African civilizations, but the knowledge of the crime of atrocity is for me not an academic subject. I am myself a personal witness to some of those atrocious human deeds and violence, going back to my early childhood days.

I was born in Ethiopia the year the Fascists — I do not mean Italians who have a long warm historical friendship with Ethiopia– I mean Fascists — invaded the country. My first childhood experience at age four in 1941 was not being taken to see beautiful pictures in museums but to be lined up with children of my age by a pre-kindergarten teacher in front of a row of a couple dozen naked political prisoners hurled on the ground, being whipped and bleeding. It is a personal memory of crying while standing and staring at a couple of persons being hanged on high poles in the presence of priests. It is seeing buildings being burnt and crying.  I believe some of you also have such childhood experience of horror.

My first childhood memory was not dining in a fancy restaurant but sitting hungry in a narrow underground dungeon my family had dug as a shelter a week before the Ethiopian army with British support arrived in my little town of Nedjio, western Ethiopia, where the Fascist army had its headquarter. I remember crying as we sat in the dungeon while the unremitting sound of bombs and artilleries like a thunderstorm that never stops deafened our ears.

My first childhood memory was not seeing my playmates singing joyfully, but weeping because one of them Desta was hit and killed by an exploding bomb. Not understanding what death meant I remember crying and demanding that he should return as soon as possible to play with me. Now you can see where my strong hate of any form of violence and conflict originates.

My first childhood memory was not singing which I love but crying as my father — a non-political, innocent, hardworking silversmith, a religious Jew who chanted in Hebrew as he worked — was being taken by a soldier who said the Fascists were now sending Jews to life imprisonment. Thank the Almighty, he was released after two months and returned home to our great joy.

My first childhood experience was not being taken to a school but to a distant countryside shelter, three hours away from home, where we lived as refugees for two months until our town was cleared of fighting. It is a memory of being scared, held by my father on his lap sitting on a mule as we fled, and sleeping on a crowded floor with my four brothers and two sisters.

In short, never mind the degree of my experience, from the very start of my life I saw, I heard, and I felt the force of human violence against fellow humans. I saw the sight of death. I hated it and I continue to hate seeing violence of any sort against any one single human being, let alone the horrible atrocity violence against a whole ethnic and religious group.

INDIRECT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Secondly, directly or indirectly if only from a distance, I felt deeply in my bones the bitterness of violence in my country of birth in the late 1970’s, caused not by a foreign power but by its own native political fanatics. I was emotionally wounded when the Marxist Leninist Derg Red Terror, consumed thousands of young and old, men and women, eliminated because of their religious or political convictions. Among the 61 high Ethiopian Government ministers and officials of Emperor Haile Sellasie, who were lined up and shot indiscriminately, there were many whom I knew personally very well. My close personal friend, the interim successor of the Emperor, General Aman Andom, was taken down as his house was razed to the ground by tanks; His Grace the Patriarch of Ethiopia Abuna Tewoflos, whom I tutored Hebrew when I was in College and became a great friend, the Reverend Gudina Tumsa, President of the Mekane Yesus Protestant Church, who sat next to me in elementary school, General Tadesse Biru, my Predecessor as Director General of the National Literacy Campaign Organization of Ethiopia, and a number of close high school and university friends were tortured and murdered and thrown into mass graves by the fanatic Marxist-Leninist missionaries of atrocious violence.

Like many of you distinguished members of this audience, I have been exposed to stories of atrocity crimes of the recent past beyond my own circle. I gave several lectures in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and traveled in former Yugoslavia. This year, I was a committee member, reader and judge of a university doctoral dissertation pertaining to the trauma and tragedy of the Tamil-Buddhist conflict in Sri Lanka, its special effect on women. I met and listened to refugees and survivors of Rwandan, South Sudanese, and Darfurian conflicts in Addis Ababa where I travel often. Who is not frozen in shock when we see images of the beheading of Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Coptic Christians in Libya, Europeans, Americans, Japanese in Iraq and Syria, or the massacre of Kenyans and international shoppers in Nairobi, restaurant and coffee shop patrons in Tel Aviv, campers in Norway, sport spectators, theater audiences in London, Paris, Copenhagen, and the WTC September 11 hardworking professionals, firefighters, and policemen—beside whose body remains in boxes I stood shivering three mornings, invited to deliver a Jewish memorial prayer?

I have no proof, but there was a widespread rumor that after the Ethiopian 2005 General Election, overtones of interethnic propaganda of hatred led to a major crisis. The subsequent clash between the police and the thousands of demonstrators ended in a bloody incident and saw the foremost elected leaders of the major opposition political party in jail. I am grateful that both sides accepted me personally to lead a group of traditional elders to negotiate peace among the parties and the Government, and the release of the twenty-five elected political leaders and thousands of their followers from jail. Close to about one million people were said to have come out and danced in the streets the eve of the Ethiopian Year 2000. I also personally witnessed the tragic result of a quarrel that resulted in the war between the two brotherly countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea during the 1998-2000, as I shuttled between Addis Ababa and Asmara with a group of my Ethiopian and Eritrean Elders whom both sides warmly welcomed.

PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS

In a recent conversation with a distinguished retired Pastor, we discussed how every human being is a candidate for actions of depravity, and how depravity triggers religious or ethnic hate. Every mortal—we are all mortal–is subject to fall. Even religious leaders who know the rules and preach them become victims of this human weakness. [confessor father in hell joke?] As Einstein is thought to have once said “I can calculate everything even the velocity of light. But I cannot fathom the hate of people behind their smile.” No one can fathom the human infamy and depravity and mischief that end up sinking humanity into tragic pits of crimes of atrocity.

The first and principal source of destructive wars is not religion or social groups eo ipso. It is the behavior and actions of single individuals. History seems to point that conflicts arise from an individual’s mind, selfish goal, beliefs,self-interest, personal glory, feeling of superiority, greed or love of money, and of course personal sense of a divine mission or karma. One individual — Nero, Rasputin, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Idi Amin, Mengistu, Ben Ladin. et. al. — a single person could ignite the fire of violence and brainwash a crowd, and the whole society then becomes conflagrated because of one single human ego.

Although he did not argue that specifically, Freud implied that in a famous dialogue with Einstein. In 1932, the League of Nations Institute of Intellectual Cooperation asked Professor Einstein to choose a subject he considered of central public interest and invite a person of his choice fora dialogue. Einstein chose the subject,” Is there a way of delivering mankind from the Menace of War” and invited Freud for the dialogue. Two of the great thinkers of that time, both pacifists, thus left us a record of their view about violence and war. Einstein wondered why some believe in the concept of “might makes right”.The two basically agreed on the existence of an instinct of hate in humans and the belief in “might makes right. Freud preferred to call might “violence”.

Freud discussed the concept of l’union fait la force and how larger states were formed and established laws to prevent violence such as pax Romana. But he focused on his theory of the two instincts in humans: the erotic (basically positive and creative and loving as in religion) and the aggressive (basically negative and destructive and hating). However, in his final answer to Einstein he concluded saying that regardless we must try to divert and channel man’s aggressive tendencies to promote love, the cultural development of humanity (although he saw in civilization itself destructiveness), and conversion of people to the hatred of violence, to be pacifists like him and Freud- and me too!

Atrocity crimes start with atrocious minds and foul propaganda of an egocentric individual of negative instinct. This Plan of Action rightly recognizes that atrocity crimes start with the seed of evil propaganda against a religious or ethnic group. The propaganda serves over time to dehumanize the group and turn them into “the other”.  Racial and religious propaganda of hatred not only engender severe psychological and mental health problems, but they also lead directly to death and destruction. Mein Kampf was a propaganda document of a political ideology for the Jewish Holocaust. The destruction of Africa, slavery and colonialism, Apartheid, [I was a key member of the Harvard-Radcliffe Alumni Against Apartheid in the 1980’s] started with the belief that Africans are subhuman. Reports of travelers and study by anthropologists claimed that Europeans have history Africans are primitive, Europeans are rational and Africans are irrational, Europeans have a wide facial angle, Africans have narrow facial angle, compared to the crocodile; and so on. We have all seen images of people in Syria, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan waging hateful propaganda against each other, terrorist groups beheading innocent persons on TV in broad daylight as propaganda. Preventing incitement propaganda that lead to violence is a key antidote to committing crime against humanity.

PERSONAL & ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENT

It is worrisome when today we hear foul inter-ethnic and inter-religious propaganda that we read in the Facebook or Twitter, or hear in radio talks about one group supported by one or another religious or ethnic leader vehemently spewing propaganda against one or another ethnic or religious group. So, I appreciate wholeheartedly the thoughtful recommendations of the Plan of Action before us. We must prevent religious and ethnic propaganda of hate and nip them in the bud before they result in atrocious bloodshed.

Our Ethiopian Peace and Development Center (PDC), whose Board I chair, is already committed to this Plan. We now work with both the government and non-government organizations to address violent religious extremism in Ethiopia. We conduct interfaith dialogues to promote trust and understanding, and the deconstruction of combative conflict narratives among the religious groups. PDC is also educating the public to appreciate the riches of diversity. We give customized training to the Inter-Religious Councils (IRC) members to enhance their knowledge of the issues, causes, and consequences of violent extremism. So far, PDC has trained 2,500 members of the Inter-Religious Council and student leaders in five public universities in Ethiopia, initiating religious acceptance dialogues and Peace Meal Tables in dining halls to bring students of different religious groups together to interact and engage constructively in a safe space, as well as to understand the dangers of hateful propaganda that lead to violence.

Student religious opinion leaders are recruited to join interested students from diverse religious backgrounds for small bi-weekly groups to moderate dialogue sessions on issues of the causes and consequences of violent extremism and the importance of peaceful coexistence, and the respect of religious freedom and equality. PDC trains and mentors dialogue moderators who are carefully chosen. The dialogue work of PDC has so far, a direct and indirect effect on at least 10,000 university students yearly in the selected universities.

Finally, let me say that even above and beyond human depravity, there is still a ray of light for redemption. We have a tragic situation and there must be someway to reverse it.Hence this Plan of Action that I am sure is produced because of such belief in human redemption is of great importance. I stand here myself to support it, because I believe that there are still good people who uphold peace and justice and live and practice a life of love and goodness. The Plan is solid and comprehensive. It cracks the cynicism that sometimes exists about the UN. It is also encouraging to see how many religious groups around the world have associated themselves with it. It might not be easy in the implementation area. In virtually every part of the world, even where the religious groups that are supportive exist, we have religious minorities who engage in daily activities that run contrary to what the Plan says. What can we do to make this Plan of Action a real plan of action that stretches broadly and deeply among human kind? That really is the question. We must, therefore, work hard together, joined by all other interested groups and parties, to implement this excellent statement to be retailed not only at the grassroots level but also at individuals, which is where the problem lies.

Please allow me now to conclude with some humble personal suggestions for the Plan. First,I would like to see the role of music and art in the Plan of Action. Music and art have the capacity to touch the human heart, “sooth the soul” or inspire action. That is why there are national anthems and military bands. Music, art, and dance can serve to promote reconciliation and understanding, and inspire the restless youth.In Bosnia, Father Ivo, one of my fellow Tanenbaum Center Prize awardee, formed a Choir of Christians and Muslims. In Ethiopia, we are now in the process of forming nation-wide Peace Choirs. We can sing “You ‘e got to be taught to love” instead of “You’ve got to be taught to hate.” Second, in the spirit of the importance of education, I would propose two-UN memorial days: a) a Memorial Day of Tragedy and Human Infamy and Remembrance of Past Atrocity Crimes, somewhat like the Holocaust Memorial Day, b) a Day of Hope– Day of Human Hope for the end of Atrocity crimes. Third, some years ago, I proposed to both His Excellency the Late PM of Ethiopia and His Excellency the President of Eritrea to establish the Ministry of Peace in parallel to the Ministry of Defense. I pray that the UN would see merit to such an idea and promote it.

Let me conclude with a quotation from Einstein and a short prayer: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”. I am happy that the UN and Religious Leaders are doing this important work to counter the danger of atrocity violence and lay a foundation for a hopeful vision of humankind.

Open our eyes to see light and beauty in our fellow human beings

Open our ears to hear the song of love from our fellow human beings

Open our mouth to speak well of our fellow human beings

Let our feet hasten to do good for our fellow human beings.

Let us lift our hands embrace humanity, not use them to throw weapons at each other.

May the Almighty bless the work of all who work for peace and love worldwide!

 

 

Women’s Human Rights and the SDGs (HLPF 2017)

High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2017

[For more information on this report, contact Grove Harris: groveharris at gmail.]

In July 2017, a second set of countries presented their progress on the SDGs to the United Nations. Civil society (NGOs and other nonprofits) raised concerns on many fronts, including the shrinking space for diverse people’s voices, the degree of progress, and the rise in attacks on front line human rights defenders around the globe. The Temple of Understanding worked with the Women’s Major Group, mourning the deadly violence against women human rights defenders.

Women Human Rights Defenders Resist
Photo by Grove Harris

 

Resurj, also a member organization of the WMG, has written an extensive summary report of the HLPF, “Going beyond Aspiration: HLPF analysis 2017.” (Conclusions appended below.)

http://resurj.org/node/222

 

Diverse Civil Society efforts include a “spotlight” report that directly challenges barriers.

“Unbridled privatization, corporate capture and mass-scale tax abuse are blocking progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, argues a new report by a global coalition of civil society organizations including the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR).”

http://www.cesr.org/spotlight-sustainable-development-2017

 

Other Civil Society colleagues prepared an overview of the country reports:

“Voluntary National Reviews: What are countries prioritizing?” (Conclusions appended below.)

http://www.together2030.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/FINAL-Together-2030_VNR-Main-Messages-Review-2017.pdf

 

A side event held by religious NGOs released a popular education resource for communities, produced collaboratively and published by the International Presentation Association. “Critical Hope for the SDGs: Advocating from the Margins for Social, Economic, and Environmental Justice in the Context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals” aims to ensure the SDGs become a people’s agenda, serving communities “on the ground.”

http://www.pbvm.org/resources/critical-hope-for-the-sdgs:-advocating-from-the-margins-for-social-economic-and-environmental-justice-in-the-context-of-the-un-sustainable-development-goals/20

 

RESURJ’s conclusions:

http://resurj.org/node/222

The Sustainable Development Goals are really a battle between commodities and the commons. As a feminist alliance, RESURJ’s approach to justice includes that we understand and address the interlinkages between women’s bodies, health, and human rights in the context of the ecological, social and economic crisis that we face.  

As part of RESURJ’s ongoing advocacy within this process we have over the past two years, focused on how we leverage evidence based on people’s realities for a justice approach to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and other key processes. In particular, we aim to share examples of the interlinkages and experiences of people to inform policy advocacy, resource allocation, and interventions. We have also started to explore how certain interventions have the potential to impact multiple goals and targets, and are potential key tools in the realization of the agenda. One such example is how Comprehensive Sexuality Education can have a positive impact on young people and adolescent’s lives including contributing to reducing inequalities and violence, improving health and education outcomes, reducing poverty and increasing opportunities. Exploring interventions and policy that could have multiple effects on multiple goals is a learning process for us and we are taking this challenge on because we know that the interlinkage and intersectional perspective called for in moving the Agenda 2030 forward cannot come from governments alone.

We will not achieve the transformational aims of this agenda, if we silo our responses to the economic, ecological and social crises that we face. Holding the realities of people and our planet at the center, is the critical approach that we have missed before, and cannot risk missing again.

 

Voluntary National Reviews: What are countries prioritizing?

http://www.together2030.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/FINAL-Together-2030_VNR-Main-Messages-Review-2017.pdf

  • Countries should be more explicit in reporting on the VNR process, including efforts to engage stakeholders. Together 2030 calls on governments “to strengthen efforts to publicize their plans and processes for national review, and opportunities for participation, sharing common challenges and identifying best practices in stakeholder engagement.”

  • Countries need to step up the pace. They should not wait for their first VNR report before getting started on implementation.

  • Countries should report on progress toward all 17 SDGs, recognizing the indivisibility of the agenda and interlinkages among the goals.

  • Main Messages should include more substance on implementation, including specific activities, progress and challenges.

  • Civil society must keep demanding meaningful participation. It’s positive that many countries mentioned youth and women, but more stakeholder groups need to be included.

Meet Our 2017 United Nations Summer Interns! #UN

On June 26, the Temple of Understanding’s 2017 student interns will arrive at the United Nations! We can hardly wait to meet these talented young people in person. Read on to meet our interns and learn about the projects they will be pursuing at the UN this summer.


Najem Abaakil                   

My name is Najem Abaakil, and I am a 16-year-old high school student from Rabat, Morocco. This summer, I will be interning under Temple of Understanding at the United Nations in New York. After already having interned as a Moroccan delegate in Geneva last summer, I hope to experience the UN from a different perspective, this time. As I primarily have a strong interest in sustainable development and environmental conservation, I hope to learn more about this at the United Nations by attending and participating in conferences and panels regarding this particular subject. I also hope to tie my research to environmental conservation and sustainable development as well as the multilateral collaboration and action that is required to assure the success of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Overall, I think this will be a great, enlightening experience!

 

Ryan Adell

My name is Ryan Adell. I am a 17-year-old high school student from New York. Simply put, the world has problems. The world also has problem solvers. I am interning at the United Nations to try my hand at becoming one of these problem solvers. Politics does interest me, and I have started a non-profit organization – Next Generation Politics – to promote civic engagement and political understanding among young people. With that said, I do hope to familiarize myself with as many facets of the United Nation’s work as possible during my time as an intern.

Specifically, I will be pursuing research regarding the global rise in extreme political views and how to mitigate its dangerous effects. A lack of understanding, whether that be cultural, religious, or political understanding, is frequently the root of deep-seated strife among individuals of varying beliefs. I intend for my research to lead to the development of potential solutions to the aforementioned issues.

 

Isabella Benavides           

My name is Isabella Benavides, and I am 18 years old. I reside in Pearland, Texas, a suburb of Houston, Texas. I will be a first-year Political Science major at the University of Houston this fall. My goal is to study abroad and pursue a law degree as well. I applied to this program in hopes of gaining a greater understanding of the international spectrum of politics as it relates to race relations, ethnicity, education, gender inequality and empowerment, religious freedom, military, and social class. Throughout my high school career, I mainly focused on national relations. I participated in various summer programs, clubs, and volunteer opportunities pertaining to my Hispanic ethnicity as well as law, politics, and women’s rights. However, this past summer through participation in international seminars and programs, I explored the political, cultural, religious, and policy components that cause countries to thrive or struggle. These topics fascinate me, and I believe the Temple of Understanding’s UN Internship Program will further my knowledge in these areas while incorporating the religious component that makes many societies thrive. I believe these experiences will provide me with the perspectives I will need in order to flourish in my professional career as an attorney in the international field.        

 

Claire Burwell

Hi! My name is Claire Burwell, and I am a 17-year-old student at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. I am originally from Springfield, Illinois, but I moved to New York when I was three years old and have lived here ever since. I learned about this internship through a few school friends who have attended the program in previous years and have said many favorable things about it. I have wanted to intern at the UN ​because of my deep-rooted passion for foreign affairs and desire to increase my knowledge of international diplomacy in relation to religion. This summer, I plan on focusing on Sustainable Development Goal 5: ​Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life​. Attending an all-girls school for the past 14 years has shown me the capabilities of women and how important universal health care, education, and empowerment are in the fight for gender equality. Gender equality is a pressing matter in the world today, and I hope by participating in the Temple of Understanding internship, I will continue to explore different approaches to helping women obtain equal rights and access to opportunities.

 

Jacob Castillo

My name is Jacob Castillo, and I am a 17 year old from Houston, Texas. I currently attend the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts as a theatre major. Coming from a humble and working-class household, I learned at a young age that empathy is key to understanding. I constantly witnessed hardship and strife among the poorest wards of Houston, which in turn instilled within me a passion for those who face oppression and poverty. As a child, I learned of the struggles my predecessors endured during the Great Depression and WWII. Hearing those stories sparked my interests in World Affairs and Politics.

One of the major issues discussed at the UN that garnered my attention was peacemaking. I firmly believe that war is not exclusively violent. This can be seen through the relentless corporate warfare unleashed upon minority communities around the world and the intense build-up of the military-industrial complex in recent years to satisfy the desires of those in power. I intend to spend my time researching the extent of corporate warfare, how it affects minority groups, and how the UN can play a role in maintaining justice and peace in the face of greed. I am excited to broaden my horizons and build my character in order to fulfill my dreams of pursuing a career in Public Service.

 

Justin Chang

My name is Justin Chang and I am a sixteen-year-old rising senior from Seoul, Republic of Korea. I first applied to this internship because of my fascination towards the UN that stems from my interest in history and current events. TOU’s UN Internship Program will allow me to experience the UN not vicariously but in reality. I hope to attend and observe the intense negotiations between nations on issues like the conflict in Syria, the belligerence of North Korea, and the world AIDS epidemic.

During my time at the UN, I plan on conducting research and gaining further insights on the most effective ways to provide relief for countries or regions struck by disasters. My growing interest in disaster relief started after a mountain climbing expedition led me to remote villages in the Indian and Nepalese Himalayas where I met people living in poverty and subject to hard labor. Situations worsened following the devastating 2015 earthquake where many were injured and killed, while many children were orphaned. To support victims of the earthquake and to raise awareness on what was happening in Nepal, I found a non-profit called Hope for Nepal. My perspective on the issues in disaster relief today stems from my experiences from Hope for Nepal and through my interaction with other international NGOs including Heifer International and All Hands Volunteers where I learned the inner working of each NGO. Through ToU’s program, I intend to analyze both the successes and failings of the many methods international organizations use to approach disaster relief. Concerns in the status quo of disaster relief today include the necessity for long-term investment in the restoration of a country, efficient methods to distribute relief supplies, effective coordination of relief efforts among local and international organizations, and the prevention of the siphoning of relief funds.

 

Esther Choi

My name is Esther Choi, a 17-year-old student from Suwanee, Georgia. I have always had a keen interest in the world and its workings, yet it was not until I began to actively pursue change and seek to define my role in helping others that I was truly able to understand the importance of organizations such as the United Nations. It was this recognition that led me to not only intern at the UN but to also create a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping refugees, a topic I am particularly impassioned about.

During the internship, I plan to research how organizations such as the UN could best aid in breaking down social barriers and facilitating refugees’ entrances into work fields in already competitive economic systems. Culture, too, is an exciting topic, so I hope to learn about how refugees deal with stark cultural differences in countries that are often harboring xenophobic movements. For my final project, however, I intend on explaining the link between the changing climate and the refugee crisis itself and discuss the disproportionate effect of climate change on developing countries.

      

Neel Dhavale

My name is Neel Dhavale, and I am a sixteen-year-old rising junior from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, California. Several years ago, as part of my involvement with the Boy Scouts, I began volunteering at a nearby Veterans Affairs Hospital. I met veterans who described the struggles they faced dealing with debilitating injuries and rehabilitation, and I was appalled by the destruction and violence I would hear about. I wanted to learn more about the violence that plagues our world and to seek ways to avoid it. I feel this UN internship will help me accomplish that goal. I am passionate about issues such as counter-terrorism and international law. My philosophy has always been that a counter-insurgency war cannot be won without the humanitarian aspect coming into play. Throughout this internship, I hope to learn more about the ways humanitarian aid can be used to effectively combat insurgencies. Additionally, I believe that insurgencies fueled by extremism arise from a lack of understanding between the two parties and feel this internship will provide me with the tools necessary to realize what is needed for religious and cultural understanding to occur.

 

Elie Farah         

My name is Elie Farah. I am 16 years old and was born and raised in New York City. Both of my parents are of Middle Eastern descent, and some of the most defining moments of my childhood came from spending time in Damascus, where I reveled in Middle Eastern culture and learned to speak Arabic. Several years ago, I began studying Mandarin in school, which led me to develop a deep interest in Chinese culture and language. Working at the United Nations will allow me to combine my passion for Mandarin and Arabic with my desire to gain a deeper understanding of the histories and cultures of China and the Middle East.                

As an intern at the United Nations, I plan to focus on how the United States, China, and the Middle East intersect on global policy. I am also interested in exploring ways to provide medical care for children who are victims of the war in Syria.

               

           

       

Tyler Goldstein

Hello, my name is Tyler Goldstein and I am from Plainview, NY. I am 16 years old and will be a Junior next fall. I read the news daily and have a heavy interest in politics. I am also an active member of the Model United Nations club in my school, and I wish to learn more about how the UN committees operate. As a member of Model UN, it was my dream to be able to sit in on real committees and see and learn from delegates in action. I would like to perhaps one day become a delegate myself. I am looking forward to hearing and seeing the numerous delegates’ perspectives and varying viewpoints. In Model UN, I have pretended to represent another country’s views, but can never fully block out my own bias. I am interested in the Human Right to Water, and the worldwide process of making potable water easily available to all humanity. I feel this topic is seldom discussed in the United States, and in the UN it will be a more prevalent issue. I hope that after I have learned more about the Human RIght to Water, I will be able to spread my knowledge of it to my peers.

 

 

Reeno Hashimoto

Konnichi wa! Hello! My name is Reeno Hashimoto and I am a seventeen-year-old New Yorker. Just like my varied greeting, I embody an eclectic essence. I am half Japanese and half American, spending alternate summers in each respective nation. Having heard of the magic that is the Temple of Understanding Internship from past participants, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my efforts toward the empowerment of young women and gender equality. My interest in Women’s Initiatives stems from two sources: my incessant yearning to purge the society I am entering of evil, thus ensuring the safety of women everywhere, coupled with an undying respect for the female figures in my life. I hope to bring the United Nations’ sixth goal, the assurance of access to water for all, to life, one reusable water bottle at a time. I plan to dedicate my summer to researching the world water crisis because I believe in the powerful role women have in solving it. The water crisis traps women in the cycle of poverty. I am eager to envision potential permanent solutions to reverse the deficiency of this necessary resource in the lives of women everywhere.

 

Zach Karpovich

My name is Zach Karpovich and I am a 17-year-old junior from Rye High School in Rye, New York. My interest in interning  at the U.N. stemmed from an appreciation for the positive impact that the U.N. has had on the world, and a desire to be a part of this world changing organization. I am entering the Temple of Understanding’s UN Program this summer with my focus on environmental issues and ecological justice. I have a passion for the environment and for the humanitarian issues caused by environmental degradation and climate change, as air and water pollution have negative effects on human health. My interests for research this summer would definitely be environmental-related, but I would also like to look into the ties between poverty and adverse health effects caused by pollution. Additionally, I would also be interested in researching whether pollution related health problems come mainly from the people’s actions (like the production of air borne pollutants caused by wood stoves used for village cooking) or whether outside sources have a larger effect on these people (like the pollutants created by companies and factories, or the impact of climate change).

 

Akash Mishra           

Hi! My name is Akash Mishra, and I am a 17- year-old student at the American School of Dubai in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I’m from the United States, having lived in Kansas City, KS, before moving to Dubai in the spring of 2010, but have a strong connection with my Indian roots. I have a strong passion for issues surrounding international understanding and political cooperation. As an American of Indian origin, I have always been surrounded by cultural syncretism of some sort, and it was this synthesis of two cultures, punctuated by my experience living in the global cultural melting pot that is Dubai, that prompted my initial interest in issues of international understanding and global culture.

Through my internship at the United Nations, I aim to further my own understanding of the functions of this organization with specific regard to the effectiveness of the United Nations as a decision making body. I intend to conduct meaningful research on how global societies can take advantage of institutional facilities to further cross-cultural debate. Attempts at solving today’s international issues are often one-sided and one-dimensional, and it is my belief that increased international cooperation in the face of a “geopolitical adversity” of sorts, is crucial. In that vein, I am incredibly excited to participate in the Temple of Understanding’s UN Internship Program, and I am excited to get started on working, in some small way, on the great issues that challenge mankind.    

 

                       

Eunice Park

My name is Eunice Park, and I am a 17-year-old girl currently attending school in Los Angeles, California. Originally from South Korea, I immigrated to the United States in 2006. From a very early age, I have been passionate about social justice issues- whether it be the issues I witnessed within my own community or others I was educated about outside of my limited community. Within my own community, I have worked with dozens of homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters in hosting mobile libraries and literacy classes. Outside of my community, I have reached out to many different female orphanages around the world to host digital career seminars and to work together to build a magazine with a global female perspective.

Although the world presents many differences and viewpoints, I am a strong believer in embracing such diversity to find an always present common ground. I am inspired by the actions of the United Nations that continues to promote dialogue, discussion, and conflict resolution with multiple perspectives from the global community. Continuing to develop my interests in international affairs and social justice, I am incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to intern at the United Nations this summer with the Temple of Understanding. Throughout my internship, I hope to research the political empowerment of women in the global sphere. With the rise of women world leaders, countries benefit significantly. Female leadership is linked to drastic reductions in poverty and increased emphasis on social issues. I hope to explore the causes of female empowerment in the political sphere and to compare the experiences of female world leaders by countries and regions. Ultimately, I wish to analyze both the causes and effects in order to propose a comprehensive solution that will encourage the political empowerment of women in the global sphere.

 

Pallab Saha

My name is Pallab Saha. I am a sixteen year old from Queens, New York. I currently attend Stuyvesant High School, an elite specialized high school near the Financial District of New York City. Throughout my life, the United Nations has been an fascinating entity due to its presence in the world as a peacekeeping organization dedicated to fighting for human rights. Since childhood, being Hindu has played a key role in developing my identity. My exposure to religion sparked my interest in different faiths and how they influence daily life. In this way, I was pushed to pursue this internship by my counselor because it falls in line with everything that I am passionate about: promoting interfaith movement and protecting humanity on a global scale.      

Throughout my internship at the United Nations, I plan to pursue the topic of interfaith education in my summer research. I seek to explore the relationship between religion and politics and how it influences the government. I would also like to research how religion is used to educate people and how it impacts the development of youth. Another issue that I want to investigate is religious intolerance; I want to find solutions that will educate society to respect different faiths. I aim to destroy misconceptions of religion and work towards building a united community.

       

Anushka Singh

Hello! My name is Anushka Singh. I am 19 years old, and I am an American citizen of Indian descent. I was born in Connecticut and grew up there before moving to Mumbai, India in 2008. I have always been interested in areas such as politics, religion, and diplomacy, which is why interning at the United Nations is an enormous privilege. Having grown up in two disparate countries and cultures, I have begun to understand the urgent need to address issues such as gender equality, sexual abuse, terrorism and poverty through peaceful talks, conflict resolution and effective action.

I am interested in areas including women’s empowerment and women’s equality, global terrorism, and interfaith education and cooperation. I am most passionate about women’s rights because I feel this is an issue that society still has to make significant progress in today. However, gender equality, religion and terrorism are challenges that are intricately linked and that cannot be detached from one another. I strongly believe that the militant organizations that plague the world are a culmination of political instability, religious discrimination and disillusionment that can only be dissolved by spreading religious tolerance and advocating democratic structures in their regions. Social justice, specifically interfaith education, is crucial in combating terrorism by creating a world that is accepting of different religions and worldviews. I also hope that in my time at the United Nations I can help equalize women’s role in society by overpowering cultural and structural norms that subordinate women.

 

Philine van Karnebeek

Hi, my name is Philine van Karnebeek and I am a 16-year-old junior living in Amsterdam. Since 2014, I have become increasingly interested in politics and religion and the relationship between the two. Although I personally am an atheist, I have always kept an open mind towards religion and I do embrace many of the principles that religions stand for. While searching for activities to do during my summer vacation, I came across the internship on the Temple of Understanding website. This internship embraces both religion and politics and that is why it stood out to me. I am particularly interested in gender issues and women’s security issues. I want to make a difference in this aspect of our society. In addition to the work that I currently do to create security for women in different communities, I believe that this internship will help me come closer to the reality of achieving my goal of creating more economic, social and physical security for women all around the world.

 

Sara Thirlwell

Hello, my name is Sara Thirlwell. I am 16 years old, and I am from Toronto, ON, Canada. I am an advocate for positive change, social justice, and building peace among our nations for the overall positive movement of the world. This is what specifically led me to applying for this internship at the United Nations through the Temple of Understanding. As a citizen of this world and as an advocate for overall positive change in all aspects that have significant effects on our world, such as the environment, equality, social justice, peace building and many more, I saw a wonderful opportunity to share my core values with what the United Nations and the Temple of Understanding’s purpose is to build, as well as to continue to learn from my fellow interns, the United Nations, and the Temple of Understanding. Moreover, I will bring what I learn from this experience to my future experiences and to the future of our world. In addition, my intention this summer though my specific interests of Women Initiatives, What Makes for Peace, and Ecological Justice, is to learn from newer perspectives in order to create a greater change for the world. By having an open mind, I hope to not only learn more about myself and the lives and perspective of others, but also to learn and understand how each of the aforementioned topics have such a significant impact on our lives. Additionally, through knowledge, understanding, and interconnection, we can work together to create a greater outcome for the world. Through hard work and determination, I believe as youth and citizens of this world, we can make a difference.  

 

Grace Wilson

My name is Grace Wilson, and I am 17 years old. I am from New York City. I was initially inspired to work at the UN because of all of the important work that they do around the world, especially as it pertains to my chosen initiative, Peacemaking. As the world changes and becomes more and more divisive, the UN’s role in international relations has become increasingly important, which is a part of what makes this internship such an important one. I am interested in researching different methods to attaining peace in war zones and what methods might work best to expediently promote widespread peace.

 

 

 

Nicholas Wright

My Name is Nicholas Wright. I am from Louisville, Kentucky, and I currently attend Ballard High School. What drew me to this UN internship was a longing for change. In this day and age, I feel like we spend too much time discussing problems and not enough time trying to find solutions to them. I applied for this program because I want to have an actual hand in making a change. Why waste time talking about what is wrong with the world when you could be helping to make a change yourself. That is my goal and motivation for applying to this internship. I am especially interested in distribution of water, world hunger, poverty, and human trafficking. There are more issues that concern me but those have become main focuses for me recently. I have worked with programs to help provide less developed countries with more food so naturally world hunger is regularly on my mind. Distribution of water goes hand in hand with world hunger; it does not matter if you have food if you do not have access to clean water. I hope that during this summer internship I have the opportunity to collaborate with others to help find solutions to these issues because they are immensely important to society. The UN helps fight various dilemmas that threaten the cohesivity of our world. I just want to be a part of the change.  

Faith Groups at People’s Climate March, 4/29/17 (Photos)

Muslim environmental activists at the Washington DC People’s Climate March, 29 April 2017

 

Grove Harris represented the Temple of Understanding at the April 29 Climate March in D.C. as part of the Interfaith Groups mobilization for People’s Climate Marches. Rev. Fletcher Harper of GreenFaith led the interfaith contingent in sitting down in silence, then joining in a common heartbeat rhythm, and finally rising up in voice, as a special part of the march.

Overall, more than 200,000 gathered in Washington DC and millions joined in over 375 marches around the globe, all standing up in concern for our climate and against regressive politics. The 91 degree heat in April did not deter marchers; rather it reinforced concern.

Faith in Place: Faithful People Caring for the Earth provided reflections on the People’s Climate March.

All photos by Grove Harris.

Rev. Fletcher Harper (right) and activists leading the crowd in a group heartbeat

 

2017 UN Commission on the Status of Women Report (CSW61)

The Temple of Understanding collaboratively organized three successful sessions and an interfaith service of remembrance during the 61st Annual Commission on the Status of Women

TOU board members and attendees at CSW61

 

For the overall proceedings, we suggest this report by colleague Kate Lappin, of APWLD and the Women’s Major Group, who assessed Four wins at CSW this year:

  1. Committing to gender responsive just transitions in the context of climate change
  2. Recognising the role of trade unions in addressing economic inequalities and the gender pay gap
  3. More detailed methods to ensure the redistribution of unpaid care work
  4. Referring to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP)  [Read more]

Also recommended is the Report on CSW61 and Analysis of the Agreed Conclusions by Ms. Lakshmi Puri, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women.

 

Interfaith Service of Remembrance, CSW61

 

This year’s interfaith service again remembered women murdered for standing up for their rights. Four months after the death of Berta Cáceres, her colleague Lesbia Yaneth Urquia was murdered for the same work: trying to stop a hydroelectric project that threatened water and land. The Council of Indigenous People of Honduras (Copinh) is quoted as writing, “The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political femicide that tries to silence the voices of women with the courage and bravery to defend their rights.”

 

Roberto Mukaro Borrerro, Grove Harris, Betty Lyons

 

Our joint DPI/NGO session was entitled “Women as Roots of Change: Sustainable Food Production and Sovereignty.” Speakers included Sister Celine Paramunda, Medical Mission Sisters; Betty Lyons (Onondaga Nation), American Indian Law Alliance; Roberto Mukaro Borrerro, International Indian Treaty Council; and Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier, Chief, New York UNCTAD. It was a pleasure to collaborate with DPI colleagues Hawa Diallo, who brilliantly introduced the panel, and the production team including Krystal Fruscella and Chioma Onwumelu (all pictured below).

Our full crew: Women as Roots of Change DPI/NGO Session at CSW61

 

The complete session can be viewed on UN Web TV by clicking the image below: 

 

Our session “On a Gender-Just and Sustainable Trade Agenda,” co-sponsored by UNCTAD and the Women’s Major Group, both highlighted the need for more advocacy towards a gendered understanding of trade policies, and commended women’s activism in pushing for it. UNCTAD has a set of online publications that are part of their gender initiative. They write, “Taking into account gender perspectives in macro-economic policy, including trade policy, is essential to pursuing inclusive and sustainable development and to achieving fairer and beneficial outcomes for all.”

This event, held in the Ex-Press Bar, was hugely successful. The room was filled to capacity (over 80 people) and the audience included a graduate class of women training in international affairs.

Grove Harris, Kate Lappin, Chantal Line Carpentier

 

Grove Harris moderated and showed the film, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice. Speaker Kate Lappin was brilliant, explaining that development funding reverts profits back to the donor countries and further demystifying trade. Then Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier congratulated women’s activism, which has driven UNCTAD’s new gender and trade initiative. After the panel, Dr. Carpentier expressed appreciation for the opportunity to keep working with the NGO community on trade and financial concerns.

Speakers from the floor included Alina Saba, an Indigenous youth from Nepal who spoke to a community perspective, rather than an implicitly individualistic one. Nick Anton spoke on the new People’s Water Guide, and Ana Alvarez brought up the issue of corporate power. Theresa Blumenfield questioned UNCTAD’s uncritical acceptance of the corporate strategy of developing robots to avoid paying human workers.

Celine Paramunda, Crystal Simeoni, Grove Harris

 

Our session “Roots of Change: Reclaiming Economics for Women and Community” gave the audience an opportunity to exchange personal views and voice heartfelt concerns. We are especially grateful for the presence of speakers Crystal Simeoni of FEMNET and Sister Celine Paramunda of Medical Mission Sisters. Simeoni’s background in rural economic development and fighting inequality was coupled with clarity and insight. Sr. Paramunda offered heartfelt remarks on women’s leadership and spirit. She also led a brief meditation about breath and relationship, relating us to trees and the cycle of oxygen and carbon dioxide.

FEMNET, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network, offered a set of Red Flags expressing grave concerns about the direction of CSW61. Naming eighteen areas of concern, they warn, “The 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is heading toward a weak, even regressive, outcome that fails to address the current state of the world of work, let alone address future challenges.” These areas will require ongoing monitoring and activism.

 

 

The Women’s March on Washington in Pictures – January 21, 2017

From Grove Harris, TOU Main Representative to the United Nations:

This gathering of a million people was so large that actual marching was pretty limited. (With 600,000 confirmed people on public transportation, it had to be larger than estimates.) From the crowds on the metro platforms to the solid masses in the streets, it was a time to slow down and enjoy the thoughtfulness of people’s expressions. I enjoyed handing out cards about our online video, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice, and listening to most of the speakers online later.

People came together peacefully to reclaim our democracy, to affirm women’s humanity and rights, and to celebrate reclaiming our streets and our capital. We found common ground for collective action.  It was a powerful affirmation of renewed civic engagement.

 

Enjoy these images from the march! Photo credits: Grove Harris

"Still Indigenous. Still Strong. Still Here." - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“Still Indigenous. Still Strong. Still Here.”

 

"They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds." - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”

 

"Super Callous Fragile Racist Extra Bragadocious" - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“Super Callous Fragile Racist Extra Bragadocious”

 

"The oppression of women belongs in a museum" - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“The oppression of women belongs in a museum”

 

"More Planned Parenthood = Fewer Abortions" - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“More Planned Parenthood = Fewer Abortions”

 

"Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding." --Gandhi, seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.” –Gandhi

 

"There is no safety. The dance has always been danced at the edge of the abyss." -Ursula K. LeGuin, seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“There is no safety. The dance has always been danced at the edge of the abyss.” -Ursula K. LeGuin

 

"Resistance is built on HOPE" - seen on sign at the DC Women's March on 1/21/17

“Resistance is built on HOPE”

High Level Forum on Combating Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred (Press Summary)

Grove Harris represented the Temple of Understanding at this High Level Forum at the United Nations on January 17, 2017.

A few key themes were discussed throughout the day.

There was a clear recognition of the rise of anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred in many parts of the world. The global migration crisis, the rise of xenophobic movements, identity politics, the spread of violent extremist ideology, and terrorist attacks around the world, along with misinformation and negative stereotypes disseminated through various forms of media, have contributed to the challenge.

Many speakers underscored the connections between anti-Muslim discrimination and hatred and other forms of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, including Antisemitism and anti-immigrant discrimination. In discussing possible solutions, there was broad recognition of the need to address all forms of discrimination and hatred, in particular on the basis of religion or belief, in all parts of the world by applying universal standards to provide equal protection to all individuals.

There was widespread consensus on the need for a concerted effort by all sectors of society to focus on solutions to this growing challenge. Three expert panels focused on key mechanisms to address this issue: i) Government Policies to Combat Anti-Muslim Discrimination and Hatred; ii) Civil Society Coalition-Building; and, iii) Positive Narratives to Promote Pluralism and Inclusion.

Read the full report >>

Grove took the opportunity to share Chicago Police Diversity Training Videos with Mr. Treene.  These online videos include an overarching one on Security, Diversity, Respect, as well as brief videos on the following traditions:

Sikhism (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.3)
Buddhism (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.4)
Islam (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.5)
Judaism (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.6)
Hinduism (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.7)
Eastern Orthodox (https://archive.org/details/gov.doj.ncj.212664.v1.8)

TOU India: Interfaith Harmony and Dialogue Report, 2015-2016

We pleased to share a report from our colleagues at Temple of UnderstandingIndia detailing their programs for 2015-2016. Highlights of TOUIndia’s activities include:

  • Participation in the Parliament of the World’s Religions themed “Reclaiming the Heart of Our Humanity” in October 2015
  • International Interfaith Dialogue on 9th January 2016 themed “The Influence of Religion on the Place of Women in Society,” jointly organized by Der Missionszentrale der Franziskaner, Bonn, Germany; the Center for Peace and Spirituality International; Temple of Understanding—India; and Bahá’í Community of India
  • Interfaith Dialogue for World Peace jointly organized by Temple of Understanding India and Focolare Movement on 20th January 2016 in honour of the visit of Madam Emmaus, President and Mr. Jesus Moran, Co-President of Focolare Movement
  • Round table Conference themed “Religion & Sustainable Development—Fostering Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies” on 23rd November 2016 in collaboration with Woolf Institute, Cambridge and Georgetown University, Qatar. Some 27 outstanding scholars, including members of the Advisory Council of Temple of Understanding India Foundation, were invited by TOUIndia founder/President Hon’ble Dr. Karan Singh for deliberations surrounding the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the contributions of religious communities towards their fulfillment.

For a full description of TOUIndia’s 2015-2016 interfaith harmony and dialogue programs, please read the full report.

Resources on Women, Religion, and Rights from the UN

 

Realizing the Faith DividendRealizing the Faith Dividend: Religion, Gender, Peace and Security in Agenda 2030

This report focuses on the role of religious actors and religious considerations in the SDG agenda, particularly as they pertain to gender equality, peaceful coexistence and security considerations. The perspectives, ideas and initiatives discussed in these pages bring together experiences and policy analysis shared from the different realities of Donors, UN agencies and Faith-Based NGOs. The narratives build on and inform policies — required at a time when religion is predominantly viewed as an emerging challenge.

 

b1e2f580d5f9903ff82457c6bc548cc7Religion, Women’s Health and Rights: Points of Contention, Paths of Opportunity

This white paper looks at the religious arguments around some of the most sensitive and contentious gender-related issues from the perspective of the major faith traditions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. An article noting thisrReport and its launch in Oslo in May, was published in the Huffington Post, penned by one of the key consultants who compiled this for UNFPA and Norad. The article can be found here.

Meet TOU’s Summer #UN Interns!

The Temple of Understanding’s 2016 student interns have successfully completed their first two weeks at the United Nations! We are delighted to have such a talented and diverse group. Read on to meet our 20 interns and learn about the projects they will be pursuing at the UN this summer.


Nicolas AlvaradoHi, my name is Nicolas Alvarado, and I am seventeen years old. I am American, French and Colombian, and I am trilingual in the respective languages of my nationalities. I am very interested in international relations and business, and so I decided that this internship at the UN could help me get a better sense of this. Furthermore, I wanted to merge myself into a community where the languages, cultures and beliefs present are endless, so what better place to go than the UN.

The project that I am going to work on during the internship will be about the reintegration of child soldiers in Colombia after the signing of the peace process. Having lived in Colombia for a while, this topic is very important to me because it has been very detrimental to the country. The conflict being resolved is an incredible feat for Colombia. Furthermore, my topic of the reintegration of children goes hand-in-hand with my non-profit, which donates bicycles to underprivileged schools in order to be able to create a healthy and fun environment for the kids. Finally, I am very concerned with finding ways that the Colombian child soldiers can really be re-accepted into society and for them not to be marginalized or discriminated against; maybe Bicy-Green, my non-profit, can be an initiative that can help.

 

Kieran DowneyMy name is Kieran Downey and I am a sixteen-year-old girl from New York City. I attend Convent of the Sacred Heart. Initially, I heard about this internship through my school and from friends who have participated in the program; I was inspired by the Temple of Understanding’s mission, which correlates with my eleventh grade yearlong religion project about Religious Violence in the Middle East and the role of inter-religious dialogue in the Church. I am interested to learn more about issues including human rights, environmental and global issues, international law, social justice, and counterterrorism. I aspire to be a global citizen and be informed and aware of how an NGO and the United Nations can work together to foster social justice. One of the goals in my school community is for students to be compelled to action; therefore, my interest to strengthen my ability as an educated and involved citizen to promote change in our world can be expanded with the exposure to global issues through the United Nations.

For my final project, I will be researching the history of Bangladesh as a secular country, despite its national commitment to Islam in 1977. Additionally, I want to learn more about the violence against non-Muslims and other foreigners within Bangladesh and discover ways in which to promote peace and unity within Bangladesh through interfaith dialogue. I hope to speak with a representative from the Bangladesh Mission to get first-hand information about the relationship between religion and politics within this secular nation. I want to research more about the goals of a secular nation, as many believe it provides a more inclusive environment. Violent extremism is a global issue, but has become notably present in Bangladesh recently, and I therefore look forward to the opportunity to delve into this complex topic.

 

Elzat ErkenMy name is Elzat Erken. I am sixteen years old and I was born in East Turkistan (Xinjiang, China). My priority of being an intern at the United Nations is to help people in need, especially refugees, and enable them to have better lives. Since there are many refugee communities in Philadelphia, I plan on helping them by building organizations and encouraging more people to get involved in them. I will also find ways to have the voice of underrepresented people heard at the United Nations, like the Uyghur, Tibetan and other minority groups. I hope to come up with solutions that can ease the human rights violation against those minorities.

My topic for the final project will be “Human Rights Issues in East Asia and the Middle East.” Many human rights violations are occurring in Asia because of government oppression against minorities. As a victim, I hope to let more people know about the underrepresented minorities and how they are suffering deprivation of human rights from the government. Human rights defenders are thrown into prison or executed due to their active human rights advocacy and their action of raising human rights awareness in the local community. I hope that United Nations can put more effort on human rights protections in Asia.

 

My name is Manuela Figueiredo and I am sixteen years old. I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, but I moved to New York when I was five years old and have been here ever since. Studying at Convent of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls school in the heart of New York City, I have been extremely lucky to never experience much of the adversity that exists in the world towards women and other minorities. However, that has not prevented me from studying these adversities in the hopes of someday making an impact myself.

For my final project in this internship, I will be researching the impact of climate change on the Syrian Civil War and sequentially, the Syrian refugee crisis. Many studies have demonstrated that the drought, which occurred in Syria from 2006-2011, was one of the factors that contributed to the social unrest that led up to the civil war. I will also focus my research on how the current climate situation is unsustainable when considering the large influx of Syrian refugees migrating to both developed and developing countries. In my research, I hope to brainstorm more sustainable methods of accepting new migrants with respect to the impact of climate change.

 

Grant Gelles PictureI am Grant Gelles, a student at the Academy of Information Technology and Engineering in Stamford, Connecticut. I love everything business-disciplined and am incredibly passionate about health and fitness, cars, and especially civil liberties and human rights. My interest in a UN internship spawned from my access to the UN at a young age via my older brother (a past intern at the TOU), and father, both infatuated by the consciousness and awareness of the United Nations and Temple of Understanding. My interests include and surpass consciousness and awareness, and I’m particularly interested in maintaining liberty and ensuring that I make a positive impact in the world, both with positive thought and action. I pursue this passion in everything I do by seizing opportunities, educating people, and being educated by all that surrounds me.

During my time at the United Nations, I plan on seeking information regarding the effects that education has on maintaining peace and stability. This broad topic explores how education can be used as a vessel to prevent terrorism, promote equality, and ensure a sustainable future. In pursuit of this topic, I plan on working closely with UNICEF and many other organizations who protect the rights of students and spread their abilities to learn and grow as members of society and as global citizens. My philosophy is to ensure that education is not only the greatest weapon, but will promote a higher functioning society that will yield a more stable and enhanced future in the worlds of science, technology, arts, infrastructure, etc.

 

Dylan JunkinMy name is Dylan Junkin and I am seventeen years old. I live in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (1 hour from Philadelphia) and attend a public high school called Central Bucks East. Throughout the last four years, I have grown more interested in social justice and pursued this interest through documentary filmmaking, writing, and currently, this internship. During my 9th grade year, I made a documentary about the Armenian Genocide for a research project, but decided to continue my research into the subject after finishing the project. I was fortunate enough to interview survivors of the event, whose stories both captivated and sickened me. The following year, I did another project on the Cambodian Genocide and made a documentary and website featuring the testimonials of the survivors I interviewed. In the moment, I did not realize the tremendous impact these experiences had on me, but during the last three years I have been exposed to ideas and events I would not otherwise understand, I have learned about different cultures, and most of all I have realized the need for a connected and cohesive world when confronted with war and genocide. These are the reasons I have decided to pursue my interests through this internship.

Recently, I was able to travel to Israel and the West Bank as well through a program for Israeli/Palestinian youth called Writing Matters. While abroad, I gained a better sense of the everyday conflict that exists in the region. It is not always dramatic like the newspapers portray it, nor does it feel dangerous, but there is an unspoken tension and a sense that people on each side of the debate yearn for something different—a solution. I decided to do my final project on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it is that sentiment I wish to capture to fully analyze the differing viewpoints of the Israelis and the Palestinians, the history of the conflict, and what the future may hold for the region. Specifically, I believe the best way to showcase this emotionally charged situation is a documentary. The people I interview will be able to speak for themselves and none of the passion, feeling, and meaning in their words will be lost. My main goal is to interview as many people as possible during these five weeks so that my final project encompasses many viewpoints and I am able to accurately portray all perspectives. I also want to speak to a mixture of government delegates and everyday citizens of each region, so that I am able to highlight the contrast between the wishes of the politicians and the wishes of the people. In conjunction with the Temple of Understanding, I am additionally hoping to speak to religious leaders of Muslim, Arab Christian, and Jewish organizations to gain perspective on each group’s attitudes surrounding this topic.

 

Meher KaurMy name is Meher Kaur. I am seventeen years old, and I am from Maryland. I am here to explore my interests in the field of international relations and to find ways to provide long-term and short-term humanitarian aid. During my junior year of high school, I completed an extensive research project on the conflict in South Sudan, with a focus on the UN’s role in resolving the conflict. This project sparked my interest in the UN and inspired me to apply for the internship program with the Temple of Understanding.

During the course of this internship, I am researching the conflict in Punjab and how the UN and various international organizations can contribute to provide aid. Currently Punjab struggles with large unemployment rates, poverty, disregard for human rights, and a massive youth substance abuse problem. I believe something needs to be done to save the young generation of Punjab. Throughout my research, I am focusing on the root causes of these problems.

 

Grace KimGreetings! My name is Grace Kim and I am from Montrose, one of the (many) sunny suburbs of Los Angeles, California. I am a seventeen-year-old with a passion for humanitarianism that stems from my travels to Bolivia and China. Interacting with the locals exposed me to the various problems existing in underdeveloped communities. Having grown up in a sheltered neighborhood, I was shocked to see first-hand that issues that I had read about in the news were very much a reality. That initial shock has stuck with me to this day and motivated me to apply for the Temple of Understanding internship.

Through my internship at the UN, I hope to delve deeper into the topics of youth empowerment and youth participation in humanitarian efforts. My decision to focus specifically on the role of the youth comes from my personal involvement back home – I had the opportunity to co-found Give2Friends Foundation, a student-run non-profit organization that proactively fights to better the lives of the homeless, disabled, and foster children in my local community. In conjunction with Give2Friends, I am also the Corps Commander of my high school’s Air Force Junior Reserved Officer Corps, a student-run leadership program that aims to create better citizens of America by promoting service before self. As I am heavily involved with youth-run programs, I hope that the TOU project and the UN internship will provide me with not only a wider knowledge base, but also a network of NGO leaders and like-minded students that can promote youth involvement in the local and global community.

 

Hyukjin KoMy name is Hyukjin Ko, and I am an eighteen-year-old rising senior at Bishop TK Gorman High School in Tyler, Texas. I am currently attending high school as a foreign exchange student from South Korea. While living in South Korea, I frequently heard the news about military tension, political conflict, and stories of separated families, which prompted me to pay attention to international affairs. Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon was elected as the United Nations Secretary General in 2006, which sparked my interest in the United Nations and international relations. Eventually, my interest in international relations and the event discussion club at my school led me to want to intern at the UN. My main goal is to engage with people from different countries and ethnicities at the United Nations. I strongly believe that religious extremism and political conflict most likely come from the lack of understanding and overall misconception; therefore, I have aimed to interact and share viewpoints with people so that I can contribute and change real problems.

During my internship at the United Nations, I want to focus on the relationship between religion and politics and also analyze different religious perspectives towards religious extremism in the Middle East. Religious radicalism has influenced and threatened people’s rights and lives for a long period of time, which is why I expect to break the misconceptions people have about religions and argue that the only way of solving the problem is to negotiate and engage everyone, because this will minimize the damage and will enable us to figure out the solution to this problem.

 

My name is Ava Levin and I am from Cleveland, Ohio. I am seventeen years old and will be a senior in high school in the fall. During this internship, I hope to learn more about the world from less of a Eurocentric viewpoint, attend a variety of meetings and side-events, and explore New York City. I hope to accomplish all of these goals alongside the other interns as we create lasting friendships.

I am going to focus on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which is “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions.” I also hope to delve into the intersectionality of this goal and SDG 5, or “Gender Equality.” I plan to do a case study on at least one country in Africa, likely Liberia, Somalia, or the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although I will focus on one place, I will look into Rule of Law practices in surrounding countries to see how successful projects there could be applied to the place in which I research in depth. I want to specifically look into access to justice (especially for women) and especially creative institutions and programs. I cannot wait to learn more about this topic and share what I learn with my peers.

 

Savanna LimHi! My name is Savanna Lim and I am eighteen years old. I grew up in Singapore, but I now reside in Houston, Texas. I am excited at the prospect of being able to meet the people in the foreign service whom I want to be in the future, and to observe the day-to-day life at the United Nations.

For my project, I will be doing a comparative analysis of sustainable development goal #4, or quality of education, between Southeast Asia and Latin America by using two case studies from each region. I will also be looking at root causes for any disparities and similarities between the regions. In addition, I am looking into how the teaching of the English language affects the quality of education and in turn the development of the country as a whole. Since the SDG’s are fairly new and are still fresh in the minds of other delegates, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask representatives from different countries how they will develop SDG #4 and what tools they will use to ensure the continued stability of their respective projects. I am very passionate about education and the two regions and am excited to present my findings!

Here are some links that I am using to assist my research: Report Card on Education in Southeast Asia; Education and Poverty in Latin America; Education in Indonesia; How Education Shaped Communist Cuba; Educational Quality and Inequality in Latin America

 

Lauren LiottiMy name is Lauren Liotti and I am seventeen years old. I have lived in New York City my entire life, but I will be moving to Scotland in September for University. I decided to be an intern at the United Nations through the Temple of Understanding after cultivating an interest for international affairs throughout high school and three years of Model UN.

For my final project, I will be studying the destruction of religious and cultural sites that have been destroyed in the recent conflicts in the Middle East. Specifically, I will outline not only what has happened to these sites thus far, but also the steps that have been and will be taken to prevent the further loss of sites of historical importance. I will also be looking at how the United Nations and the UN Organization UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) have been combatting the losses of valuable historical, cultural, and religious artifacts and locations. I hope to interview someone from UNESCO to have a deeper understanding of what can be done to protect these important sites for future generations. I am very excited to research this very interesting and pressing topic over the next few weeks, and I look forward to utilizing the resources of both the Temple of Understanding and the UN.

 

Elena Younhye OckHello! I am Elena Younhye Ock from South Korea. I am an eighteen-year-old rising senior who has been studying in the United States for the last two years. I decided to study in the United States in preparation for the global career I have dreamed of, which I am very excited to begin with the United Nations High School internship. In the future, I want to fight for the rights of the marginalized, refugees, or any victims of discrimination and injustice.

For my final project at this internship, since I want to become an international human rights lawyer, I want to broaden my understanding of the complexity and magnitude of the human rights violations in North Korea. The project will cover different areas, including: the measures that the regime employs to keep the freedom away from its people, the violations on the human rights of North Koreans, and the history of the condemnations and sanctions from the international community and their impact on the lives of the North Koreans and its government’s policy. In addition, I will also examine the human rights violations of the North Korean refugees.

 

Elle ParkMy name is Elle Park, and I am eighteen years old. I am currently an upcoming senior at Syosset High School on Long Island, but I moved from Seoul, South Korea in 5th grade. At an era when violence prevails the earth and global conflicts as well as cultural differences lead into wars, peacekeeping efforts are needed more than ever. Ever since I was a child, I have always looked up to the work that the United Nations has been doing to improve international relations, whether it be on nuclear weapons and border control or on improving lives of the oppressed population.

When I saw the opportunity to be part of that workforce in the summer, I became interested immediately. It is saddening to see the lives of civilians ruined forever due to war, oppressive regimes, and hunger. I am interested in providing education for developing countries, especially for women and children who never had a chance for a formal education. I hope to work on a solution to provide education by supplying wireless internet in regions that lack them and cannot be part of the global conversations online.

 

Diana PaulsenMy name is Diana Paulsen. I am seventeen years old and I am from Houston, Texas. I applied for the Temple of Understanding Internship Program because of a conviction instilled in me by my parents, my faith, and my school: that all people have a moral obligation to create positive social change. The UN provides an amazing forum for affecting social change around the world, one which I hope to be able to utilize.

For my research topic, I would like to examine the links and connections between environmental justice and gender equality. Women are uniquely affected by climate change and are uniquely situated to be part of the solution. Also, underlying gender inequalities exacerbate both the factors leading to climate change and the kind of effects that it can have. To learn, check out these resources: UN Women: Sustainable Development and Climate ChangeWomen and the Environment; and UN Resources on Gender and Women’s Issues: Women and the Environment

 

Evan SchlosserMy name is Evan Schlosser and I am a sixteen-year-old from Pennington, New Jersey.  I have developed an eager desire to pursue a career as a political economist contributing to the UN’s efforts on international development through the following experiences: member of the coordinating committee at a soup kitchen in Trenton, NJ; serving as an officer of the Model UN Team and Co-Captain of the Debate Team at my high school; writing articles on international cooperative organizations; reading of The GuardianThe New York Times, and The Economist; and independent readings on topics including the UNESCO, the ILO, and the discussion of a global tax on wealth.

During my internship, I plan to explore ways in which international, national, regional, and local actors, while keeping in mind the general goals outlined in the SDG’s, as well as the progress made through the Grand Bargain at the World Humanitarian Summit, can work collaboratively and increasingly horizontally to foster a holistic approach towards the long-term goal of economic self-reliance for protracted internally displaced persons by breaking down silos that dominate the humanitarian-development nexus to implement an integrated policy approach. To paraphrase the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, the new development agenda must leave no one behind and help those furthest behind first. As was stated repeatedly during the Humanitarian Affairs Segment of ECOSOC, no sect of the population of our global society is further behind than protracted IDP’s.  This topic focuses on merely one of the avenues to bring economic self-reliance to protracted IDP’s: by establishing coordination between humanitarian and development actors at the international, national, regional, and local levels. My final research statement will by no means be a definitive and all-encompassing solution, but will aim to be a contribution to the possible solutions of the multi-faceted challenges facing protracted IDP’s.

 

Ashwini SelvakumaranHello! I am Ashwini Selvakumaran. I am sixteen years old and I’m really passionate about women’s rights issues, especially concerning global education and empowerment. I’ve had the privilege of being brought up in five different countries: Kazakhstan, Yemen, Malaysia, America, and Canada, where I currently reside. Moving all around the world has helped me gain a broader perspective on the important issues surrounding the world today, especially regarding the unfair treatment of women. Witnessing this conflict really sparked an interest in me to come up with a solution, hence igniting my passion for women’s rights. I can’t wait to impart my knowledge and gain new experiences during my time here at the United Nations!

 

 

 

 

Rhea SomanHello! My name is Rhea Soman, and I have been in this world for seventeen and a half years now. Most of those years I have spent residing in Sayreville, New Jersey. From a very young age, I was deeply interested in discussion. I lived for the transferring of ideas, the enlightening of the mind. I just always hungered for a deeper human understanding of concepts and events. Honestly, the communicating of different thoughts, the offering of different angles to perceive things, a new inventive insight, thought-provoking questions and answers are all very thrilling to me – and what better place to find such a collaborative discussion than the United Nations, an organization representing people of different countries, different lifestyles, different ideals? Through my experiences at the UN and my work on my project, I hope to continue to broaden my perspective and invite further discussion and reflection among people I interact with.

For my project I specifically hope to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between religion and politics. Religion and politics are both undeniably strong forces that govern people’s lives. I think studying the connection between the two is vital to further understanding human nature and conflicts that are affecting people’s daily lives in connection to those two powers. We cannot hope to solve the world’s biggest problems without looking within humanity and its deepest influences.

 

Christian YoonHello! My name is Christian Yoon. I’m seventeen years old and am from Mclean, Virginia. Since the beginning of high school, I have been passionately involved with my school’s Model UN club. From researching a variety of countries and topics, cooperating and applying diplomacy, and learning how to speak and write professionally, Model UN has truly been a blessing upon my high school experience, and one that has pushed me towards interning at the UN. I hope to apply my enthusiasm and creativity for Model UN to actual issues in the UN itself.

During my time here at the UN, I plan to research and prepare a presentation and essay regarding the influence of formal education on standards of living in developing countries. Through this topic, I want to analyze the current models of labor and education in developing countries, impediments to establishing lasting forms of formal education (such as child labor), and the effects that education can have on the factors that determine the standards of living. As established by the United Nations Development Programme, the Human Development Index (HDI) stands as the most accurate tool for gauging standards of living throughout the world. Not only do I hope to evaluate the standards of living in current models and conditions through the Human Development Index, but also the standards of living in countries that are of similar backgrounds, but utilize formal education systems. Throughout this endeavor, I hope to be able to assess the value of education, whether or not it is universally effective, and if it can influence the individuals at a communal and global level.

 

Kayla ZhuMy name is Kayla Zhu. I am sixteen years old, and I was born and raised in metro Detroit. My work with youth voices at the UN, as Chief Programs Officer of American Programs at the International Youth Council, has led me to pursue this internship. The youth of the world have the responsibility of creating a collective voice to challenge global issues that will shape our generation’s future. I hope to use this experience to serve as a youth advocate at the UN, as our generation looks ahead to the Sustainable Development Goals as a long-term development road map. Youth voices must always be at the table when developing policies for the present and long-term, and I would like to thank the Temple of Understanding for investing in youth and presenting us with the opportunity to become global change makers. My interests at the UN include sustainable urban development, food security, and development finance.

I will be focusing my research on the financing of humanitarian aid. The current system of humanitarian aid is widely accepted as unsustainable by all parties involved in the aid process and, as a result, the sector has been working towards developing a long-term approach to financing. The complexity of balancing reform with the reassurance of donor confidence is a challenge both governments and NGOs face on the path of developing a holistic development approach. The commonalities in reform suggestions include multi-year financing, multi-year planning cycles, and the analysis of comparative advantage. Many of the issues requiring humanitarian aid, such as food security and infrastructure development, are not short-term issues and are not effectively addressed by single-year initiatives. Humanitarian aid will always be necessary; therefore, it is crucial that we reform the system in which we work and look towards long-term planning.