TOU at the 2018 Parliament: Full Schedule of Events

Please join the Temple of Understanding at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions for programs featuring our staff and UN colleagues, as well as environmental activist and food sovereignty advocate Dr. Vandana Shiva.

 

Religion and the Work of the United Nations
Friday, Nov. 2, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 714A

The United Nations is made up of member states, agencies, civil society, and business partnerships. Religion is considered part of civil society. In this session, senior UN staff and longtime Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs) representatives will discuss various aspects of how the world’s religions relate to the UN system. The topics will include religion and development, the sustainable development goals (SDGS), gender equality and women’s empowerment (SDG 5), peace, climate change, the environment, migration, and more. To conclude, the participants will be left with ways to be involved and the tools of the UN to serve their local community.

Forging Alternatives to the Culture of Consumerism and Violence
(Temple of Understanding–India)
Friday, Nov. 2, 3:15-4:00pm, Room 605

Awareness of the richness and diversity of world cultures, faith communities, and religions is vital in the age of globalization. This project would help to forge strategies and lines of action to create better relationships between peoples; encourage understanding of how people appreciate the multiple identities akin to a garden with variety of flora and fauna, fragrances and hues. At the root is holistic, and all-encompassing detailed view of reality at every level of existence, from Individual to Family, Society, Nations and the Globe. Humans need to understand the intrinsic principle of harmony and appreciate the virtue of healthy co-existence in creation.

Are Our Stained Glass Ceilings Cracking Yet?:
Women and Leadership in the World of Interfaith
Saturday, Nov. 3, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 718A

Women play vital roles in development and peacebuilding. As governmental, non-governmental and faith-based organizations commit to Sustainable Development Goals, the importance of engaging women is obvious. Yet despite intellectual and theoretical agreement, glass ceilings are not breaking quickly and completely enough – in particular in religious leadership. Faith activists, leaders and faith inspired organizations have irreplaceable roles to play in achieving the SDGs’ vision. And yet, when world religious bodies and multilateral organizations invite religious leadership, they include too few women. This panel convenes women leaders to consider honestly how, together, we can break that stained-glass ceiling.

Women of Faith Speak Out:
Towards Resetting the Global Moral Compass
Saturday, Nov. 3, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 718A

Four visionaries share their understanding of a Moral Compass as a metaphor for structural change. Their passionate action to reset the compass means to center on compassion and interconnectedness. Each presenter will speak to diverse strategies for structural change: recognition of all religious actors, not just official leaders (Dr. Azza Karam), protecting the diversity of living resources (Dr. Vandana Shiva), peace through diplomacy and justice (Venerable Dr. Chung Ohun Lee), and advocacy for women’s human rights through the United Nations (Lopa Banerjee). Their work lays out a blueprint for a world beyond greed.

Vandana Shiva and Friends on Earth Democracy
Sunday, Nov. 4, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

Earth Democracy is a call for people’s sovereignty over seeds, food, land, and water. Only by recognizing humanity’s relationship to, and its intimate place in, nature can there be a re-alignment of commerce to support life – human life and the life of the planetary ecosystem. Social justice and Earth justice are indivisible; there must be a shift away from cultures of domination and violence to cultures of justice, non-violence, and creative responses to the challenges faced by the global community. A new paradigm drawing on ancient traditional knowledge is required to get at the root causes of environmental degradation and address racism, sexism, colonialism, and genocide. The Earth Democracy movement provides an alternative worldview in which humans are embedded in the Earth Family, are connected to each other through love and compassion, rather than through hatred and violence, and ecological responsibility and economic justice replace greed, consumerism, and competition as objectives of human life.

Seeds and Seedlings: Agents of Change
Monday, Nov. 5, 2:15-3:45pm, Room 701A

This session features a short, powerful 10 minute film, Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice, that includes women’s voices from India, El Salvador, USA, the United Nations Environmental Program, and the UN Commission on Trade and Development. Then hear from women visionaries and accomplished change agents including Dr. Vandana Shiva of Seed Freedom in India. These leaders foster women’s empowerment as an integral pathway towards rejuvenating our soil, our food, our air, our psyche and our communities. Each will reflect on how their faith sustains their social justice work.

Interfaith Engagement: Past, Present, and Future
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 12:15-1:45pm, Room 701A

This interactive panel will explore the interfaith and interreligious movement. The first part will be a discussion held from the lens of what has been accomplished and why it still remains on the fringes of most major religious traditions. What motivates people of faith to engage with religious others? Why has such engagement not become mainstream? The second part of the discussion will focus on how do we deepen the interfaith commitment of those already engaged in the interfaith circle and how do we expand the circle? And what does the future hold for the movement in terms of opportunities and tensions?

Roots of Change: Food Sovereignty, Women and Eco-Justice
Tuesday, Nov. 6, 6:00-7:00pm, Room 103A

The ten-minute film Roots of Change: Women, Food Sovereignty and Eco-Justice features women’s spirited calls to change our global direction. In this visually striking short film, women warn of the current realities and looming threats of food crisis, climate change, and corruption. Women’s leadership and ownership in local systems of food production are desperately needed-as is the collaboration of their husbands, brothers, fathers, and sons. This leadership and ownership is what is meant by food sovereignty. This film features excerpts of speakers at the Temple of Understanding’s events at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women.

 

18-year-old Environmental Activist Kehkashan Basu to Speak at UN High Level Meeting

Report from UNFOLD ZERO:
 

Ms Basu, who is originally from United Arab Emirates and now lives in Canada, was selected by the President of the UN General Assembly to address the September 26 United Nations High Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament as one of the two representatives of global civil society. She states:

The nuclear arms race, in particular, should be halted and the $100 billion global nuclear weapons budget be redirected towards ending poverty, reversing climate change, protecting the oceans, building a sustainable economy and providing basic education and health care for all of humanity…

Instead, the nuclear armed States are squandering resources and keeping their nuclear weapons poised to strike. One mistake would cause a humanitarian disaster, robbing children and youth of their health and future, and maybe even ending civilization as we know it.
 
Ms. Basu was named as one of Canada’s Top 25 Women of Influence for 2018 and was the winner of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize.
 

Toward a Greener Attica: Preserving the Planet and Protecting its People

Report by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations for the Temple of Understanding
The Saronic Islands, June 5-8, 2018

The Temple of Understanding’s Executive Director Alison Van Dyk and Representative to the United Nations Grove Harris were honored to participate in the Green Attica Symposium. The symposium brought together 200 diverse thought leaders, including theologians, scientists, political and business leaders, activists, and journalists from around the globe.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is famous for seeing environmentalism as a spiritual responsibility and has hosted such symposia since 1996. Settings have included the Adriatic Sea, the Amazon River, the Arctic Ocean, and the Mississippi River. His environmental writings set the tone for the event:

His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew, known affectionately as the Green Patriarch

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

Climate Change and Social Justice

If human beings were to treat one another’s personal property the way they treat the natural environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social and illegal.  We would expect legal sanctions and even compensation.  When will we learn that to commit a crime against the natural world is also a sin?

Sacrament and Sin

We have traditionally regarded sin as being merely what people do to other people. Yet, for human beings to destroy the biological diversity in God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by contributing to climate change, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying it’s wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, land and air – all of these are sins.

Healing and Repentance

Ecology cannot inspire respect for nature if it does not express a different worldview from the one that prevails in our culture today, from the one that led us to this ecological impasse in the first place.  What is required is an act of repentance, a change in our established ways, a renewed image of ourselves, one another and the world around us within the perspective of the divine design of creation.  To achieve this transformation, what is required is nothing less than a radical reversal of our perspectives and practices.

Water

Any abuse of our earth’s resources – and, above all, of water as the source and symbol of life and renewal – contradicts our sacred and social obligation to other people, and especially those who live in poverty and on the margins of society. Water is a fundamental human right… [Read Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s full Statement on Water]

The Symposium was a stunning opportunity to visit Greece and connect with old and new friends for more inspired and connected work towards climate justice. We spent three days visiting the islands of Spetses and Hydra, with intense program sessions considering religion and science, economics and the market, refugees, and the future, all including faith perspectives.

Dr. Vandana Shiva addresses the symposium, calling for protection of the world’s sacred waters, and also of the farmers who enable us to have sacred bread.
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

 

You can read a detailed description written by Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and the Washington Post article “Climate change is a top spiritual priority for these religious leaders,” both on the website of our colleagues at the Forum on Religion and Ecology.

Prior to the Symposium, we visited the world heritage site of Delphi, to meditate in the place considered the navel of the universe in ancient Greece.

The circular temple at Athena Pronaia Sanctuary at Delphi, the navel of the universe in the ancient Greek world, likely honored an even more ancient earth goddess. Photo by Grove Harris.

 

At the Symposium, the Temple of Understanding:

  • responded to Dr Jeffrey Sach’s economic presentation by reminding him that people of faith make an even more prophetic call for radical action, based on love and faith demanding more responsive action to redress environmental wrongs
  • convened a small round table with water justice expert Maude Barlow and other participants towards more effective actions after the Symposium
  • called for ethical guidelines to constrain economic growth, as part of the Symposium’s inclusion of corporate responsibility
  • promoted the Water Justice Guide

His All-Holiness with TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk
Photo © Sean Hawkey 2018

 

After the symposium we visited the island of Aegina and learned of the water challenges there, where most of the water is shipped to the island by tanker, and people buy bottled water to drink. We supported local activism with connection to the water justice work and Sustainable Development Goal 6 at the United Nations, as well as with ideas about local plastic recycling, including the Plastic Whale, a project that takes people out to fish plastics from Amsterdam’s canals and then processes the plastic into boats. Back at the UN in New York City, we raised concern about the water supply and plastic bottles during the Voluntary National Review provided by Greece during the High Level Political Forum.

The Temple of Aphaia on Aegina. The temple is a house for this lesser known goddess, with a large outside altar for worship. On a clear day one can view the Acropolis in Athens from here, potentially connecting the temples in a triangle with the Poseidon Temple. Photo by Grove Harris.

 

TOU at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Temple of Understanding is thrilled to be presenting four programs, collaborating on another, and having our representative to the UN speak at still two more programs at the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, November 1-7, 2018.

Our first program on Friday features our colleagues at the United Nations, for a more nuanced conversation following our introductory program last Parliament.

This will be the second Parliament where we have worked to bring Dr. Vandana Shiva, with her prophetic wisdom combining science and activism towards earth democracy. Theologian Carol Christ writes that Vandana Shiva “is telling women to confront ‘deceitful, dishonest, brutal power.’ She is telling women to teach those who rule the world how to live with nature, how to share, how to care.” (Read more: A Prophet in Our Midst: Vandana Shiva by Carol P. Christ) Women, as the majority of farmers in the world, need access to land ownership to protect localized agriculture from the devastating impacts of industrial agriculture.

Programs featuring Vandana Shiva and other stellar speakers include:

The TOU will also present:

Our UN Representative Grove Harris will speak during the following additional sessions:

Multilateralism in the Temple of Understanding: Presentation by Grove Harris

Interfaith Communities that Have Multilateralism Inherent in their Respective Structural and Operational Mechanisms

 Workshop at the 67th UN DPI NGO Conference

August 23, 2018

Prepared Remarks by Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding

From left: Monica Willard, UN Representative, United Religions Initiative; Audrey Kitagawa, JD, Chair Elect, Parliament of the World’s Religions; Bruce Knotts, Director, UN Office, Unitarian Universalist Association; Grove Harris, UN Representative, Temple of Understanding; Dr. Kusumita Pedersen, Co-President, Interfaith Center of New York

 

I so appreciate the call and responsibility inherent in this year’s DPI NGO conference theme “We the Peoples: Together Finding Global Solutions for Global Problems.” 

And so far at the conference I have heard calls to be loud, to be bold, to find new ways to strengthen our collective work, to bring our work to scale, and to include fresh innovation and imagination.  As civil society space erodes, we have to hold it that space open and attempt to expand it, at the same time being critical and frugal about the flow of time and resources into spaces where our impact is limited. We have to define our own measures of success, and assess where we draw strength and inspiration and build our collective force.

I invite you all to join me in taking a few silent breaths, to remind ourselves of our sources of inspiration and the nourishment we receive in each moment. Thank you.

The Temple of Understanding is one of the oldest interfaith organizations, founded with a mission of building peace among all the world’s religions.  Our multilateralism is built into our current operating structure, where we work in multifaith and interfaith and secular coalitions.  We translate religious concerns into the UN’s secular language of human rights and morality. We are small and focused on networking, joining coalitions and amplifying voices from the margins. Our peace work is pragmatically focused on what makes for peace: food, water and health.  We also ask about the sustaining force of faith, or values, in all we do.

As part of the NGO Mining Working Group (made up of over 30 religious and other groups, with constituencies in over 27 mining countries) we fought for the human right to water to be included in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6. Partnering with secular activists in water justice made this possible, including Meera Karunananthan and Maude Barlow who are global water activists and experts. We then contributed to the production of the Water Justice Guide, intended to help to local communities see which UN mechanisms may help them. Outreach goes to the grass roots constituencies, and the justice guide has gone to every diocese in the Greek Orthodox church.

I have served as a bridge between the Mining Working Group and the Women’s Major Group, facilitating collaboration. While many in the WMG focus on women’s rights to health and reproductive services, I focus on environmental concerns intersecting with gender. WMG includes over 600 organizations across the globe.

Creative strategies have included color themed days and political positions, to lift up the issues and human spirits for change; street actions in NYC, such as upon learning of the murder of front line environmental justice activist Berta Caceres of Honduras.  We created a tribute, using masking tape across mouths pulled off as names of those murdered were read, saying presente.  It was well received, and then used in a UN video coming out of the UNEA conference.  Of grave concern is the growing pattern of labeling activists as terrorists. Standing up for civil rights hopes to disrupt injustice. To conflate it with terrorism is completely inappropriate and endangers the lives of activists.

Members of the Women’s Major Group keep coming up with inspiring slogans, tee shirts; I’ve not heard a song yet.  WEDO’s latest is a shirt spelling out the acronym FIERCE –  Fierce, Intersectionalist, Environmentalist, Revolutionist, Climate Activist and Eternal Optimist.

During July’s HLPF (High Level Political Forum), I contributed to a Twitter storm highlighting the increasing murder of women human rights defenders, and the overall impact of the WMG’s social media campaign was over 25 million impressions, reaching 3.7 million people.  And then the next day we were on the street in a solemn protest over the murder of four Columbian human rights activists. 

Our fitness for purpose includes condensing our messaging, struggling to work effectively inside the UN and on the ground, and attending to “intersectionality”.  This is one way of approaching “no one left behind” in our coalitions and partnerships.  That means no more “manels”- panels of only men.  Women must be fully included, and men are also included.  Youth, Indigenous people, LGBTQI, People of Color, seniors, and those with disabilities must be included not as a laundry list, not perfectly, but with effort and in respect. So while I can not fully attend to all causes, I practice inclusion.

Of course we collaborate with all the groups represented on this panel, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the Interfaith Center of New York, and the United Religions Initiative. 

I want to name some of the amazing women we have worked with:

  • The late Dr. Wangari Maathai, now her daughter Wangira Mathai of Kenya
  • Dr Pam Rajput of India
  • Rev Marta Benavides of El Salvador
  • Dr. Vandana Shiva of India

Our model is one of power with others, versus power over others. We listen and include. We stand with our Muslim friends in protesting Anti-Muslim discrimination, and we admire and promote the social justice and environmental work of our Indigenous colleagues.

Just as all UN agencies and civil society actors at the UN have been called to ensure we are fit for purpose, so too the interfaith movement must ensure it is fit for purpose, by examining any ways in which we miss the mark of the human rights standards. “Leave no one behind” is the motto of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Is the Interfaith movement leaving anyone behind? Are we fully inclusive of women? Youth? Indigenous people? LGBTQI folks? People of color? All religious perspectives? 

The world’s religions are among the largest multinational organizations in the world. We must amplify our collective voice and demand action on crucial issues including climate change and social justice.

Meet the 2018 Temple of Understanding Summer Interns!

The Temple of Understanding is excited to welcome our 2018 student interns to New York City and the United Nations! Read on to meet our interns and learn about the projects they will be pursuing this summer.


My name is Isabella Amaro and I am a student from Guadalajara, Mexico. My keen interest in the Temple of Understanding internship stems from my experience volunteering in my community and my drive to solve the problems that I see present in Guadalajara. From a young age I began helping Central Americans and Mexican migrants in my city. At first, my family and I prepared sandwiches and bought juice to bring to these people. Years later, I realized that providing migrants with a meal was not doing enough to help them improve their situation, so I began to volunteer at a local shelter where, with a group of friends, I give English lessons to migrants. Although learning English provides migrants with a tool that can open the door to new opportunities and improve their communication skills, I wanted to intern at the United Nations because I still believe that legal action and international measures are needed in order to fully tackle this problem. I hope that by participating in the Temple of Understanding internship I am able to see and understand how problems, such as immigration, can be dealt with through diplomacy.

Throughout the program, I would like to analyze different methods being used to help migrants adapt to a new country, focusing on methods used to prevent migrants from Central America and Mexico from resorting to organized crime or gangs in order to adapt to life in their final destination, or survive the journey.

 

My name is Caroline Beshay, and I am a first year student at California State University, Long Beach, studying Political Science and International Studies. I am an 18-year-old Egyptian woman aspiring to change the world by becoming an international lawyer and working at the United Nations. I have always been passionate about the nature of politics. Unfortunately, in my county and the Middle East in general, democracy has not yet prevailed. I have encountered tolerance, understanding, and love in my country, but there is still a lot of corruption. I have also personally experienced a lot of religious and political intolerance alongside gender intolerance and injustice. Organizations like the Temple of Understanding and the United Nations have given people like me hope for this world, and I want to be a part of that hope for the world around me. I am pursuing this interest in hopes of expanding my knowledge and understanding of the world around me. I am interested in peacemaking and international relations as well as women’s initiatives. Peace is the first step to prosperity. I am hoping that this will be the first major stepping stone for a lifetime of world changing experiences. I am looking forward to this eye-opening experience.

 

My name is Larkin Cleland, and I am from Medina, Ohio, which I like to describe as the town the furthest south where people still pretend to be part of Cleveland. I am 18 and will be starting college this fall as an Eminence Fellow at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. I have grown up in an interfaith family, but in an area that is very homogeneous in many ways. I think because of this, and because of the opportunities I have had to meet people of completely different backgrounds, I feel driven to encourage communication between people from diverse situations. I am extremely excited to be able to interact with an institution as diverse as the UN while working towards the main goals I share with it: namely encouraging peace and equality. I am particularly interested in religious minorities and how they relate to majority groups in their countries and regions, as well as the unique challenges they face when they must flee as refugees. Specifically, I want to look at parallels between the various minority groups in the Middle East and South Asia.

 

Hello! My name is Molly Galant, and I am 18 years old and from New York City. I had the opportunity to research the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals during my junior year of high school, which propelled my interest in advocating for ecological prosperity in developing nations. In addition, as part of my senior year course load, I enrolled in the AP Environmental Science course. I found myself immersed in each lesson, and curious as to how to find viable solutions for global issues such as the decline in natural resources due to demand. I am most interested in advocating for Ecological Justice. The political and social climate, particularly of the United States, remains volatile as climate change is at the forefront of concern. Global warming is often disregarded due to personal prejudice and economic incentives. An era of “denial-of-facts” is being ushered in. Our priority, as current inhabitants of the planet, is to advocate for reducing the irreversible trends in climate change. Finally, I am interested in working towards the implementation of improved and advanced education regarding the environment for future generations because I believe that access to this knowledge is vital to the future of creating sustainable lifestyles.

 

My name is Ranpreet Gill. I am a native of Fresno, California who was born in the province of Punjab. I will be attending Harvard University in the fall where I will be concentrating on Economics. My desire to intern at the United Nations was sparked by my interest in macroeconomics and the impact of foreign direct investment on alleviating poverty, raising the standard of living, increasing food security, and bringing peace to unstable nations. I intend to use this opportunity as a Temple of Understanding intern to gain exposure to diplomats, ambassadors, world renown economists, and non-governmental organizations to conduct research on how foreign direct investment brings peace to unstable regions and offers a higher standard of living.

 

 

 

Hi! My name is Yasmeen Khan. I’m 18 years old, and I’m from Los Angeles, California. I am incredibly excited to intern with the Temple of Understanding. I have always been very passionate about human rights and politics. I have interned on numerous political campaigns and am very dedicated to getting the youth in my local community involved in politics to encourage reform and progression within our society. I have participated in activities such as Speech and Debate and Model United Nations where I engaged in topics such as the refugee crisis and sexual assault. As a female I have experienced firsthand the prevalence of sexism and inequality in our society. This summer I anticipate researching how to make education more accessible in order to counter various oppressive issues plaguing young girls around the world like genital mutilation, child marriage, and poverty. A couple of years ago I had the honor of touring the United Nations, and ever since I knew that the United Nations is where I want to end up. This internship is the first step on my journey!

 

Hi! My name is Sofia Manekia. I am 18 years old and from Princeton, NJ. This fall, I will be a freshman at the School of International Service at American University. Ever since I was a little kid, I have always been fascinated by the world and how each country contributes to the global society at large. Those intimate connections between nations that link economies, societies, and humanities are what intrigue me and what drew me to international relations. The United Nations is the epicenter of those connections – it’s where these relationships thrive and are further enhanced. That is what led me to intern at the UN – to delve deeper into those relations and truly discover the unique attributes each nation has to offer.

Through my internship with the Temple of Understanding, I aim to further my understanding on the psychology of genocide as a form of mass killing and the social/political circumstances that facilitate it. Specifically, I intend to conduct meaningful research on the Yazidi Genocide in Iraq and Syria and the Darfur Genocide in Sudan. Two ongoing genocides that, unfortunately, have no end in sight. I am incredibly thrilled to be a part of the Temple of Understanding’s Summer Internship Program and am excited to start working on the pressing issues of today.

 

My name is Olwethu Mfeka, and I am an eighteen-year-old University of Cape Town student from Durban, South Africa. Given my country’s history of institutional racism and racial segregation, whilst growing up, I found that it was not reasonable for me to simply ignore socio-economic issues, such as disparities in access to healthcare, education inequality and housing segregation, which arose as a result of the injustices of the past. In high school, I began to show greater interest in current affairs. I sought opportunities to expand my knowledge and understanding of the world and its events, and was able to do so by attending youth conferences. This internship was a discovery I made whilst searching for ways to make meaningful use of my free time during holidays. Through the Temple of Understanding and the United Nations, I believe that I can learn more about women’s initiatives and peacemaking, on which I intend to focus for my research during the program. I am particularly interested in the rising number of cases of violence against South African women and in the effects of past and present United Nations peacekeeping operations, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

My name is Danielle Miller, and I’m 18 years old. I live in Morgantown, West Virginia and will be attending Trinity College this fall. My main interests revolve around international relations and trade, human rights, and peace and conflict studies. I chose to apply to the Temple of Understanding internship because of my desire to learn more about world religions and how they relate to political systems, trade, and food sovereignty.

Last summer, I traveled to Peru and became interested in how Latin American countries use cultural and traditional methods for their organic food production, rather than the production methods of huge conglomerates that are detrimental to the environment and economy of small business owners. I have particular interest in food sovereignty, and would like to assist communities in becoming more sustainable and resilient by the use of traditional cultivation methods. I’m interested in researching food sovereignty methods in Peru and the role religion plays within food sovereignty. I would like to study the historical Incan techniques, as well as the use of historical irrigation systems — canal beds, cisterns, terraces, crop rotation, and smaller scale production for indigenous communities and families to preserve their environment and culture.

 

My name is Alessia Casson Milstein, and I am an eighteen-year-old from New York City. What led me to intern with the Temple of Understanding was my interest in international relations. Over the summer of 2016, I did a pre-college program at Oxford University and took an international relations course shortly after Brexit. I enjoyed the class greatly and wanted more experience working around international law, and I felt an internship would truly help me determine if this is a field I wish to pursue. I am also considering majoring in international relations. I am particularly interested in the justice issues (specifically involving the United Nations), of the Syrian refugee crisis and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. While these are my initial interests, they are issues I still feel fairly uneducated on; I also hope to learn more about social justice issues the United Nations is working on while pursuing this internship. I am particularly interested in exploring the current peacekeeping initiatives that the United Nations is involved in, and their direct impact on global conflict resolution, along with the Temple of Understanding’s role in related issues. While I am not a particularly religious individual, I look forward to exploring various faiths through religious site visits during this internship while also discovering the role of faith in creating global peace.

 

My name is Eric Muthondu, and I am an 18-year-old from Richmond, Texas. This fall I will be a freshman at Harvard University potentially pursuing degrees in African Studies and Economics. My interest in the United Nations and wanting to be an intern mainly stems from my passion for understanding the expanding interconnectedness of the world we live in as well as the social, political, religious, and economic factors that contribute to modern global trends. Through summer programs on foreign policy and discussions with diplomats, I have gained valuable insight into the complex nature of global relations and the pressing issues that often impede recognizable progress. During my time at the UN, I hope to explore the history and implications of education in Africa and its impact on children’s rights, access to higher standards of living, and national brainpower. Nonetheless, I hope that my time at the Temple of Understanding will be a time of growth, reflection, and empowerment to continue asking questions and pursuing answers.

 

My name is Amparo Nieto. I am 18 years old, and I am from Argentina. This year I’ll be a freshman at Drexel University. I have always had a deep interest in the workings of the world. Since I was a kid, I liked to read the newspaper, even though, back then, I did not understand much of what it said. As years passed I began to understand, and with that, something clicked in my mind: I realized we lived in a world that was full of problems. That was when I realized that I could not stay with my arms crossed in the reality we live in. My goal in life is to work at the United Nations, and this internship is the first step to accomplishing this. I hope to gain a perspective on many different issues: ecological, religious, political, racial, and so on. I hope that after these four weeks I will be a different person with more knowledge and more experiences. I believe that in order to help the world we must first become global citizens and that this internship will help me with that.

I am currently deeply interested in the Rohingya situation in Myanmar. This conflict represents one of the biggest issues in the world: religious persecution. I hope that I can gain more insight on this conflict, try to come up with ways we can stop this crisis, and see how we can help future generations to be more understanding toward different religions.

 

My name is Joel Punwani, and I am nineteen years old. I come from many different places — I have three passports, I’ve lived in five countries, and parts of my family come from at least seven nations. If asked where I’m from, though, my short answer is London, the great city to which I always return. I first became interested in the UN through Model UN, which I’ve done and loved since eighth grade, going to ten conferences representing countries from every continent on issues of every kind — from the Central African Republic on Malaria prevention to Vietnam on the South China Sea. This fostered a greater interest in international relations, which I will be studying at University, and development. Though I’ve since gained interest in other aspects of governance, the UN remains my first passion, and to work and intern there with the Temple of Understanding is a wonderful opportunity. I hope to research a topic around the current rapid and ongoing urbanization, one of the most momentous changes to the state of humanity in history, and especially how it ties in with sustainable development, as most of the world’s greatest cities are now in developing states, and will continue to be so in the future.

 

My name is Ariana Rodriguez, and I am a junior at The College of New Jersey from Cranford, New Jersey. My biggest motivation for wanting to work with the Temple of Understanding at the United Nations is because I one day hope to work at the United Nations as a human rights lawyer. Many of my life experiences have led to this goal; I have traveled and have taken International Law classes that have opened my eyes to some of the struggles women face, and I cannot stand by without action. I am a part of a social justice-oriented community service scholarship at my college that has driven me to seek change on a larger scale. I am very passionate about all social justice issues, but particularly those of race, gender, and identity. My current area of particular interest is the ways in which we can remedy the inequalities women face around the world whether it be because of their race, gender identity, religion, or sexuality.  I hope to incorporate these issue areas into my research for the summer and ultimately compile in-depth research on the medical and social inequality women around the world face, as well as the steps we can take to make a more inclusive world.

 

Hi, my name is Chris Toward and I have just finished my first year at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, where I study International Relations. I first became interested in the work of the UN through my travels to countries where the UN has been involved in conflict resolution, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina. I have built on this and learnt more about the UN over the past few years, both at Sixth Form College where I studied the UN from different perspectives in History, Geography, and Politics and now at St. Andrews where I have researched and discussed the role of the UN in international affairs in greater depth. I am unsure what specific issue I will focus my summer research on, but I anticipate that it will be based around the UN’s role in conflict resolution, especially the part it plays in harmonising relations between specific ethnic and religious groups. I am excited to be interning with an NGO that specializes in this.

I heard about the Temple of Understanding internship through a previous intern who is studying my degree in the year above at St. Andrews. I knew immediately that spending time at the UN would be a worthwhile and exciting way to spend a month of my summer, so I seized the opportunity and applied!

 

My name is Alessandra Viatore. I was born in Rome on February 13, 1999. Since I was a child, I have had the opportunity to travel and learn about other people and cultures. During my travels and experiences abroad, my curiosity and my interest in knowing and understanding life in different countries has been growing. At the same time, I have been in touch with very difficult realities, which have also influenced me, and have encouraged me to prepare myself to give my contribution to world peace. My experiences, the countries I have visited, and the people I have met, with their difficulties and their happiness, have motivated me to start my studies in International Relations. I believe in the work that many international organizations are doing in maintaining international peace and security, and I believe that to develop friendship among nations, while promoting and encouraging respect for human rights, is superb.

This is why I am so excited to have the opportunity to do an internship with the Temple of Understanding. I am sure that experiences of this type can change the professional future of many young people. For me it is important to prepare myself to be a good professional, but it is also very important to prepare myself as a person, without losing the principles and values that my family has given me. The opportunity that the Temple of Understanding is offering will help me to grow, personally and professionally, and an experience like this will help increase my knowledge and allow me to receive suggestions and ideas that can help me in my international studies and that may focus my mind for a future career. Particularly, I am very interested in learning more about religious understanding, which is clearly one crucial aspect of peace building. In recent years, we have been seeing an increase in tension, fear, and misunderstanding about Islam. There is also a link with the topic of women, which I am also extremely interested in. During my experiences with the Temple of Understanding this summer, I would like to delve deeper into root causes and possible solutions for peace through interfaith understanding and through developing leadership in young people.

 

My name is Monica Weglarz and I am an eighteen-year-old from northern New Jersey. I never realized how fortunate I was until I spent the summer in the Dominican Republic volunteering in a makeshift medical clinic. Through an organization called Unidos para la Salud, I had the opportunity to travel to Santo Domingo to help administer medication, assist with dental care and hand out school supplies to impoverished people. We converted an empty gymnasium into a facility of sorts dedicated to triage, dentistry, and pharmacy. While working in the pharmacy department, I read prescriptions and then distributed the appropriate medication. I connected with some people, learning their stories, dreams and goals. Through this experience, I realized I am blessed to have the luxuries that surround me back in the United States: a loving, nurturing home; the opportunity to conduct my own research and study; a steady supply of food and clean clothes. I took for granted and assumed I was entitled to all these things. I was wrong.

Through the smiles on the faces of the palomos, I experienced a new type of happiness that comes from helping others: love in action. This joy sparked a new desire within me. One day, I hope to work with the UN to bring humanitarian aid to suffering and impoverished communities internationally, especially the victims of genocides. As an intern with the Temple of Understanding, I am particularly interested in human rights, specifically the conflicts in Iraq and Syria where these innocent individuals are stripped of these rights. In both of these countries, ISIS has worked to exterminate the Yazidis, Shiites, and Assyrian Christians in mass genocides. With my time at the UN, I want to make a tangible difference in these anguished people’s lives.

 

My name is Abigail Young, and I am an 18-year-old girl from Pelham, New York. When looking for summer internships, I knew that I wanted to do something along the lines of what I hope to study in college: international relations, diplomacy, and languages. I was particularly intrigued by the Temple of Understanding because it works so closely with the UN, and I think international organizations like the UN are crucial to promoting peace among different societies and cultures. Upon finding this internship, I knew that it was the perfect combination of many of my interests: international relations broken into smaller segments like women’s initiatives, environmental activism, and more. This brings me to my interests regarding justice issues that I hope to study this summer: I would be very much interested in delving more into the topic of women’s initiatives. I was co-vice president of the Women’s Empowerment Club at my school, and one thing that we tried to place a strong emphasis on was bringing light to women’s issues around the world. I think this program would be the perfect medium through which I could continue my attention to these issues. I would also be interested in studying ecological justice, because environmental issues do not only concern the environment itself, but the people living on the land, the policy surrounding environmental initiatives, and what role the environment plays in the global community. I look forward to learning more about any and all global issues this summer, and I have no doubt that this will be an unforgettable experience!

 

Standing against the Muslim Ban

The Temple of Understanding joins colleagues in horror over the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the travel ban targeting Muslims. This is so outrageous that we all need to voice our objection to the court’s blatant Islamophobia. We agree with dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor that this is “motivated by hostility and animus toward the Muslim faith.”

The Know Your Neighbor: Multifaith Encounters campaign of the Islamic Networks Group writes:

This decision sets a dangerous precedent by upholding a government policy directed against adherents of a specific religion — a policy that targets Muslim-majority countries for religious discrimination. [link]

They call on the interfaith community to increase interfaith engagement, dialogue with our neighbors, engagement with Muslims and their faith, and coming together to uphold our values, including respect for “the principle of justice, religious liberty, and equality in word and deed.”

The Tanenbaum Center’s blog post “The Muslim Ban – Who’s Next?” links to their resources for countering religious extremism.

Valarie Kaur, Esq., founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, writes:

History will remember this decision as among the most shameful rulings in the history of the Supreme Court: It upholds a ban that indefinitely separates U.S. citizens from their Muslim families. It sends a message to the world that America will discriminate against entire groups of people based on their faith. It emboldens the Trump administration to continue policies that enact cruelty, racism and xenophobia toward immigrants and refugees at the border and our airports. [link]

She reminds us to reach out, march, vote; Breathe and Push.

URI Community Responds to Supreme Court Travel Ban and offers ways to resist:

The best way to resist the harmful, isolating effects of fear and division is by reaching out and making a human connection. We suggest taking actions, such as:

  • Reach out to comfort a friend or colleague from a community targeted by this ban.
  • Raise your voice on social media.
  • Join with others in your community to demand policy change and show public support for Muslim families.

Photo: Steve Helber/The Associated Press

Citizens’ Debt Audit for Puerto Rico

From Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative:

I have enjoyed meeting some awesome activists from Puerto Rico who are organizing a historic citizen’s debt audit. Puerto Rico is crippled by debt, some of which is illegal, and all of which needs to be transparent in its sources, expenses, and uses.  

Organizers write that “Citizens debt audits have been conducted in over 18 countries, including Brazil, France and Argentina, and these audits have produced concrete results without government participation. “

Their brochure lists irregularities and illegalities, including violations of the constitution, conflict of interest, excessive profiting, false representation, omission of risk factors and lack of legal authorization.

“Many PR creditors are hedge fund and US financial speculators, who bought bonds cheaply for as little as 5 cents but insist on a total re-payment – some for a return of investment of 1,900%! These are abusive profits for unscrupulous speculative investors in exchange for our public services.”

The video on their website is powerfully inspiring. with diverse citizens calling for debt audit NOW. 

http://www.auditoriaya.org/english/

The debt crisis, which includes “harsh austerity measures to ensure payment for a legally dubious public debt”, is a human rights issue, as is the environmental pollution, exploitation and privatization.

It is my privilege to listen to courageous women tackling systemic problems, and my responsibility to share their model towards real change, and the request to support it.

#CSW62 – 2018 Commission on the Status of Women

Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative:

As always, this year’s CSW was intense and complex. The Temple of Understanding’s sessions were highly successful, and we anticipate sharing video from the panel in the near future.  A hallmark of the Temple’s spiritual work is joining heart, body and mind, and learning deeply from the wide array of international speakers inside and outside of the UN. 

Our CSW speaker Dr Veena Adige with two generations of her family and executive director Alison Van Dyk. One secret to a good panel is gathering beforehand to share refreshments and get to know each other personally.

 

Dr Veena Adige, our panelist from India, described CSW62 as follows:

The Kaleidoscope of the thousands of women who attended the CSW62 revealed that women the world over have similar problems, solutions and thinking. The energy, the excitement and exchange of ideas can be transformed into a better world for all. Though women who live in rural areas are at a higher risk of being left behind, the 50-50 in 2030 can soon become a reality. I saw that there was no discrimination among the delegates, there were instant friendships made, business contacts fixed and future plans made. There was laughter in the cafes in the UN but pin drop silence during the sessions. Temple of Understanding certainly paved the way to better understanding of people and situations. I enjoyed the whole program.

 

Listening to women peacemakers, who struggle for lasting peace based on justice.

 

The Women’s Major Group (WMG) holds introductory and strategy sessions when so many women members from around the world are in NYC for the CSW.

 

TOU Executive Director Alison Van Dyk reported that:

There were two main concerns from women around the world at the CSW parallel events this year: the persistent practice of FGM [female genital mutilation] and the trafficking of young women. What I heard in workshop after workshop was like a déjà vu of the UN Woman’s Conference in Beijing in 1995 but with the uncomfortable realization that things have gotten worse, not better. It is criminal that women are still being subjected to the dangerous practice of FGM and that worldwide, women have to put up with a nightmarish situation of sexual abuse, condoned and coordinated by a cartel that is lethal and spans the globe.  Non-profit organizations are valiantly trying to stop these horrific conditions, but their work feels like a mere drop in the bucket. The question we have to ask ourselves is: why has this gotten so out of control?  

 

The assassination of City Council member Marielle Franco of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during the CSW brought home again the need to defend our women human rights defenders around the globe.

Listening to Emilia Reyes after her meeting with the Philippine Mission. We protested the listing of activists as terrorists, and the government listened.

 

Our colleagues report on successful negotiations inside the UN. Using “family” allows for diversity and is generally much broader than “the family,” which implies a stereotypical nuclear family. This was a huge win in the negotiations. Conservative groups also reported success because sexual orientation language was dropped from the outcome document. Multilateral negotiations are battles of strategy and compromise.

Good friends Sakena Yacoobi and Audrey Kitagawa after the memorial service. It’s so important to have time and space to share values, pain, memories and spirit.

 

Peaceful protest is a civil responsibility and an act of solidarity.

 

The experience of coming to CSW is empowering for many women. Louisa Eikhomun, the Executive Director of Echoes of Women in Africa, writes in detail of her experience, and commends Women Thrive Alliance for making it possible for grassroots women to attend and raise their concerns. 

Photos by Grove Harris

#MarchForOurLives – Photos from NYC

The NYC March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018 was huge, lively and both festive and serious. So many young people, and people of all ages, came together affirming life and demanding change in the U.S. gun culture and laws. Many called for a ban on assault weapons for civilians.

I spoke with a veteran watching on the side of the march who was dismayed to see the NRA characterized as a terrorist organization, although he agreed that their marketing tactics were problematic. He thought the polarized communications on both sides needed to be toned down. In this age of social media tweets, texts, and massive personal data harvesting and manipulation, we still need to talk to people one on one about our differences of opinion.

–Grove Harris, TOU UN Representative

Sisters in the streets.

 

Marching was a family affair.

 

Veterans for Peace show up everywhere.

 

Values on display.

 

Root cause and solution.

 

Clarity.

 

A religious voice.

 

Values called out.

 

Friends marching in NYC.

 

Grandparents backing up the youth.

 

Calling on men.

 

“Enough” in Hebrew.

 

All photos by Grove Harris.