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Day of Families Observed in Washington, DC

Washington, DC, USA - The UN International Day of Families was commemorated at The Washington Times’ Beech Room in the District of Columbia on June 17. Diplomats, media representatives, community activists, and NGO leaders made up the one hundred guests. The six speakers represented a wide spectrum of thinkers dedicated to supporting and strengthening families worldwide. The event was co-sponsored by the Universal Peace Federation and The Washington Times Foundation.

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Mrs. Tomiko Duggan, Director of Public Affairs of UPF International, greeted the guests and explained that UPF is founded on the vision of One Family Under God where “all people are equal and all nations become like brother and sister nations.” The International Day of Families was first established in 1993 by the UN General Assembly to recognize “the family as the fundamental institution of society,” and since that time, its commemoration has provided an opportunity to increase awareness of the issues facing the creation and maintaining of healthy families.

Mrs. Duggan then showed photos of six international works of art depicting how the six young artists expressed the theme. They were chosen out of 12,000 entries from around the world in a special project of the UN. Local students read the messages accompanying the beautiful works reflecting the heart and wishes of these children to end poverty for families and usher in a world of peace and prosperity.

Larry Moffitt, Vice President of The Washington Times Foundation, then took the helm as MC, introducing each of the six distinguished speakers. First at the podium was Michael Balcomb, Communications Director of UPF International, who began by stating that the façade of the UN building is undergoing major repairs and that some people say that the UN itself is in dire need of an internal reconstruction and makeover in order to meet the needs of a very different world than when the UN was created after World War II.

In the year 2000, the UN announced the Millennium Development Goals with the vision of reducing poverty by 50 percent by the year 2015. Now, with less than four years left, the goals are still far distant. It may be helpful for the UN community to recognize and reemphasize the fact that almost every one of the Millennium Development Goals involves the family rather than the individual. Yet only a very small percentage of the UN budget is allocated to the goal of strengthening families, with the vast majority going toward peacekeeping efforts.

The these of past observances of the Day of Families have emphasized the grave challenges facing families everywhere, but Dr. Balcomb said that UPF sees the family not as a problem to be solved, but as a rich resource and indeed the best solution to ending poverty. He indicated that UPF believes the family is the "school of love," yet any school is only as good as its teachers, in this case, the parents. The programs sponsored by UPF chapters in 50 nations this year focused on strengthening the family through character education, marriage and family education, and service-learning programs involving the entire community.

In conclusion, Dr. Balcomb introduced the view that marriage and family could be a “sublime instrument of peace,” when people from historically enemy nations marry each other and form families that heal generational enmity. The World Peace Blessing is one of the best-known initiatives promoted by the founder of UPF, Dr. Sun Myung Moon, as a practical expression of the vision that the family is where peace must be built. Dr. Moon writes in his autobiography, As a Peace Loving Global Citizen, “The supreme formula for bringing true peace to the world: bring together children from enemy families and nations for the World Peace Blessing.”

H.E. Jacinth Henry-Martin, Ambassador of Saint Kitts and Nevis, delivered warm and personal comments that echoed the theme of the family as the school of love and peace. In a poetic and compelling tone the Ambassador shared her heartfelt thoughts and desires with those in the audience: “In my country, family is still ‘everything’: large and usually extended, it embraces you wherever you are in the world,” she said. “Yet, as in the rest of the world, our family values have become ‘poorer’. As I address this gathering, that is ultimately, the true poverty about which I am concerned.” She ended with a strong call to address the issue of poverty: “the world simply needs a conscience... We are our brother’s keeper... We protect ourselves from poverty when we protect each other.”

Dr. Jeffery M. Johnson, President of the National Partnership for Community Leadership, oversees a number of important social welfare research projects including Partners for Fragile Families and Fathers at Work. He is a nationally recognized authority in the areas of leadership, employment and training, urban poverty, and youth development. However, he is best known for his focus on the struggles of African-American men, their fatherhood and their families.

Dr. Johnson, who also heads the men’s ministry at his church, said that poverty and how it effects children in this country has been the focus of his work. He underscored the correlation between fatherless homes perpetuating a negative cycle and undesirable consequences such as school drop-out rates, drug abuse, crime, and suicide. It is clear that responsible fatherhood makes a difference. Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Marriage Programs have been in operation since 2006, yet Dr. Johnson pointed out the dismal reality that “we have almost four generations of young people who have not had fathers in their lives.” Currently, 40 percent of all children in this country are born out of wedlock and 71 percent of African Americans come from ‘fragile families’ (where the biological parents were not married at the time of their birth and therefore have a greater risk of breaking up and living in poverty than traditional families). He has had success with underground and absent fathers by creating peer support programs and has found that the most of the men actually want to be involved in the lives of their children if given the proper tools. “Dr. Johnson, show me how to do it," they tell him. "I can’t do something that I have not been shown how to do.”

Dr. Johnson ended his talk, appropriate for the coming Father’s Day weekend, by reading the “Father’s Pledge, A Father’s Commitment,” (excerpts): “My Child: For reasons that are revealed to me more and more each day, God has chosen me to have the honorable privilege of being your Earthly Father... I make this declaration this day to ... devote my life to the success of yours. I love you, I value you, and I carry you in my heart.”

Mrs. Wassane Zailachi, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco, focused her talk on women and young girls and the importance of the protection of their rights in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where Morocco has emerged as a leader in promoting the rights of women. She noted that this is one of the main avenues for solving poverty in her country because it can result in strong opportunities to strengthen and broaden women’s leadership roles on all levels of society.

The new Moroccan Family Code, the Moudawana, and the reform process were fully supported by King Mohmmed VI, who said, “How can society achieve progress while those who represent half the nation see their rights violated?” The code upholds the principle of gender equality and emphasizes that both spouses share responsibility for the family. Literacy rates have improved along with health care for women, and the lives of women and their families have been positively impacted in every arena.

The next speaker, H.E. Gilbert Galanxhi, Ambassador of Albania, said “Without a doubt, family is the pillar of all of Albania’s development.” In Albania, a family is formally defined as a “woman and a man, aged 18 and above, who agree to live together.” Noting the pressure for alternative forms of family to be recognized in the European Union, he  commented, “I hope we continue to stay traditional.”

The Ambassador continued with a brief yet fascinating history of Albania which enlightened the audience about the difficult course his country has had, having come out of the domination by the Turkish Empire just 99 years ago and also being the poorest country in Europe. He explained that Albanians started building their country between the two world wars and subsequently fell under one of the cruelest communist dictatorships for the next 45 years. Only since 1992 have they begun to enjoy the fruits of democracy. Today, Albanians have created a full-fledged market economy, and he re-emphasized that it is the strong family structure which is the cornerstone of their tradition that has sustained this success. He attributed this success to the Four Pillars of Kanun, the formal code of conduct written in the fifteenth century, which powered their survival through the centuries; the primary set of laws deals with family issues. He also reported that there are people of four religions, predominately Muslim and Christian, living in harmony within Albania.

Mr. Thomas McDevitt, President of The Washington Times, welcomed all the guests and thanked them for visiting the Times and adroitly summarized the principal points made by each of the panelists. “This has been a significant forum on the pivotal role that the family plays in today’s society and its potential to eliminate poverty,” he said. In fact, The Washington Times had carried two significant articles on the matter that very day.

On a personal note, Mr. McDevitt, a father of five boys who lost his own wife to cancer nine years previously, reflected on how well aware he was of the heartache and the joy of parenting. Yet at its best the family is a sacred and sublime institution and thus is an instrument of peace and prosperity. He added that The Washington Times was founded by Dr. Sun Myung Moon in 1982, at the height of the Cold War, with the vision and purpose of embodying a distinctive ethos and set of principles, which have always guided the paper: family, freedom, faith, and service.

In its first decade the founding of the paper broke the newspaper monopoly in Washington and provided the voice of freedom for the world; in the second decade it emphasized cultural issues; and in its third decade the paper exists to share compelling and distinctive content especially related to interfaith issues. Mr. McDevitt ended with these thoughts, “The founding principles of our company are in alignment with the founding principles of the United States…. The pursuit of happiness is rooted in the pursuit of virtue and virtue is rooted in the family.”

Ambassador for Peace appointments were presented to: H.E. Jacinth Henry-Martin, Ambassador of Saint Kitts and Nevis; H.E. Daouda Diabaté, Ambassador of Cote d’Ivoire; Mrs. Aminata Ngum, wife of the ambassador of Gambia; Mrs. Etleva Galanxhi, wife of the ambassador of Albania; Ms. Wassane Zailachi, DCM, Embassy of Morocco; Ms. Pia-Maria Norris, Executive Director of Godless Defined; and Ms. Love Weah, Founder of ASIA Vision Foundation.

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