Light Millennium Television Programs @QPTV
Studio Taping Date: May 29, 2007
Joan KIRBY: “We are not separate from the earth or from each other.”
Sherrill KAZAN: “Dialogue is not a point of winning; it’s a point of learning.”
||UN/NGO Profiles #8: Joan KIRBY & Sherrill KAZAN
On the 60th Annual UNDPI-NGO Conference:
CLIMATE CHANGE: HOW IT IMPACTS US ALL
Interview conducted by: Dr. Judy KURIANSKY*
LMTV/UNNGO Profiles Series Produced, Directed & Edited by: Bircan ÜNVER
Interview Transcribed by: Annelle SHELINE for the Light Millennium.
- “There are many instances of disastrous climate change. What we hope to do through this conference is raise awareness.”
– Joan Kirby
- “Walk softly and carry the big idea' not so much the big stick.” – Sherrill Kazan
- “This whole thing of climate change is a wonderful metaphor, or reality, to say that we are interconnected.” - Joan Kirby
- “Sometimes it takes one major problem to bring people to, let’s say, even dialogue about it and bring some more peaceful opportunity.” – Sherrill Kazan
LMTV/UN-NGO Profiles Series was launched by Bircan Ünver as the producer/director of the program, with Dr. Judy Kuriansky as the host of the program, in August 2006 in conjunction with the UN/DPI-NGO 59th Annual Conference. In 2006, LMTV produced and aired five half-hour programs which profiled key NGO representatives who involved with the conference. The subjects of these UN-NGO Profiles included Michaela WALSH, chair of the 2006 conference; and representatives of various NGOs: Fannie M. MUNLIN, Joan A. LEVY, Elisabeth K. SHUMAN and Leslie WRIGHT. Another program focused on the work of the NGO UNIFEM, discussed by Leslie WRIGHT. These programs were produced for the Light Millennium TV Series, and aired at Queens Public TV (www.qptv.org). The transcripts were published on the Lightmillennium.org web site (http://lightmillennium.org/unngo_profiles/list.html) where they can still be accessed.
The Light Millennium organization has continued its participation on the planning committee of the UN/DPI-NGO annual conferences, and has been actively involved in the Annual 60th Conference since January 2007. LightMillennnium.Org decided to continue producing the UN-NGO Profiles this year, in cooperation with the Media Subcommittee of the Annual 60th Conference. We are very proud to present the second program of the 2007 series: the LMTV/UNNGO Profile #8: Joan KIRBY & Sherrill KAZAN both as LMTV Series and Lightmillennium.Org. For more information on the LMTV/UNNGO Profiles from 2006, see: (http://lightmillennium.org/unngo_profiles/list.html)
Dr Judy KURIANSKY (Dr. Judy): Welcome to the Light Millennium Television series of United Nations NGO profiles. With me today are two women who are quite involved, very eminent and doing excellent work at the United Nations for their nongovernmental organizations. Welcome to Joan Kirby, who represents the Temple of Understanding and is also the Chair of the Executive Committee of NGO’s in the Department of Public Information. And with me too, is Sherrill Kazan who represents two international organizations: the World Council of Peoples for the United Nations and the Mexican Academy of International Law. Welcome to both of you. You’ve both been very committed and do very important projects on behalf of the people in your organizations. What is a typical day like for you, Joan, at the UN?
Joan K: I arrive at the office about nine o’clock and I deal with my email. This is not easy, given the huge number of important messages that I try to take care of by ten o’clock-- because at that hour, most the meetings at the UN begin. So I have to get over to the UN building and get through security and attend a briefing or an open meeting. During the summer I might meet with my interns and direct them to various meetings at the UN.
Dr. Judy: When you say a “briefing,” what do you mean? There are briefings on all kinds of subjects, from human rights to indigenous people to poverty -- all kinds of important international topics.
Joan K: Well, specifically the DPI-NGO section – which means the Department of Public Information-Non-Governmental Organization -- has a really very interesting briefing every Thursday morning. They begin with a film, and then have a panel of very important speakers on various issues. For instance, they had one briefing on financing for development, and certainly another on climate change, besides every kind of issue. World Press Day was very interesting. Every Thursday there’s a different topic with discussants who are experts in the field.
Dr. Judy: Sherrill, you attend those briefings too, on behalf of both of your organizations. You represent two NGOs: one is the World Council of Peoples for the United Nations, which sounds like its’ subject matter, and you also wear another hat, representing the Mexican Academy of International Law. How do you balance those and what happens at the briefings?
Sherrill K: Well, both of these non-governmental organizations have a very long history outside of the UN as well. The World Council of Peoples for the United Nations was formed post-World War II by a concerned group of eminent individuals who were fortunate enough to have their property and their finances restored after the war, and they became committed to redeveloping both cultural and education institutions that were destroyed during the early forties. And that grew to become this organization. It then created committees to really address very unique areas of interest at the time that now are very prominent within the UN structure. These include promoting women, children, and young people’s involvement in leadership; looking at strife and other issues of cultural awareness; and things that people have in common or can work together in joint venture, and even the private sector, and the environment. So, they’ve been busy looking at these issues for the last almost sixty years. It’s almost as old as the United Nations.
Dr. Judy: Joan, your NGO is involved with the environment. And we’re sitting here in front of a poster that reads “Climate Change” with the word “Change” written upside down and backwards. As we read here, “Climate Change and How it Affects us All” is the topic of the upcoming 60th Annual Conference of NGOs, which you both are involved in planning, and which takes place in September. What will happen at this conference?
Joan K: At this conference, we will open with some very prominent key-note speakers and then lead into seven roundtable meetings. Once again, we invite prominent people who are experts in the field, and incidentally we have a number of speakers from the International Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC). They will present the issues of water, disappearing islands in the pacific, whole nations disappearing, and the loss of the ice cap. You know, very recently I experienced the dry climate. I went down to Florida for a brief visit and from the plane I saw the parched earth -- the cracked parched earth. And all those water retention pools were two and half feet below normal. And it just occurred to me that right here in our own country we have this dryness that is affecting Africa. All the sub-Saharan countries are most affected by this, but I saw personally what it’s going to mean to be without water. Also, the fires were raging in Georgia when I was there and you could smell the smoke in the air. So there are many instances of disastrous climate change. What we hope to do through this conference is to raise awareness. Not that we’re not aware right now. But I was talking just today about Father Thomas Barry—at least twenty years ago he was real apostle for preservation of the earth. He’s a very old man now -- I think he might be ninety-seven -- and he is still teaching and training people. Over the years, we have become so much more aware of the danger of destroying our environment, that it’s almost a vindication for his lifetime work. And there are others who have been bringing us to awareness in the same way, most recently Al Gore.
Dr. Judy: You’re referring to Al Gore, the former Vice-President who won an Academy Award for his movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” a crusade to halt global warming. Actors are also bringing this issue to the fore. Leonardo DiCaprio, for example, who did a documentary, “The 11th Hour,” about environment crises caused by human actions. These efforst are raising public awareness. Then, of course, there are some celebritites who serve as UN ambassadors of peace, like Angelina Jolie.
Joan K: The peace ambassadors, yes. Well, actually her latest film is of particular interest to me because it’s about Daniel Pearl.
Dr. Judy: Yes she plays the wife of Daniel Pearl, the American journalist who was captured and beheaded in the Middle East.
Joan K: His wife is Ariana Pearl, whose book I read and was deeply touched by. Her book is “A Mighty Heart.” It’s a beautiful book.
Dr. Judy: Joan was just talking about raising awareness. Now Sherrill, one of the talents that you have is raising money, important because NGO's are volunteer organizations mainly. People do not usually get paid to do this work, yet signs like this one about climate change have to be printed and paid for, booklets have to be produced and distributed. How do you raise the money to accomplish these wonderful goals that Joan Kirby is talking about?
Sherrill K: I think to complement what Joan has been saying, we all interact so frequently at the UN that it takes on a life of its own. Just to preface something: close to twenty years ago, the British Ambassador to the United Nations was also a climatic expert. His name was Crispin Tickell I remember. He is also a member of my organization -- The Mexican Academy of International Law -- and he would be with us and explain climate change. Now, it’s like déjà vu, as the subject is a top priority now. Of course, I’m sure he is remembering all his past warning signs. Raising money and awareness go together because part of our mandate, shall we call it, is to disseminate the information that comes out of the United Nations that we all participate in creating at these conferences.
Dr. Judy: How do you get people to give money to this kind of a project?
Sherrill K: I think that you have to be relentless in your approach, number one. But you know, the approach should be “walk softly and carry the big idea” not so much the “big stick.” The fact is that today I think it’s a little bit easier than years ago: with all the technology, all the transparency that does exist, if you do any research you’ll find so many different opportunities for funding within the corporate world. There’s corporate responsibility, companies that are looking to reveal their heart, to look at the human aspect of their work and what their company may stand for. They’re willing to give support to some of these efforts that interest them the most, depending again on what type of company it may be in the corporate world or in the finance world. There are also so many different foundations that really do exist, and you can just do a little research and appeal to them in a way that relates to how they would like to have a legacy of their own, or that they would like to participate in on an on-going basis. That’s basically, I think, what we try to do: to find those who would be more committed to the long-term. And we have to be creative ourselves. I mean, two years ago was the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations itself, and we were at a standstill financially within the conference’s needs, at that time. So, with some great assistance from young people I was able to produce a journal that was promised by the DPI department to be circulated to governments and agencies and so forth, and it took on a life of its own, but I was able to raise enough funds to donate back to the NGO-DPI Executive Committee, which holds the funds and then to allocate funding accordingly.
Dr. Judy: I think it’s important for people who are watching to know this: If they have a cause and they want to get out there and do something but think they can’t fund it themselves, where are they going to go? You’re encouraging them to approach companies and say “This is good for your image, to give money to this.” Then, they can create a local newspaper item or perhaps even a newsletter that goes out widely. This is really the issue: get involved and see an idea through. That’s something you obviously believe, that’s your philosophy: see it through.
Sherrill K: That’s my philosophy and Time Warner itself has been an advocate of certain areas of this type of outreach. This type of company sets an example--and there are so many others today that are available to look at the world around them, and say, “We’re all in this together.” Our climate change poster is really wonderful. If you look at it, it’s more than a poster: it’s a message. The disastrous scenes on the bottom show what we could be, and may be dealing with, and we have to look at it on top to see what our environment has been, should be, and hopefully will be again.
Dr. Judy: You mean the beautiful green nature scenes above, like the islands that Joan Kirby was mentioning could be disappearing?
Sherrill K: Of course, the flourish of nature.
Dr. Judy: Then on the bottom, we see the opposite scenes: fire, lightning, forest going up in flames, and dry earth.
Sherrill K: You know it’s very difficult to know that we all are challenged by the same thing. Sometimes it takes one major problem to bring people to, let’s say, even dialogue about it and bring some more peaceful opportunity.
“witness for the earth.”
Dr. Judy: Joan, you have been what is called a “witness for the earth.” You’ve had many accolades and many awards in your long career, for being dedicated to all kinds of issues, for the homeless and for many interfaith issues. What does it mean that you’re a “witness for the earth”?
Joan K: Well that’s a good question. To me, that would mean a witness to our interdependence, to our interconnectedness, with the earth and with each other. I’m a student of Zen Buddhism and it strikes me that one of the core teachings is about our interconnectedness and I think that’s a most profoundly important idea, or reality, that we have to live by. This whole thing of climate change is a wonderful metaphor, or reality, to say that we are interconnected, that this is our earth and unless we care for it, we’re going to be in major trouble.
Dr. Judy: I’ve heard the Dalai Lama speak about that. So, how do you feel that the Dalai Lama's messages and the Zen Buddhism that you believe in can really help people to save the earth and have a better life? What’s the message there?
Joan K: Well, the message is that we are not separate from the earth or from each other. We’re not separate. We’re not the same, but we are not separate from them. Our lives are profoundly affected by the health of the earth. And if we don’t preserve and conserve our earth, we’re out of luck.
Dr. Judy: The message of Zen is so much about compassion, a word we hear so much about. And you are extremely involved with interfaith issues, especially as part of your representation of the Temple of Understanding. Since there are so many cultural and religious conflicts in our times, how do you feel that people can get together in this world with different religions?
Joan K: You know what’s absolutely amazing to me--I've said that Thomas Barry was a harbinger of the truth about the earth. But it seems to me that the woman who started the Temple of Understanding--her name was Juliet Hollister--forecast or witnessed to the importance of interfaith dialogue, inter-religious dialogue. People didn’t know what we were talking about originally, you know, they’d say “Oh, that’s nice.” There was no next question. You know, "Oh, that’s interesting."
Dr. Judy: I know. You speak so well to raise awareness about interfaith dialogue but there has to be another step: to action. I saw this first-hand in just putting together a book called Beyond Bullets and Bombs: Grassroots Peace building between Palestinians and Israelis. It features groups not just talking about tolerance but actively running interfaith dialogues and other reconciliation groups. This communication is extremely important. Here we are in Queens; there are many people of varied cultural backgrounds, from almost from every country you can think of. Right where we are. How can they put to use interfaith dialogue?
Joan K: Just two weeks ago the General Assembly opened its thematic debates on civilization, peace, and security to all of the NGOs. I came away from there deeply moved by the realization that we cannot neglect history or religion if we hope to save the earth or civilization. We’ve become very ignorant about our history and about the importance of religions.
Dr. Judy: Interestingly, both of you, Joan and Sherrill, have such diverse cultural backgrounds. You are both so intercultural, and cross-cultural, and involved with so many different countries. How does that affect your work at the UN and who you are?
"Dialogue is not a point of winning; it’s a point of learning."
Sherrill K: Well, I think if you will say that I come from a very psychologically mature family, historically, presently, and as I understand [I consider that], even to go on into the future. If you are psychologically mature, you can look at cultures as an opportunity to dialogue from that point, especially if its part of you. You become the example for others to understand that it’s possible to intermarry, and interrelate. Dialogue is not a point of winning; it’s a point of learning. If you don’t win this point, you learn that point. And at some other time, you will find that happy medium that you can then dialogue to a point of respect. It’s beyond tolerance; it’s respect, and move on to something that you can do together while maintaining your identity. No one, I think, is saying to lose an identity. Pursue whatever you feel comfortable being or relating to. I was involved in a wonderful project--which unfortunately is on the shelf for the moment but is out there to be re-established-- which was really the initiative of a very wonderful colleague of mine who is an artist who lives now in Israel. She is originally of Mexican-Spanish descent. Her husband is an incredible scientist and researcher over there. But she approached me exactly ten years ago to create -- with my organization, the World Council -- an art project of established artists: six Palestinians of all religious backgrounds (including the Bedouin and Druze which are not that known to the West) and six Israelis of various Jewish backgrounds, both from the West and the East and in between. They all agreed; that was the most amazing of all. The art of all of them was so fantastic. The name of the project was, “The Effect of Judaic and Islamic Art on Contemporary Design.” It was beyond religion; it was higher consciousness. And it was so well accepted -- even by the then-Palestinian chairman, the late chairman Arafat, and by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. I had everyone together, but unfortunately these things take time to pull together. Then of course the Intifada started in 2000. But the project is there and they seem to want to re-invent it.
Dr. Judy: Art makes such a difference in bringing people together. There are chapters in Beyond Bullets and Bombs --the book about grassroots peace-building projects that I just did -- about people from conflicting cultures (Palestinians and Israelis) pursuing mutual understanding, peace and reconciliation by doing art projects together – photography, films, ceramics. This can be a model for anybody and any culture. In fact, that is so much what you stand for too, Joan, in your work.
Joan K: Let me just say that this weekend I went to the exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Venice and the Islamic world. It was wonderful. And it was the whole experience of the interchange of that port city of Venice with the Islamic world, and how the trade and enterprise and entrepreneurial spirit gave them peace. I mean they gained from each other. They learned from each other as Sherrill was saying. And they stayed at peace even during the Ottoman Empire. So it was a fabulous experience. And I think from the point of view of religion, from the point of view of culture, of civilization, it’s an important exhibit to see.
Dr. Judy: I would agree with that. There are other inspiring examples of such coexistence. One of my favorite streets in the world is in Istanbul, where a synagogue, a mosque, and a church are all on the same street, close to one another. Even in Amman, Jordan, there’s a mixture and influence of other cultures, especially from the Greeks and Romans. Joan, you also care about the homeless and the poor in a great way. You didn’t grow up in poverty, but its very much something that matters to you. Why is that?
Joan K: Well, because of our interconnectedness. I remember in the eighties finding it impossible to walk the streets of New York. I just said to myself, “I can’t pass another homeless body.” And so when I was asked to start an organization for homeless families I really thought that was a great opportunity.
Dr. Judy: That fits in with how you wanted to become a nun, but then you became a teacher, so how did that happen?
Joan K: Right. I had the sense that we have more than other people, so often you know, and we’re so privileged through our education. And it’s very important that we share. And as a teacher, as an educator, of course, I think it’s so very important to share. That’s why I love working with my interns; I have twelve interns this summer, young people who learn about the United Nations. And mainly they learn about the Millennium Development Goals, about the ideal of eradicating poverty, of bringing health and education to the developing world. The eighth goal, the most important, is where the developed world has got to understand about a better trading system so that we have a fair opportunity for developing nations.
Dr. Judy: It’s certainly important to involve companies in doing such projects, and to get governments to work with people. That’s something Sherrill, that you’ve done certainly. One of the projects you’ve done that demomstrates the importance of these types of partnerships is that you saved a garden and a park in New York City by working with then-mayor Rudy Gulliani in order to create a better environment for New Yorkers. This was a very significant project for you, and serves as an example of what Joan was talking about.
Sherrill K: This is a very challenging point because we didn’t really save the garden we created the garden. And we are all volunteers who do that. I think I could almost say that is true for dozens, hundreds perhaps, of community-based groups in all the five boroughs who have really shown their latent creative touch and have committed themselves to nature. This particular plaza you mentioned is the Dag Hammerskold Plaza that is on 47th Street between First and Second Avenues. It was a homeless haven I would say, so sadly so, plus a derelict park; it wasn’t even a park. But we committed to do something, both to see how these people could be housed properly, and to make something out of that street which was in the name of the great, late former United Nations Secretary General -- the second Secretary General -- who perished in a plane crash. It was named after him. We had to make sure that this represented the face of the diversity of the neighborhood, as well as being a garden in the name of Katherine Hepburn who was a Turtle Bay resident. This was her centennial. So we had permission to name the garden after her, as she was an advocate for greenery. So it’s a flourishing place, a gateway to the United Nations. You have to come by and take a walk through the garden.
Dr. Judy: I think we all need to do that; it’s a beauty. Thank you, Sherrill Kazan for your representation of your NGOs, and the accomplishments you’ve shared with us today. Thank you, too, Joan Kirby from the Temple of Understanding, for all the good work that you are contributing. And thank you all, our vewers, for being with us in this series of the Light Millennium Television series about UN NGOs. We hope we have heightened your interest in climate change and in community action and in how you can make a difference.
About Joan Kirby:
Joan Kirbry is
a Religious of the Sacred Heart, was Executive Director of the Temple of Understanding from 1994 until 2000 where she developed educational interfaith programs for people of different religious traditions. In collaboration with Auburn Theological Seminary she sponsored a program of immersion in Seven Different Religious Traditions and a program called Universal Meditation Masters.
Since April, 2000, she has represented the Temple of Understanding at the United Nations where the focus has been on sustainable development, financing for development, and children in armed conflict and global climate change and the Millennium Development Goals..
She attended the Parliament of World’s Religions in Capetown, South Africa and is a member of Assembly of World’s Religions and the International Interfaith Organization.
Sr. Kirby served as Secretary for the NGO Committee on Human Rights and for the Religious NGOs at the UN. She was Chair of the DPI/NGO Conference in September, 2004 which was titled: The Millennium Development goals: Civil Society Takes Action. She is currently serving as the Chair of the DPI/NGO Executive Committee.
*Dr. Judy KURIANSKY is a clinical psychologist at Columbia University Teachers College, and a representative to United Nations for two international NGOs: the International Association of Applied Psychology and the World Council of Psychotherapy.
LMTV/UNNGO Profiles - Interviews from the 2006:
LMTV/UNNGO Profiles - Program - 2006