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JULY 2004

UNA-USA’s Adopt-A-Mission Introduces NYC Public Grade School Children to the UN

By Dorothy Davis

Thanks to Ted Turner and his famous billion dollar gift to the United Nations Foundation a bubbly group of NYC public school 3rd graders was able to impress Mrs. Nane Annan, wife of the UN Secretary-General, during a recent visit.

“Who is this?” she asked, as she showed a slide of a handsome gray-haired gentleman to her young audience. “Kofi Annan!” they enthusiastically yelled out. “From what country does he come from?” she asked. “Africa!” they exclaimed. “Yes, from Ghana in West Africa,” she added with a smile. “He went to school in West Africa, in Ghana, and managed to become Secretary-General of the UN!”

Another slide revealed a light blue and white flag. “Do you know what this is?” she asked. “The United Nations flag!” the eager chorus replied. “You’ve really been working hard,” Nane Annan exclaimed with enthusiasm, “That’s great!”

This delightful exchange took place at the UN Conference Room during the inaugural session of the pilot project of Adopt-A-Mission, a program of Global Classrooms, of the United Nations Association of the United States of America. Global Classrooms’ program is funded by The Better World Fund (BWF), which was created with part of Ted Turner’s gift to the United Nations Foundation. BWF supports projects that educate the general public, the media, opinion leaders and elected officials about the UN Because of BWF, Adopt-A-Mission is being offered free to NYC Public School Students in the 3rd to 5th grades.

The children studied about the UN for several weeks using a curriculum supplied by Global Classrooms, with a focus on issues such as peacekeeping, human rights and the Millennium Development Goals, as well as information about selected countries. They then went to the UN itself for a welcoming program, a tour, and a visit to a UN member state permanent mission.

Mrs. Annan showed the youngsters slides taken on trips with her husband. Images flashed on the screen: makeshift schools in market places for children who have to work long hours in the markets in Bangladesh, Mexico City and Peru; water projects for people in northern Ghana, where only 40 percent have access to safe water; water supplies to a school in Zambia, a 100 year old woman uprooted from her home in Kosovo at a camp for refugees…

“How many refugees are there?” asked one young boy during the question and answer period that followed. “Many, many too many,” replied Mrs. Annan. “Refugees are having a very tough life.” “Who most needs help where you went?” asked another student.

“In Angola I met with boys, orphans of war, in school, sitting on concrete blocks. They sang a song: ‘We are children and we need a mother who hugs us. We are children and we need a father who takes care of us. We are children and we need to go to school. We are children and we need a childhood.’ After each line they sang, ‘What can you do about that?’ This is one of the things I remember most.”

“Of all the places which did you like most and why?” asked a girl. “I think I always like meeting with children,” said Mrs. Annan, “especially when I see that they have been able to go to school. It is the most important thing for every one of you to go to school, to learn as much as possible. This is the time you can start finding out about who you are, what is your favorite subject, and learn more about that. You can ask your teachers how can I learn more about that. This is the platform you are going to be able to take off from. At no other time in life will you have the chance to do that.”

The students wanted to know many details of Nane Annan’s life, such as how many languages she spoke (Swedish, English, French and a bit of German); whether she had children (yes, children and grandchildren); how long had she and her husband been together (they will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this year); even how old she was (60 this year). “You are incredibly curious,” she told them. “Use that curiosity. It is incredibly important. It is even what keeps a 60-year old going!”

Tours of the UN followed the program, and then classes visited many Permanent Missions. Education Update attended two of these meetings. Representatives at the Venezuelan Mission showed slides and told the children of PS 16Q about the Millennium Development Goals. “By 2015 all UN Member States have pledged to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.” Recently Venezuela has proposed an International Humanitarian Fund to the UN to help accomplish these goals.

At the Egyptian Mission a diplomat-economist, who had a wonderful rapport with the children, who came from PS 125 Ralph Bunch, used questions and answers to learn what they knew about Egypt and to gently expanded their knowledge. The amount they already knew was impressive. One boy, for example, when asked what he knew, replied, “Geza is on the west side of the Nile, Cairo is on the east side, the largest sphinx in the world is there.” “The only sphinx in the world,” said the diplomat. “Egypt is in Africa,” continued the boy. “Where in Africa?” asked the diplomat. “In the northeast,” replied the boy. “You are a geographer!” exclaimed the diplomat. He presented a good deal of information, in a very easy going manner, including the fact that Egyptians no longer wrote in hieroglyphics, but in Arabic, and that there is a seven hour time difference between New York City and Cairo. He passed around an Egyptian pound, worth 100 piastres.

“What did you like best about the presentation?” we asked the students afterwards. “One thing I liked was when he talked about the money and we got to see it!” said one. “I liked everything about his talk!” said another excitedly. All responded with enthusiasm. The Adopt-A-Mission program is off to a wonderful start.#



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