Over 750 members, students and guests filed into Conference Room 4 of the newly built section of the United Nations to gather for the 7th annual Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference of the United Nations Association, also known as Members’ Day. This is the premier annual event for UNA-USA members to learn about and support the U.N. This conference took place on Friday, February 20th, what turned out to be one of the coldest days on record. However, nothing would alter the plans of the attendees; who once settled inside, were quickly warmed to a day of tremendous presentations from a group of A-list panelists. This year’s theme was The UN at 70: A Year for Bold Action and it centered on what we as global citizens can do to make a difference in our world. Following opening remarks from Conference Co-Chair and President, UNA-USA Southern New York Division Jeanne Betsock Stillman and Vice President of the UN Foundation, Peter Yeo, attention quickly moved to the day’s Welcome Address to be given by a very special guest. Taking Center Stage to a Rousing Applause: “A Genuine Rock Star” Hugh Evans, CEO, Global Poverty Project, had the privilege and honor of introducing the day’s special guest. Mr. Evans began by sharing some prepared remarks with the audience on a very important issue: education. He indicated that 44 million school-age children had been reached through U.N. efforts – a very significant accomplishment. Anticipating the anxiousness in the now very crowded room, Mr. Evans concluded his remarks and introduced the special guest speaker, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. All that was missing this day was the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey", which would have added to the flavor of the moment. Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s address certainly did not disappoint the excited audience. He clearly left the attendees with a message to take back with them to their homes, universities and places of business: Support the U.N. and the positive work it is doing on behalf of many around the world today. The Day Quickly Moved on to the Next Grouping of Panelists It was said that the Secretary-General was a “tough act to follow”, but indeed the day did proceed. The next group was moderated by Jackson Dougan, U.S. Youth Observer to the U.N. The panel was titled, Marching to Paris: The Road to a Climate Deal, and the distinguished panelists included Timothy C. Weiskel, Ph.D., Research Director, Cambridge Climate Research Associates and faculty member, Harvard University. In addition, Professor Weiskel was joined by Mr. Tomas Christensen, Senior Advisor for Partnerships, Executive Office of the Secretary-General, United Nations. Professor Weiskel posed several questions: What’s at stake in Paris: the youth voice? How can the UNA-USA play a key role? What comes next? The most alarming statistic served up by Professor Weiskel was that rising sea-levels, as a result of climate change, threatens 1,400 cities in the United States. This alone should prompt action by government officials and their citizenry. Mr. Christensen urged pension funds to invest in non-fossil fuels. There was an interesting quote that the gentlemen left the attendees with and it was: “We have only one Earth; there is no planet B.” The final panel of the morning, prior to the commencing of the afternoon session, focused upon human rights: UNA-USA in the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights (UPR) and the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The specific title of the session, At Home and Abroad: Activism for Universal Human Rights, was informative and well presented. Aldijana Sisic, Chief, United Nations Trust to End Violence Against Women, UN Women and Justine Lucas, U.S. Country Director, Global Poverty Project spoke of “building new generations of young people” free from violence and eradicating global poverty by 2030. The Global Poverty Project partners with CARE, Save the Children and UNICEF in their fight to end the scourge of poverty. Afternoon Sessions Do Not Disappoint The Keynote Address was presented by Dr. David Nabarro, U.N. Special Envoy on Ebola who captivated the audience on a subject still quite prevalent in the media; one that will continue to require concerted effort by the international community to quell its spread. The next panel tied in perfectly with Dr. Nabarro’s address. It was titled, From the MDGs to the SDGs: The Future of Global Health that was moderated by Dr. Padmini Murthy, Associate Professor, New York Medical College and a UNA-SNY Board Member. The panelists included Dr. Jo Ivey Boufford, President, New York Academy of Medicine, Sherine Guirguis, Senior Communications Manager, UNICEF, and Corinne N.C. Whitaker, Ph.D. Independent Consultant, Girls’ and Women’s Health and Economic Rights, UNA-SNY Board Member. Ms. Guirguis was especially notable with respect to her discussion on polio, having just returned from a trip to Pakistan, one of three countries, along with Afghanistan and Nigeria, where polio remains endemic. Her message to the audience was that vaccines work! The oral polio vaccine, developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, has assisted in making the world, with a few exceptions, polio free. India has now declared that it is free from polio. This is an amazing accomplishment that the U.N. has had a direct hand in removing. The day would end with a very intriguing list of panelists. The moderator was Jeffrey Laurenti, Board Chair, UNA Princeton/Trenton Area Chapter. This final session was titled, Back to Iraq: The Rise of ISIL and the End of the Arab Spring, and it could not have been any timelier. The panelists included Mr. Sebastian Cardi, Permanent Representative of Italy to the U.N., Maureen Quinn, Senior Director of Programs, International Peace Institute and Sabri Boukadoum, Permanent Representative of Algeria to the U.N.
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