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UN Day in Westchester County, October 24, 2010

October 31, 2010

By Camille Boothe

UNA-Westchester Chapter held a great event on UN Day, October 24, at the Community Unitarian Church in White Plains, NY. The theme was Meeting the Millennium Development Goals: Westchester’s Contributions, and featured three outstanding Westchester citizens who are personally committed to helping meet the development goals.

Westchester UN Day event organizers

Organizers and speakers with proclamations from the Governor and the Mayor: L to R: Marcia Brewster, J. Yuhanna Edwards, Michele Clarke-Ceres, Brenda Smith and Claire Heskestad (Organizers)

Chapter President Marcia Brewster welcomed the enthusiastic group of more than 50 members and students and noted that the UN had recently held the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) summit, where new pledges of $40 billion had been made to address the lagging areas of women’s and children health. She noted that she had just returned from Ghana, where former Secretary-General Kofi Annan and CNN founder Ted Turner had called on all African governments to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

The UN Day Chair for New York State, Ms. Michele Clarke-Ceres, presented a proclamation declaring UN Day for New York State from Governor David Paterson and noted that, under his leadership, New York State had made significant moves to support similar goals in maternal health and environmental sustainability.

The first of the speakers was Dr. Susan Stukes, who is the Director of the Dental Clinic at Sing Sing prison and President of International Health Professionals Network. Her focus is on safe motherhood in her work in Uganda. She stressed that every minute one woman dies needlessly in childbirth. The need for improved maternal and child health is related to MDGs #4 & #5. This is not just an issue in developing nations, but is a problem in the USA as well. When there are problems with delivering babies at home in Africa, women may have to wait and for 4 or 5 days before getting to a facility to receive help. Then it is often too late. She told about the Maama Kit and the White Ribbon Alliance, which partner with the World Health Organization and NGOs such as The Links Inc. The Maama Kit provides very basic materials that are available locally that can support a clean and safe birth, and are mainly focused on infection prevention.

Dr. Stukes’ group has raised over $350,000 for Maama Kits, which were supplied to help 70,000 pregnant women in Uganda. Men have also become involved, and the government is supporting measures relating to mothers’ healthcare. The price is only $5 per kit, so she encouraged everyone to join the White Ribbon Alliance, support legislation to make child birth safer, and Be a Voice.

Mr. J. Yuhanna Edwards, President of the Mt. Vernon City Council, bestowed a proclamation on UN Day from the Mayor of Mt. Vernon to the Westchester chapter. Since 2005, Mr. Edwards has been working in Africa, mainly in Rwanda. Since the genocide in 1994, Rwanda has become a stable country, with a high degree of women’s participation. He observed that there are so many NGOs in Africa that it is necessary to come together and be united in positive change.

He mentioned that much of his work had been related to HIV/AIDS and education of girls and women. Now, in 18 out of 26 colleges in Rwanda they have a hand in dealing with gender and equality. Rwanda has the highest ratio of women in Parliament of any country in the world (56%).

Mr. Edwards is now also working in Ghana. He called on young people to go to Africa do more for less fortunate people in the world. As parents we must show them the way. There is a sister city agreement between Mt. Vernon and Ghana. He is trying to get the Mt. Vernon mayor to go to Ghana and help with their needs.

Ms. Doris Benson, President of the Bronxville Rotary Club, described what Rotary International is doing to help achieve the MDGs. Rotary is one of the original NGOs that has been participating with the UN since it was founded in 1945. Rotary has 33,000 clubs in 170 countries. She outlined the work that Rotary has done in eradicating polio and in providing water and sanitation to areas which lack access to clean drinking water. Both of these campaigns are closely related to the MDGs. She touched on the work her own club has done for providing clean drinking water to a few communities in Madagascar, in partnership with a club over there.

Ms. Benson’s main passion is currently a Rotary project in Zambia: Community Markets for Conservation (COMACO). It is a non-profit business that trains rural farmers in sustainable agriculture, purchases excess commodities at fair prices, and processes them for sale across Zambia. Ms. Benson has visited some of the villages in Zambia, which are extremely remote. They have vibrant communities, however, where people love to sing and dance, even though they’re constantly exposed to hunger and other hardships.  Maybe they have something that we have lost in our Western lifestyle. The brand “It’s Wild!” includes products such as honey and organic vegetables.

The results of the COMACO project in 2009 included higher enrolment in schools, increased food security, better nutrition, a significant reduction in poaching, and countless firearms surrendered. There are now opportunities to improve life at home for these people.

Westchester UN Day Speakers

L to R: Marcia Brewster, J. Yuhanna Edwards, Doris Benson, Michele Clarke-Ceres, Susan Stukes and Rev. Carol Huston.


  The question and answer session was moderated by Rev. Carol Huston, who is the Chair of the Westchester Coalition on Worldwide Poverty and AIDS. The audience was very animated and interested in all the work of the speakers. The discussion first focused on maternal and health care and the work of various groups to assist. Dr. Stukes noted that the Maama kit is one small component of the whole picture. This is the entry level part to the larger women’s/children’s health problems. The kit focuses on infection prevention. Safe motherhood/childbirth is a multi-faceted issue, and they ultimately want to tie it into education and women’s empowerment.

Regarding the COMACO program, Ms Benson discussed how Rotary works within the local power structures. There are now 40,000 farmers participating in COMACO, and they have certainly seen benefits. For example, crop diversification has increased. Over 50% of COMACO’s farmers are women – they are trying to get more nutritious foods for their families.

Rev. Huston thanked the panelists, and Ms. Brewster thanked the organizers, Brenda Smith and Claire Heskestad, and invited the participants to continue the discussion at a lovely reception, complete with a birthday cake for the UN.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2012 1:05 am

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  2. February 1, 2013 3:12 pm

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