Sunday, March 27, 2011

This is what Peace Education looks like

This is us getting ready to have our final group photo taken before ALP students leave. Diana is missing because she's setting the timer on the camera for the REAL photo. Haru, bottom right corner is manifesting our group sadness that our time together is coming to an end soon.
Someone took this picture during class. Our heads are heavy with knowledge. That's why we're propping them up. Not because we are exhausted from 3 weeks of class, plus final project. We're watching a group present a draft version of some of their guidelines and indicators for their project.

Goodbye ALP!

This is Chisato, from Japan, one of the 3 ALP students in Peace Ed. She's flying back to Manilla tomorrow along with Haru (Canada/Japan). Myo (Burma) will join them next week. It's very strange to think of class w/o them. And it reminds us that we've got a lot more goodbyes coming up in just 2 short months. So not ready for that.

3 As hard at work

This was my group for our Cultures and Learning final project. Myo (Burma) and Rosemary (Zambia). During the final week of the course we were meeting for 3 hours/day in addition to our 3 hour class and at least 3 hours of reading & writing. We named ourselves the 3 As because we are from Asia, Africa and (North) America.

Some things that have happened

  • My group finished our giant final project for the class that ended Friday! A day ahead of the official due date, a day behind our self imposed due date. We wanted to have the full 4 day weekend but are settling for 3. Final page count for our complete Cultures and Learning toolkit- 105 pages.
  • We said goodbye to the students from ALP (Asian Leaders Program). They go back to Manilla for some Asia specific classes, then do an internship, then graduate in October. We're going to miss them very much! I will especially miss my roommate Por. The odds of coming home to the delicious smell of Thai food cooking are going to decrease significantly. The good news is she's in Media so she's staying 1 extra week til her current class finishes.
  • I read a lot.
  • The Peace Ed class put together a Brown Bag program for International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (March 21st). We did little scenes about discrimination and I played a racist realtor. We sang a South African protest song.
  • There was an earthquake in Japan. There are 7 or 8 (I think) students from Japan as part of ALP and we're all just heartbroken for what is happening in their country. Fortunately, all of their relatives are accounted for and alive, which seems miraculous. Midori, an amazing pianist and vocalist, is from Sendai, one of the coastal cities that basically got washed away by the tsunami. Having seen before and after pictures, I just can't imagine how devastating it must feel to think of your hometown being erased while you were away.
  • Libya is a mess and we talked about it in class.
  • I finished my re-revised thesis proposal! And it got approved!
  • I learned that outside of the US, no one knows who Glen Beck is. And I felt better.
  • I rode a bicycle! Two times! Borrowed from Michele, my landfamily's daughter. Hills. Yeah.
  • Noche Latina-a fantastic party thrown by our classmates from Latin America. So much dancing.
  • Africa Night- a fantastic party thrown by our classmates from Africa. Just so happened to fall on the day that Mubarak stepped down. Our Vice Rector, Amr, is from Egypt and was dressed head to toe in traditional garb, absolutely beaming.
Actually, thrown in a lot more "I read things" and "I wrote things" plus "I slept" and "I ate beans and rice" and that's pretty much everything that has happened.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

International Women's Day

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. Inter-what for who? ask the Americans. Before going to work for Zonta Foundation (dedicated to the advancing the status of women everywhere) a few years ago, I had never heard of this day either. But now I come to find out that in other countries, particularly African countries, it's an actual 'things are closed, no school today' holiday!

At UPEACE we are celebrating the day by wearing red (men and women alike), women are wearing red flowers in their hair and there's an amazing display of art by women in the Atrium. Coincidentally, it's also LGBT Week here at UPEACE (the first one ever!) so there was a fascinating Brown Bag Lunch about the 'origins' of homosexuality. It was one of the most well attended Brown Bags I've seen and I was glad to see some students that I know are challenged by homosexuality in the audience. Some of our students come from countries where homosexuality is illegal and where, in some cases, the death penalty has been suggested as a punishment. In the Q&A session afterwards one student spoke at length about his perspective and his belief that homosexuality is something one is 'indoctrinated' into and not part of God's intent. Afterward I saw this student talking with the guest lecturer, who had identified himself as gay and had made a very cogent presentation about misperceptions and misinterpretations of, for example, the Biblical texts most often offered as proof of God's condemnation of homosexuality. The thing that struck me was that the two were laughing as they spoke and shook hands as they parted. Neither one had changed the other's mind but at the very least, they had a conversation and on the surface at least, were engaging with each other as human beings. I wish I were aware of more conversations like that happening in the US.

But back to International Women's Day. After my recent service with UN Women at UPMUNC, I'm more sensitive than usual to both the accomplishments of women around the world and the far distance we still have to travel towards equity and equality. And I mean in the US as well. For one of my recent classes we watched a documentary about how the media participated in the Bush administrations push for war in Iraq after 9/11. Every single one of the reporters that was interviewed was a white man. Every politician they showed- with the exception of Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell- was a white man. Every expert in the field of intelligence, terrorism, etc.- a white man. As far as we have come, its still possible to study a major US event in relation to 2 powerful institutions (government and media) and not even mention more than 2 women (Judith Miller got some coverage but declined to be interviewed). Sigh.

Happy International Women's Day everyone! Be inclusive! Hug a feminist!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

UPMUNC Day 3: Return of Resolution!

Dearest friends and family, it is a measure of my deep affection for all of you that I'm writing this post before I surrender to the oblivion of sleep. Being a delegate is exhausting!

UN Women was a hive of productivity today, passing 3(!) resolutions and issuing an official statement regarding the tragic, real events in Côte d'Ivoire when security forces fired on a large group of protesters, primarily women, killing 6 of them. The picture you see is of us working on our statement during an unmoderated caucus. Once it was finished I was selected by my peers to read it for the media. It was like a mini-press conference. I read the statement in front of our whole group plus a flock of journalists and 2 cameras and then answered questions for a few minutes. As a new UN body, in addition to responding to the string of incidents involving violence against women we felt it was important to put ourselves and our mission forward, making our mark as the sole UN body dedicated to gender issues. Then we got back to our other work.

We passed two resolutions re: mass rapes in Congo, one addressing immediate short term needs and the other addressing long term strategies. And in the final seconds of the day we passed a resolution re: property rights for women. Our first 3 resolutions were also approved by the Security Council but there wasn't time for them to be presented our final resolution. The day ended with a closing ceremony in which we heard from the Ambassador from the Netherlands, we all got participation certificates and I even got an award for Best Delegate of UN Women. I'm honored, of course, though I thought the delegate from Chile deserved it more. She's done a number of previous MUNs and was very well versed in the rules, procedures and language. We definitely couldn't have accomplished as much as we did without her.

Drinks and dancing, the standard way to close out any UPEACE event, finished up the evening. All the bands the UPMUNC Board got to play at our opening and closing receptions were really terrific- a great sampling of music from around the world with India, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean all represented. I wonder if the real UN ends their sessions with dancing. Maybe later I'll draft a resolution recommending it to them.

Photo taken by Joann Arawayan of the delegates from India, Chile, Haiti, Guatemala and France from left to right.

Friday, March 4, 2011

UPMUNC Day 2: Attack of the Media!

Another hastily scrawled post after a hard day of negotiating.

Day 2 was nothing but committee work, all day long. Committee work constantly interrupted by breaking news from our simulated media. Not wanting to incite a War of the Worlds incident I'll say again, the following "news" is not real. When we arrived this morning we immediately received word that Libya had cluster bombed an opposition held area on its eastern border killing 300 civilians including 200 women. While our committee was drafting a resolution condemning this act and recommending the provision of humanitarian aid we received more updates. The Libyans crossed into Egyptian territory while pursuing fleeing opposition members and bombed an Egyptian highway; Egypt threatened retaliation; it turned out the initial bombing damaged an oil processing facility and oil was spilling into the Mediterranean Sea; 2 female Italian bloggers were kidnapped, apparently by soldiers from the Libyan government and videotape of their torture was released; the Security Council convened an emergency session; there was no end to the madness. With each incident we had to stop, decide whether or not UN Women needed or was empowered to respond, constantly distracting us from the topics at hand. While all of that was happening we were also receiving from journalists and bloggers- through UPMUNC's facebook page- stories and commentaries on what each UN body was and was not doing. The commentator from the Guardian was a particular thorn in everyone's side.

We managed to pass our first resolution- the one condemning Libya's actions- shortly after lunch and after some regrouping were able to get back to the topic of mass rapes in DRC. We decided to impose some structure on our consumption of information from the media, checking in every 1/2 hour. We also got better at issuing our own statements regarding our progress, ending each one with "and we continue monitoring the situation in Libya and Egypt" so that we couldn't be accused of ignoring developments. In the last 2 hours of the day we finally got to roll up our sleeves and dig into the particulars of what we could do to address the problem in both the short and the long term. At one point I had about 10 different windows open on my laptop, each with a different report, resolution or press release from the UN. You really get the sense that everything has been thought of, everything has been spelled out but only fractions have then been funded, implemented or acted upon. Today's 'shake your tiny fist at the absurdity of it all' moment was the realization that MONUSCO has already developed a comprehensive strategy for addressing gender based violence in DRC, which was approved by the government of the DRC in 2009, but 2 years later the strategy has received less than 20% of the $56 million it needs to be implemented.

And now the delegate from Haiti moves for an Unmoderated Caucus lasting 8 hours for the purpose of consulting with Haiti's pillow on important matters of state. Raising a Point of Personal Privilege, the delegate further requests that said consultation be conducted in a quiet room, as Haiti's pillow has a tendency to whisper and therefore be very difficult to hear. As a corollary and to increase the delegate's auditory faculty, Haiti also requests that the room be dark, the inhibition of the sense of sight being commonly held to improve the sense of hearing. The delegate from Haiti thanks the honorable chairs for their consideration and solemnly recommends the other delegates take this opportunity to consult with their pillows as well.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


This is going to be a very hastily (and therefore not carefully) written entry offering highlights and observations of the first day of UPMUNC. That delightful acronym (pronounced up-monk) stands for University for Peace Model United Nations Conference and apparently it's a big deal in the world of MUNs (Model United Nations) because we are the UN mandated University for Peace and so our MUN is sponsored by a number of embassies here in Costa Rica and we get a personal message from the Secretary General. This is my first MUN and thus far the experience is both fascinating and bewildering.

I'm representing Haiti on the newly created UN Women's Commission and we've got mass rapes in DRC and property rights for women on our agenda. We had only a few days to give ourselves a crash course in our countries, the issues and our country's stance on the issues, in addition to finishing up our most recent course. Then we had one day to write a position paper synthesizing all of the above into our recommendation to our committee. Haiti, as you might imagine, is a depressing country to research, rife with conflict, corruption and some of the worst luck in the world with no resources or strategic position to balance the scales. We (for as a delegate I represent Haiti, not myself) are ourselves the subject of a UN peacekeeping mission and with a catastrophic increase in violence against women and girls since the earthquake last year we are also in a unique position to appreciate the situation in the DRC.

Procedure in committee is very formal- special language and phrasing abounds and pages and pages of parliamentary procedure must be adhered to. What's wonderful though is that in spite of all the strictures and structures corsetting discussions, we're all deeply invested in the process and in our roles as delegates. We continue strategizing through coffee breaks and lunch and even the after party, looking for ways to build consensus, advance our positions, sometimes by leaking stories to the press (yeah, we've even got a simulated press core with everything from television news anchors to citizen bloggers).

I've learned so much already about how the UN and UN peacekeeping missions work, including things I find tragic and shocking. For example, the UN has very little recourse when it comes to addressing violations committed by peacekeepers themselves. The nation contributing the troops conducts the investigation into charges against peacekeepers and they are under no obligation to even report their findings. Nations tend not to want to give up sovereignty over their own forces and if the UN were to insist on greater oversight, they fear no country would volunteer its troops. So a country to which peacekeepers have been posted knows, practically speaking, those peacekeepers are not accountable to them OR the UN.

Opening day wrapped up with a great reception and fantastic music from a kirtan band and a local Tica band. Dancing and hobnobbing with ambassadors ensued.

One last note: none of us was allowed to represent the country we're actually from, in order to maximize the learning. I was chatting with Francis at the after party- he's from Uganda and representing the US on the security council. He'd taken off his name/country badge because he was tired of being harassed by all and sundry. It's hard to be the US, he told me. Yeah, I said, when you're surrounded by people from countries you've interfered with, it hard to be from the US.