Women of the World at the United Nations

That first view of Manhattan is always a thrill but never more so than knowing we were headed for the United Nations.

Every conceivable event, product, food, seems to have its own day or month: March alone runs the gamut from ridiculous to serious, from National Ear Muff Day to International Women’s Month. Although it was chilly enough for the former, it was in honor of the latter that I, along with friend and colleague, Attorney Eleanor Breslin of Easton, traveled to New York to attend the United Nation’s Conference on the Status of Women. 

Eleanor and I share a desire to have a positive impact on the struggles of women in the developing world, especially in post-conflict countries where war and violence have resulted in many women being subjected to brutality beyond the imagining of most westerners. Eleanor has traveled to Africa to work with victims of mass rape and I have been to Afghanistan as both an advocate and writer. We have found outlets for our passion on this side of the ocean through two NGO’s, The Business Council for Peace, Bpeace, an organization whose focus is creating women entrepreneurs who will then create jobs, and Open A Door Foundation, OAD, who believes in global transformation through women’s higher education.

Four of OAD’s students are currently in the Lehigh Valley, three at Lehigh University and one at Lafayette College. More will be coming in the fall of 2014, including the addition of a student at Muhlenberg College.  It was at the invitation of OAD that Eleanor and I boarded a bus bound for New York and the United Nations’ CSW Conference.

To call our experience “inspiring” would be an understatement. Sharing the energy of women from around the world all gathered in one place for one purpose, advocating for the welfare of their sisters, creates an atmosphere of “anything is possible”. Eleanor and I especially enjoyed two panel discussions where OAD co-founder, Barbara Bylenga, participated; “Empowering Women as Change-Agents through Global Networking” and “From Higher Education to Women’s Leadership”.

Panel discussion on “Empowering Women as Change-Agents” at the UN Conference on the Status of Women

After spending time in the company of hundreds of women committed to improving conditions for women within their countries, it’s almost easy to envision a future where every woman enjoys equal protection under the law and equal opportunity in their culture. Yet, certain voices remain with me, certain faces are imprinted on my mind days after returning home, like the woman representing a united federation of women’s organizations from the Ukraine, who stood to say that the young women of her country are demanding democracy. And the woman who spoke of the Syrian university students her organization is rescuing so they can continue their education. Through the euphoria of our common purpose, they are a stark reminder of the realities that still exist.

Why should this matter to those of us whose lives are safe and secure? Because where women are repressed, uneducated, brutalized, half of that country’s potential is lost. No economy can thrive without the input of its women. The result is poverty, war, turmoil, and terrorism.

In honor of International Women’s Month, and for the good of the planet, please consider doing your part to have a positive effect on the future of women around the world. Donate; Volunteer; Mentor. One person CAN make a difference.

A Little Piece of World Peace…

Lehigh name tag
My Global Village name tag… A memento of another wonderful year with some of the world’s best and brightest.

This past week has refocused my thoughts on the importance of “international relations”, how important it is for humanity to get along and live together on this planet without killing each other. Every tiny step toward that goal is reassuring even though it often feels like one step forward and two steps back.

For the past eleven years I’ve participated as a “Visiting Executive” in Lehigh University’s Global Village for Future Leaders. Each summer Global Village brings together over one hundred mostly 20 somethings from around the world for an intensive month or so of international leadership training. These are truly some of the best and brightest from nearly fifty countries. Following an afternoon of my lecturing on  “Modern Leadership”, their asking questions and challenging my assertions, and one-on-one interactions about their hopes and dreams, I came away, as I do every year, with the same belief…and prayer, that by the time their generation assumes the world’s leadership roles running governments and international conglomerates, they won’t want to blow each other up. I remain hopeful that such a new global attitude is possible.

One of the reasons I remain hopeful about the big picture is because in my work and travels I have witnessed many small victories taking place all the time, seen what good people can accomplish on a micro scale; how one person can indeed make a difference.

My first trip to Afghanistan occurred in 2006. I accompanied Toni Maloney, co-founder of the Business Council for Peace, (Bpeace), and a group of volunteers on a mission to assist Afghan women to become entrepreneurs. On of our goals was to help Habiba grow the first real daycare center/pre-school program in Kabul, which she was operating out of small house with a courtyard. The children had few toys and no outdoor play equipment. From the time we spent with her it was obvious that what they did have was a lot of love, patience and support from Habiba and her staff, but they needed to provide a proper facility for the children. My generous friends and colleagues contributed $4000 that went directly in to the construction of a new school building. Bepeace’s total effort raised over $30,000 so the children of Kabul could have a safe, clean daycare center.

Habiba and her students in 2013.
Habiba and her students in 2013.

A few days ago, I received a photo from Toni of Habiba today, watching over a new class of students. She and the daycare center are still going strong providing early education to the next generation of Afghans. I’m very proud of the role that I and so many others played in that outcome. Just as I am proud of all the young, smart, savvy Villagers who will return to their countries with a broader knowledge of their global neighbors.

Until that next generation is ready to lead, the world will most likely continue to careen between crisis and hope..from civil war in Syria, a coup in Egypt, to a new proposal of Israeli / Palestinian peace talks. What we can do in the meantime is light candles in the darkness and use them to show the way.





The Desire To Be Free…Through a post 9-11 lens

Today’s column in The Morning Call tells the story of a non-profit organization that brings Afghan entrepreneurs to the U.S. for training and mentoring. To become part of the program, one must already have a functioning small business, go through a rigorous interview process, and be willing to work within a business plan and prescribed level of expected outcomes. The goal is to grow the business and provide employment for as many Afghans as possible. “More jobs mean less violence” is the mantra.

After all the “T’s” are crossed and hoops jumped through, the group is brought to the U.S. for immersion in modern business techniques and set up with internships in their chosen fields. By way of disclaimer; I am a member of the Business Council for Peace (Bpeace) and regularly participate in this program. Considering the obstacles that the average Afghan encounters every day, the success rate of the Bpeace program has been nothing short of amazing: Over 1000 jobs have been created to date, which in such a tight knit familial and tribal based society, translates into thousands of people whose lives have been stabilized and improved.

As a country of immigrants, the United States has always been tolerant and welcoming to people who want to come here. I imagine many of us have tales of family members who arrived on U.S. shores under less than ideal conditions. I personally know of two tales of daring do from people who jumped ship and become productive members of our society.

But that was then and this is now: “Now” is a post 9-11 world where people from other places must be looked at with suspicion, because they may mean to do us harm. And it’s a place where our southern border is a broken dam over which thousands of people pour and disappear into the landscape.

So when someone comes from a place that has been destroyed by 30 years of war, where hope is a fleeting emotion, and the future is uncertain, and decides to disappear because life here, with us, could be so much better, we no longer have the luxury of welcoming them, or even of rooting for them. Now we live in a world where we must worry about their motives…and fear them.

The Statue of Liberty must be weeping.

The Internship Dilemma: No more free lunch

flipping burgersWith summer approaching and unemployment stuck at 9.7%, students looking for a summer job are going to have a tough time, even if they’re willing to flip burgers. Those looking to boost their skill set and resume through a professional internship are really up against the odds.

Summer internships used to be a boon to employers who were looking for “cheap labor” to do filing and answer the phones. As the economy tightened, cheap often became “free”, or internships were eliminated all together.

Looking to build any edge they could in the job market once they graduated, students who could afford to, took the free internships, and moved home with mom and dad, or held another job. According to a recent article in the New York Times, “Employers posted 643 unpaid internships on Stanford University’s job board this academic year, more than triple the 174 posted two years ago.” 

Not so fast: The Federal Labor Department is starting to investigate free internships as possible minimum wage violations. Whether this is a little too much of “Big Brother” is a post for another time,

If you are a college student, or know of one who is looking to gain some valuable international experience this summer, there are some bright spots. One of them, or rather five of them, are  being offered by the “The Business Council for Peace”. Bpeace, headquartered in New York, is an international non-profit coalition of business professionals who believe the path to peace is lined with jobs.

Students accepted as 2010 Bpeace Fellows will work virtually on projects that help developing countries create more employment and lift people out of poverty and violence…and they will be paid. The deadline  to apply is April 19, and the information is available on here on the PR Newswire site.

One Evening…Many Stories

Thread_Postcard-1On Wednesday, March 31, in a little over two weeks, a very special event will take place here in the Lehigh Valley. It’s not a glamorous society outing, although there will be wine and hors d’oeuvres, it doesn’t cost very much money to attend, and what cost there is is a tax deductible contribution to a very worthy cause. Rather it is a one-of-a-kind celebration of love, loss, courage, and most of all the indefatigable strength of the human spirit.

The reason the Benefit Screening of the documentary “Thread”, and the panel discussion that will follow, is so unique is because until now, you would have had to travel to New York or San Francisco to share this experience. But now, the many people and their stories whose lives have intersected a half a world away, will come together, here, at our own Cedar Crest College, for one common cause; to support the rebuilding of Afghanistan and the Afghan women associates of the Business Council for Peace. .

The evening will include members of the Pennsylvania National Guard; heroes who have served in Afghanistan. There will also be well known members of the community whose generosity have helped to support the event; Bob & Sandy Lovett, Vic & Jody Mazziotti, Joe & Judy Kaminski, and Sally Gammon. The producer and director of the film, who took their lives in their hands to make this movie will be there, as well as the founder of Bpeace, who started the organization after witnessing the events of 9-11, firsthand. Palwasha

And there will be Palwasha; young, beautiful, smart and determined to help save her country. Palwasha is one of the Afghan women featured in “Thread”. Out of all the stories that will come together that night; all the “Threads” that will weave the tapestry that is “their” Afghanistan, few will be more moving than hers. Pursued by a village elder for marriage at a young age, her parents refused him and encouraged her to get an education. What was done to save one daughter could not save the other. Palwasha’s younger sister disappeared on her way to school and has never been seen again.

If you would like to hear these stories first hand, to share in this evening that will be like no other, if you would like to help the very brave women of Afghanistan, you can purchase tickets or make a donation, here.

A Little Help For Our Friends

I’ve written many times about my two trips to Afghanistan: The impact those experiences had on me was life-altering. And although the security situation has  prevented me from returning, at least for now, it has not lessened my commitment to continue assisting the women entrepreneurs of Bpeace in whatever way I can.

That is why I, along with many others in the Lehigh Valley, including Cedar Crest College, Steel Valley Raymond James Investment Group, Inc, and my co-host, Attorney Eleanor Breslin, are sponsoring a very special evening event on Wednesday, March 31, in the PalwashaSamuels Theatre at Cedar Crest.

The benefit screening of the documentary “Thread” about five Afghan women who are bravely trying to improve their lives and their country will help Bpeace to continue it’s work in both Afghanistan and Rwanda. The film is an inspiring story of courage and determination that I promise will change your perspective.

The showing of the film will be preceded by a wine reception, and followed by a panel discussion featuring the film’s director and producer, the CEO of Bpeace, and a very special guest, Palwasha, one of the Afghan women featured in the film and the young woman whose photo is above.

Tickets for the film, panel discussion, and dessert reception are a tax deductible contribution of $45. Tickets for all of the preceding, plus the wine reception are a tax deductible contribution of $75. All tickets may be purchased online at www.Bpeace.org/Thread 

Further information and a copy of the invitation to this very special event, are available on this blog by clicking “Special Events” in the top menu bar. Then click on the invitation to enlarge.

I hope to see you on March 31 at Cedar Crest College.  Your support will mean so much to so many. 

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