Dispatches from South Korea
From left, Sisters Lourdes Pangelinan, of Guam; Eileen Reilly, of the United States; and Gloria Hirai, of Japan, are representing the School Sisters of Notre Dame at the U.N. conference in the Republic of Korea.
SSNDs share reports from U.N. conference
Opening Day Reflections - May 30, 2016
At the conference center
A display of Korean dress
As the U.N. Conference on Education for Global Citizenship began on Monday, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed us all to Korea, his native land, and shared the story of his own education. Secretary Ban, who grew up immediately after the Korean War, was educated "under a tree by U.N. aid workers who came to Korea after the schools had been destroyed." He told us that without the education he received from UNICEF, he never would have become secretary general.
The conference for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) has brought together more than 4,000 participants from around the world, including three School Sisters of Notre Dame. Secretary Ban received warm applause when he said that NGO also stands for "Networks of Global Opportunities."
In the two-hour opening ceremony, we were entertained by a Korean rock star, a Korean opera singer and an orchestra called "Heart to Heart," made up entirely of children with developmental disabilities. Additionally two very powerful youth speakers challenged us to "push down walls of ignorance with the strength of your pen."
In the coming days, we will be examining the theme of "Education for Global Citizenship" from many viewpoints and sharing experiences from around the world that promote global citizenship.
- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND
Literacy in Afghanistan - May 31, 2016
Nasrine Gross discusses the importance of literacy for women and children.
As we look at "Education for Global Citizenship" at this United Nations conference in Korea, stories from around the world provide a picture of some of the challenges. Nasrine Gross, a 70-year-old woman from Afghanistan, was part of a panel discussion on "Children and Youth: Tomorrow's Global Citizens Today."
When asked about education in Afghanistan, she responded that because of the protracted conflict there, only 30 percent of the men and 12 percent of the women are literate. She sees adult literacy as very important because literate parents are much more likely to encourage their children to go to school.
In her country of 30 million people, 60 percent are under 25 years of age. In her words, these young people have a "thirst for education." A typical school day is only three hours long, to allow for three or even four shifts in each school.
One of Nasrine's proposals was for a global Peace Corps that could assist countries like Afghanistan as they try to rebuild after years of war and destruction. She shared that she and her husband, who was orphaned at age five, have established three university scholarships for young people who are also orphans. The couple also offers adult literacy courses but only for husbands and wives who come together.
She said that at the completion of her literacy courses, students often say things like, "Until this year, I didn't know I was blind!"
- Sister Eileen Reilly, SSND
Closing Reflections – June 1, 2016
The Gyeongu Children's Choir performs during the closing ceremonies at the U.N. conference.
The World Taekwondo Federation performs during the closing ceremonies.
As our three days at the U.N. Department of Public Information (DPI) NGO Conference came to an end, it seemed that the closing ceremony on Wednesday captured the spirit of the whole conference. The youth speakers impressed us all and gave us hope to know that our youth are passionate and enthusiastic about making the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) a reality.
"When I see their energy, it urges me to continue to empower and support the youth back home in their endeavors to implement these SDGs and put the commitments into action," said Sister Lourdes Pangelinan, who is attending the conference with the School Sisters of Notre Dame delegation that includes Sisters Gloria Hirai and Eileen Reilly.
Transforming lives through education
Teopista Birungi Mayanja, a teacher from Uganda, made a strong case for adequate financing for education both from donors and from the nations themselves. At the end of her talk she invited us to raise our hands together and pledge, "We are here together to transform lives through education. And we shall!"
Sister Gloria was most impressed by a Palestinian woman, an award-winning teacher, who talked about how teaching is like farming – the farmer provides the environment for the seed to develop, just as a teacher provides the environment for the student to grow and nourishes that growth. "Education for Global Citizenship" is similar – it needs to be nourished in our students
Ahmad Alhendawi, the U.N. Youth Envoy, noted that the youth delegation at the conference was the largest one ever. Sister Gloria said she was touched that he challenged the youth to commit to action, calling them the "SDG Generation." But, it was also noted that we have only 15 years – until 2030 – to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which means more than a goal a year.
As in the opening ceremony, we enjoyed some cultural presentations from Korea. The Gyeongju Children's Choir entertained us with "We Are the World," as well as a few Korean songs. The ceremony closed with a performance by the World Taekwondo Federation. Their presentation in music and choreography portrayed the dignity and worth of every child through empowerment.
Feeling connected to 80 countries
Sister Lourdes, who is from Guam, found the experience at the conference moving and empowering, especially having the opportunity to be with people from 80 different countries.
"Sitting next to man from Sudan makes a difference that makes me feel connected,” Sister Lourdes said. “Now when I hear Croatia, Sudan, Korea, Afghanistan, Germany or Singapore they are more than just names. I connect them with a face.
"This whole experience echoes the call of the 23rd General Chapter for me. It has deepened my desire to continue to respond to these urgent needs, to work to promote global citizenship, to make one, for as the SSND directional statement says, ‘love cannot wait.’”
All human life should be equal
Sister Gloria, who is from Japan, said that she is is grateful for this opportunity to participate in a truly international conference.
"It is new to me to meet people from Afghanistan, India, Palestine, Nigeria and Zimbabwe – to hear their stories about the lack of education reminds me that all human life should be equal,” said Sister Gloria. “Education is the key to eradicate poverty and leave no one behind. All segments of society need a new awareness of the need for education around our world."
Both Sisters Lourdes and Gloria said they are “truly grateful for this opportunity that the congregation has given us to participate in this conference. We thank Sister Eileen for guiding us through the process."
In addition to Sisters Lourdes and Gloria, Sister Eileen Reilly, of the United States, attended the conference in the Republic of Korea. Sister Eileen, is the director of the SSND UN-NGO office.
- Sisters Lourdes Pangelinan, Gloria Hirai and Eileen Reilly, SSND