Monday, March 2, 2009

Human rights & Greg M. @ the UN

On January 30, I was fortunate to be able to attend Protecting Human Rights: The United Nations – Our Schools, at the UN Headquarters in New York City. This event, the 11th in a series of annual conferences for educators and concerned citizens, was organized by the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations (CTAUN) and the UN Department of Public Information (UN/DPI).

A record 800 people attended (32 were AAUW members). As we filed into the huge conference room, we each received a handy tote bag. Inside, I discovered a folder chock full of useful handouts, and a lovely surprise, a copy of Three Cups of Tea, a gift from the keynote speaker.

The full-day program focused on what each of us can do to promote an understanding of human rights. In the morning, Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director of the NY Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave an impassioned talk on The 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Challenges and Opportunities. The afternoon session included a panel on Teaching about Human Rights with the dynamic Shulamith Koenig, President of the People's Movement for Human Rights Learning and a live, interactive videoconference with students and teachers in British Columbia, Cameroon, and Pakistan.

This year’s keynote speaker was Greg Mortenson, co-author of the bestseller Three Cups of Tea (which just came out in a young readers’ edition and a children’s picture book edition) and co-founder of the non-profit organizations Central Asia Institute and Pennies for Peace. We learned in his introduction that he had just come from Washington, D.C., where he was meeting with members of the U.S. Senate and Congress, as he is being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

Greg spoke and showed slides about his background and the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and showed a brief video about Pennies for Peace. Afterward, various schoolchildren who had been collecting for this worthy cause presented him with checks from their fundraising efforts.

During his talk, Greg noted that the publishers of Three Cups of Tea insisted on using the subtitle One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism … One School at a Time on the book cover. He was not happy about this and met with them to tell them so. They informed him that he didn’t know anything about the publishing business. He made a deal with them – if the hardcover didn’t do well, he wanted to use his subtitle on the paperback. Hardcover sales were not as brisk as expected, so when the paperback came out, Greg got his wish. The paperback's subtitle is: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time. Book sales skyrocketed!

At the end of the day, I took the opportunity to browse through the UN Bookstore. By the time I closed it down and returned to the conference room, the book-signing line was down to a dull roar. I queued up, and was thrilled to meet Greg, shake his hand, express my heartfelt thanks for all he has accomplished, and get his autograph on my book. What a great day!

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