On March 16, 2018, WFWP International co-sponsored a parallel event with The Guild of Service as part of the 62nd UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) on the theme "Engaging the Rural Family: The Vital Role of Education." The speakers shared their insights on the role and importance of education and sustainable methods of supporting rural communities.
The event started in anticipation and excitement as around 135 people filled the room on the second floor of the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City. There was a friendly atmosphere as members of several different women's NGOs and participants of CSW62 greeted each other.
Ms. Krista Smith, a recent graduate of the University of Bridgeport's College of Public and International Affairs, served as emcee and co-chair of this event. She invited Ms. Meera Khanna, a writer, poet, social activist and the Executive Vice President of the Guild of Service in India, to open the program.
Ms. Khanna acknowledged that we are all "comrades on the path to women's empowerment" and expressed her delight at creating new bonds with WFWPI and young women. She launched into a description of India's challenges and barriers, such as how 69% of the population are illiterate, that there is a very high level of violence against women, and that women, especially rural women and girls, are marginalized in society. However, Ms. Khanna passionately spoke of the key role of education and how it intersects with the aforementioned challenges. She drew attention to the way we conceptualize "education" - that education does not only exist in the classroom, but how indigenous "barefoot knowledge" is also very important. "This makes sense because traditional knowledge is [also] knowledge," said Ms. Khanna. The audience applauded enthusiastically as she said, "There is an absolute paradigm shift! The way we educate in India is changing."
The next speaker, Ambassador Isaiah Chabala, former Permanent Representative of Zambia to the UN, gave his address by first acknowledging his faith and warmly spoke about all of us being "one human family." Ambassador Chabala focused on what we can do rather than on the challenges of those in rural communities. He spoke about his experience after retiring as Permanent Representative, feeling called to social justice ministry to advocate for orphans and widows who were in need, and to promote the empowerment of women within the UN. Ambassador Chabala confidently stated "I've become a women's activist" and stressed the need to meditate and go back to God to become activists ourselves.
Dr. Bishnu Maya Pariyar, founding President of the Association of Dalit Women Advancement in Nepal, was welcomed next to expound on her experience working with Dalit women and children in Nepal through micro-funding, education, empowerment and sustainable farming. Dr. Pariyar shared the moving and emotional story of her rural upbringing in Nepal, one of challenge and humiliation. However, through the support of her loving family and the Peace Corps, she was able to transform her life through education. "It was suffering," she said. "[However] I turned that to love and power!"
Through her inspirational story, she highlighted the power of practicing a logic of love in her own life and work. Dr. Pariyar passionately shared how she started her organization in order to help those who are marginalized, especially by gender. "Education is Human rights!" she exclaimed. "We want to make sure that no one is left behind!" Dr. Pariyar's ardent delivery ignited the audience into vigorous applause, especially when she ended with "educating the girl is educating the whole community."
The next speaker, Dr. Sandra Barrueco, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the Catholic University of America, spoke about her intervention approaches for young ethnically and linguistically diverse children and families, including migrant and seasonal farm workers from Mexico, in the United States. Dr. Barrueco highlighted the success of a family-focused, multi-generational approach, such as English as a Second Language classes as a family. Migrant worker families have complex and multifaceted challenges. Many of these families suffer from depression, emotional pain, displacement, and lack of time with their children. According to Dr. Barrueco, it is important to empower women and families by listening to their stories. Children's education is not only a child's issue, she stated, but also a family one. Through intergenerational learning with families, Dr. Barrueco believes that children can learn and develop in a holistic and more successful way.
The final panelist was a young professional who is a doctoral candidate at Yale University, Ms. Maile T. Phillips, who shared her experience in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leone with a girls club initiative. The club focused on their empowerment and educational themes of goal-setting, leadership and sexual and reproductive health. Through working with the families of these young girls and their community, Ms. Phillips was able to encourage more girls to attend school.
In closing, Ms. Alexa Ward, Director of WFWPI's UN Office in New York, explained how this event was primarily organized by a young adult team from WFWPI, which included the Emcee, Krista Smith, co-chair Maryam Farooq, Dustin Knoblauch, , and Naria Garder, who were met with great appreciation from the speakers and participants.
After the event concluded, there was a warm, inspiring atmosphere of support and solidarity among those present. The guest speakers and participants shared and took pictures, leaving an impression that creating an intergenerational, collaborative spirit is the way forward.
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