Thursday, January 3, 2008

11/28/07: A United Nations Day Trip

On November 28th, 2007, seven branch members traveled to the United Nations. AAUW-NYS is one of the co-sponsors of the League of Women Voters' annual briefing at the UN in NYC.

This year's topic was Briefings on the Effects of War on Women Around the World.

Trip impressions follow.

Garnette Arledge: We left Kingston at a peach and rose dawn, shortly pulling off the FDR Highway to see the sun highlighting the UN tower. I hadn't been there for 30 years; my heart soared to see the symbol of one Earth. Such hope and necessity founded this institution. We immediately found security was high, school groups and tourists, official visitors, an
international melee.

The tour focuses on world tragedies amidst some spectacular art work donated by member nations: nine-foot carved ivory from China too delicate to imagine the artists' eyes; intricate Persian wood and gold gateway; giant sculpture and murals from multiple nations. An outlaw NY cockroach almost Kafkaesque crept out of the ceiling over the display of women's deprivations.

I have not yet released the image of nuclear radiation: 8- and 10-year-old male and female soldiers, super-billions of dollars for weaponry vs. millions for health care, etc.

And then the briefing: Speaker Sylvia Hordosch cataloging the too-horrible to be named sexual abuses of women around the world perpetrated as acts of war. I knew about rape but to destroy a woman's ability to bear children as an act of war. To impregnate as an act of war. To abort as an act of war.

Yet, as horrific as the presentations could have been, Sylvia enabled me to understand that one of the major roles of the UN is to observe, catalog, and report to the world what is out of personal sight due to global distance.

So how have I dealt with the sorrows of our potentially beautiful planet?

For me, and I am not suggesting my way is to be your way, I have upgraded my prayer time. Somehow, despite the inspiring array of the nations' flags, the encouragement of seeing so many multi-cultural peoples serving and working for a united nations, I came away resolving to take a part that works for me. I can, and do, pray more.

It was of great benefit personally for me have the opportunity offered by the AAUW to be reminded of the UN. I am not really able to actively know what the ins-and-outs of international policy, life and death squabbles in the UN, although I can imagine. What I can do well as Rev. Matthew Fox suggested is “pray the news.”

ViVi Hlavsa: Most memorable to me was the statistic that in 1950, the civilian population constituted 5% of the deaths from war; now the figure is 70%! And most of these people are, of course, women and children.

I found myself somewhat disappointed to return to the site where, as a teenager, we had all been so full of hope for the UN. Although many of their goals have been achieved since that time (for example, the decolonization of most of the world), the UN seems enmeshed in intractable power politics, especially with the rise of the new form of colonialism – globalization.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the good company of fellow Kingstonians at lunch and on the ride home.

Susan Holland: On our way to the General Assembly Hall, we passed through a corridor in which both walls were lined with large color photographs, each of a single child in native dress, from countries all over the world. Then came a huge inverted triangle painted on the left wall. The largest part at the top showed the billions and billions we spend on all things military, compared to the much smaller parts of the triangle below for everything else: incidentals such as the environment, education, and health care.

Our guide, a young Japanese woman, next focused our attention on a small glass display case holding remnants of melted coins and clothing – fallout from the atomic bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. At the center of the disarmament exhibit: a statue of St. Agnes, which once stood in front of a Nagasaki church. The church was completely destroyed in the explosion. The 1.5-ton statue fell forward, lost its right arm, and sustained ripples on its back from the radiation.

As I circled the stone saint, tears blinded my eyes. What have we learned in the past 62 years?

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