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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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
All photos by Grove Harris.
Legal Mechanisms to Eradicate Poverty & Achieve Sustainable Development
Side event for the UN’s 56th Commission for Social Development 2018
February 7, 2018
Presentation by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations, Temple of Understanding
Thank you for the invitation to join this panel.
So much is interconnected in all the sustainable development goals, and the eradication of poverty requires efforts on many fronts. My colleague Winifred Doherty has laid out efforts within the UN over years, with treaties and agreements. Our convener Denise Scotto has affirmed the value of action from all. We each can act, and act now. All of the Temple of Understanding’s work contributes towards a common welfare where we all have enough.
Ecological Justice is crucial – we all need clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and health free from chemical affronts, including pesticides.
Food Sovereignty speaks to local control over agriculture and food, including seeds and methods of production. We call for a shift towards earth-centered politics and economics, and collective restraint of corporate exploitation.
The Human Right to Water requires an ongoing struggle to protect and increase community control and prevent exploitation and privatization of water, a common (and sacred) good.
Interfaith Education is important to regain curiosity and respect for our neighbors, and counter the “othering” that impoverishes our communities, our psyches, and our world.
Peacemaking, which practically defined requires food, water, and health, is crucial for ending poverty. War only profits the arms manufacturers, and it devastates communities and the environment.
Women’s Initiatives are essential, as women are much more likely to be impoverished, along with their children, and gender justice can begin to redress this, for the good of the entire community. Poverty brings intense vulnerability and is systemic.
How can we get at the heart of systems and act for real change?
- We need to break up concentrated wealth.
- We need to focus on community flourishing.
- We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”
- We need to protect frontline human rights defenders.
- We need to act, aligning our spirit, our hearts, and hands.
We need to break up concentrated wealth.
The concentration of wealth into the hands of the very few is strangling the opportunities of communities. Redistribution is key, through creative changes in the system. Some examples (U.S. based) provide some hope for real change:
How about free higher education? In California, this could be funded by reinstating the state’s estate tax on wealth over 3.5 million. This idea has been put forth by Chuck Collins in Common Dreams.
How about reclaiming the markets for debt? The Occupy Movement has been buying up medical debt for pennies on the dollar, freeing people with major illness from devastating debt burdens, and then asking them to contribute towards freeing the next person. Can we do the same for educational debt? What about Puerto Rico, where one man in Boston bought up most of the country’s debt for pennies on the dollar, investing for “profit” (in this case greed) rather than shared prosperity?
How about holding corporations responsible for contributing to climate change? For example, New York City is suing the top five oil companies to recoup damages from super storm Sandy, holding them responsible for climate impacts and their prior knowledge of environmental damage. NYC is also moving to divest.
How about holding governments responsible? Youth are suing the U.S federal government in courts – and winning – over their right to a future without environmental degradation, and government’s neglect in not protecting that.
How about shinning more light on the lengthy and slow work at the United Nations in Geneva towards an international legally binding treaty for corporate responsibility for Human Rights?
We need to focus on community flourishing.
Daniel Perell spoke of community flourishing in the opening statement he delivered on behalf of the NGO Committee for Social Development. Clearly, we must shift from individualism and defining success by profit for the few. Our individual struggles must be collective ones, ending poverty on a community basis, with goods and services circulating locally as well as nationally and internationally, in ways that distribute technology and leap frog towards more environmental sustainability, while supporting local strength and advancement. Cooperatives, credit unions, and community-based service delivery systems must be enhanced. Re-localizing agriculture is essential, along with other service provisions. For example, in the U.S. the crisis of care for dementia is beginning to be addressed by locally based, free caregiver support systems. There is great need, and so great opportunity, and it can be approached in collective, supportive, grassroots ways.
Access to world markets and goods, technology and capital essential for economic miracles must be tempered by human rights, by full cycle design and upcycling. Community prosperity is key, and governments must benefit from the prospering of business, not just subsidize that private prosperity. Protection of the risks of entrepreneurs and investors must be tempered – the most vulnerable suffer risks every day without protection. We need social systems where no one is expendable and protection is available to all, from investors to the most vulnerable.
Riki Ott, who served the Alaskan community after the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster, found herself very useful, with her academic training in oceanography and the accompanying patience for reports and intellectual work, to the community of fisher people. Her legal work brought financial rewards to the community, but those funds brought challenges of divisiveness and opportunity for some but not for all. Her ongoing work to bring oil companies to task for the risks they run that inevitably lead to catastrophes and costs born by the environment and communities includes reaching out to law students, to train them to bring cases against all businesses that have not follow the due diligence laws already on the books. Many do not have legally mandated emergency response plans and means in place. In this sense, legal remedy for poverty looks like holding businesses accountable to existing laws, and can include work against the dark economy and illicit avoidance of taxation, profiteering drug and arms trading etc.
Poverty is not strictly economic – it can be cultural. Lack of human compassion, of human touch, and of welcoming community are part of what drive isolation and economic insanity. People who survive eating sugar rather than real food, by being fed on advertizing rather than information or literature, shopping to fill holes in heart and soul, being driven to drugs rather than more balanced lifestyles, are impoverished. They are vulnerable to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, struggling without community solutions to problems that cannot be managed by individuals or nuclear families in isolation. We cannot face powerlessness alone, and in coming together with others we can discover some power and flourish in community.
Indigenous peoples are fighting around the globe to protect sacred lands and sacred waters. They honor their spiritual commitments and interconnectedness and resist in community. I watched live web cast of native people at Standing Rock facing water cannons at night in the freezing cold of winter, protecting their sacred waters, which also protected the entire watershed and the water used by everyone downstream. While these people may not have the means to afford material comforts, they have a richness that cannot be denied.
We need to get much smarter about “partnerships.”
There is much eager talk about partnerships to achieve the SDGs, and usually meaning between corporations and governments. There is very little discussion of the dynamics of partnerships and the differing interests and accountabilities of the parties. Corporations serve their shareholders via profit, and governments sometimes serve their citizens and other times serve their financial backers. In our interconnected world, none of this happens in a vacuum.
Dictionary definitions can lift up multiple layers of meaning.
Partner – one that is united or associated with another or others in an activity or sphere of common interest, especially a member of a business partnership or a spouse (emphasis added). Middle English, alteration of parcener. Partner implies equal status.
Partnership is a legal contract entered into by two or more persons in which each agrees to furnish a part of the capital and labor for a business enterprise, and by which each shares a fixed proportion of profits and losses. Mutual cooperation and responsibility is mentioned.
Parcener – (coparcener) one of two or more persons sharing an inheritance, a joint heir (emphasis added).
(All excerpted from the American Heritage Dictionary – Fourth Edition, 2000)
Our business partnerships can be subject to the same abuses that marriage partnerships sometimes involve. Business needs more than capital and labor – all extractive industries take from the earth without replenishment. Natural resources are depleted – a common inheritance is taken from the public domain and misused as an invisible part of the model, for private profit.
Clearly there are large costs to be anticipated in negotiating major contractual partnerships, and globally a track record of dismal results from megaprojects and water privatization schemes. And the “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the American dollar does not protect our common inheritance of clean and accessible water, or clean air or clean soil.
Protect frontline environmental human rights defenders.
Legal mechanisms continue to be developed, and it is a cutting edge question as to how international human rights law can effectively protect frontline environmental human rights defenders. Note the diplomatic sentence on page 10 of the NGO Mining Working Group Water guide, “There are significant gaps in existing national and international legal frameworks for pursuing accountability against transnational corporations for human rights abuses.” We must remain cognizant that many front line defenders are making the ultimate sacrifice. For example, Berta Caceres of Honduras was murdered after numerous death threats for her work defending a watershed against a dam project. Her international recognition with a Goldman environmental prize did not save her life. And outrage over her murder did not save the life of others in her organization, murdered within the year.
What has been effective in this case has been the lobbying of the investors in the dam, who have withdrawn their funds. Hopefully legislation introduced in the US House will have some impact, prohibiting funds for Honduras police and military. H.R. 5474, The Berta Caceres Human Rights in Honduras Act is held up in committee; it outlines a set of measures and is available online. Similarly, a second bill H.R. 1299, March 2, 2017 seeks to protect front line activists and farmers who have been murdered defending their water and land.
The Women’s Major Group has developed a method of highlighting these tragic deaths at UN conferences. A group of women put tape over their mouths, and as the names of those murdered defending water and land are read, a woman pulls of the tape and says “presente”. This is an attempt to bring voice to the voiceless, and call for necessary change on violations of the rule of law. May all of us remember the impacts on the ground of the issues debated here at the United Nations.
I have colleagues in the room who regularly refer to their congregations around the globe to find out how they might usefully shine a light on human rights abuses. There are times when such attention might further endanger the lives of those on the front lines. There’s a useful manual about how to appropriately engage in solidarity. For those of us lifting up the stories of others, it’s about respecting their circumstances and their wishes, and not making the story about ourselves. We need to keep the focus our mutual concerns, which are the water and land and their preservation for this and future generations.
In conclusion, we are called to act.
We need to act, aligning our spirit, our heads, our hearts, our hands and our feet.
- Be alert to ‘fake’ language that covers over privatization that will benefit the few at the expense of the community.
- Use U.N. mechanisms to support calls for action at local levels.
- Lobby funders of development projects that are trampling on human rights.
- Fund effective interventions like self-defense training for girls and self-respect training for boys.
- Collaborate with those more in the know. Religious activists can work with local community experts and with global advocacy experts.
- Plan on grief, my own and others’. We need to support each other and understand that anger may be a response to grief.
- Align our values and passion with action.
- Welcome others to this work.
- Own our own vulnerability. Avoid rigid defenses, to be able to respond rather than react to ongoing assaults.
- Take Sabbath time, meditation time, and prayer time to help renew, refresh, and maintain clear focus.
- Each of us can own whatever privilege we have, and strategize about how to use it.
- Listen. Listen. To the Earth, to children, to the sacred. And to other people.
A Report on the NYC Women’s March, January 20, 2018
From Grove Harris, TOU’s Main UN Representative
The 2018 NYC Women’s March started with those converging on the subway, where the city is doing its part to promote supportive roles for men.
Crowd control is part of any large scale march, with long periods of waiting as good times to socialize. I met participants ranging in age from two months to 97 years. Marching bands and creative, poignant signs along with warm weather supported the community take-over of the city streets.
Kindness emerged as a fundamental value, and this year many men came to stand in full support of women’s empowerment. Many made this a family event.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s words were lifted up, linking religion and social action.
Marching, as one type of activism, seems to be the new normal.
You can hear speaker Halsey’s poem “A Story Like Mine” on YouTube:
[All photos by Grove Harris]
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:
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
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.
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!
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.
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.)
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).”
Other Civil Society colleagues prepared an overview of the country reports:
“Voluntary National Reviews: What are countries prioritizing?” (Conclusions appended below.)
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.