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March 2017
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UN International Day of Families 2012

Toronto Conference Draws on Global Wisdom for Strengthening Families

Toronto, Canada - “I am here to share the experience of Rwanda and the lessons we can learn as global citizens about how to restore the family and society.” With these words, the Hon. Inyumba Aloisea opened her address to the June 9 conference of the Universal Peace Federation and Women’s Federation for World Peace at the Don Valley Hotel in Toronto, Canada.

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Having arrived the previous evening from Kigali to strengthen connections between Rwanda and Canada, the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion described the remarkable rebuilding of her nation beginning with placing 300,000 children in families under the slogan “Every child needs a family.”

The world’s conscience was seared with the 1994 murders of a million Rwandans in 90 days. What many people may not know is that women, who were subjected to rape and torture during the genocide, are steering the task of reconciliation. Rwanda’s women now lead the world in the percentage of women members of Parliament (56 percent).

“We have followed our traditional way of resolving conflict (gacaca)," the Minister explained, "in which victims and perpetrators sit together and make confessions: ‘I’m very sorry I killed your children (wife, brother, etc.).’ If the relative is touched by the genuineness of the apology, he or she stands up and offers pardon. The final step is for the one harmed and the perpetrator to do community work together.”

The family in Canada is undoubtedly experiencing continual evolution as the cultural, religious, and ethnic composition of family life is enhanced by the arrival of new immigrants. Canada has one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world, and the conference drew upon the wisdom and experience of many traditions in uplifting family values as the foundation for a peaceful society and nation.

Hon. Jean Augustine, former Cabinet Minister and Member of Parliament, talked about what she learned as a child growing up in Grenada: respect your elders, sacrifice for your children, listen and learn, read the newspaper to learn what’s going on. “If nothing’s happening, organize something,” Ontario’s Fairness Commissioner concluded.

The conference opened with a session on restoring the broken family. Hon. David Kilgour, a former Cabinet Minister, mentioned studies about factors undermining families, which he called the cornerstone of society. He cited numerous statistics from Canada about the positive impact on children of healthy marriage and family life. He challenged the parents in the audience to set priorities: “What our children want and need most is our time.”

Hearts were touched by the stories of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, a physician from Gaza now living in Canada who described a parent´s nightmare, witnessing the death of his three daughters, in an Israeli attack. He chronicled how this event profoundly altered his life and impels his peacebuilding work in his book I Shall Not Hate.

Rev. Darryl Gray, a prominent black Christian minister in Montreal, asserted “I believe the family will not be restored until the family of God is restored to one family under God.” He clarified that by family of God he meant not just Christians, but also Muslims and Jews. He referred to his experiences on an interfaith peace mission in Gaza during which an American civil rights leader urged religious leaders to "Be headlights on the road to peace, not tail lights."

The multicultural audience raised provocative questions on both global and local issues, ranging from "How can you have peace without justice?" to "How can women believe in themselves more?" Throughout the day, a television crew interviewed both speakers and members of the audience in order to expand the conversation to a broader audience.

Another session addressed the concerns of interreligious and intercultural families. Mr. Armand La Barge, former Chief of Police of York, Ontario, talked about the challenges posed by increasing numbers of immigrants moving into the metropolitan Toronto area. “I’ve always been an advocate of inclusiveness, not just diversity. This means taking actions that make it a safer community for all.”

The conference co-sponsor, Women's Federation for World Peace-Canada, has long had a connection with Africa, especially Rwanda, having raised funds to support a school in that nation for the past several years. Mrs. Lilly Tadin, President of the Women's Federation for World Peace-Canada, spoke on the Influence of Women in Establishing Strong Families. "Women should not settle for just equality but strive for beyond equality," she said. "When you love someone, your love is more important than your life. Your love is more precious than yourself. So I am urging you to go beyond yourself."

A number of speakers brought theoretical discussions down to the level of family experience, giving examples of transcending barriers of many types.

Mrs. Raheel Raza, a Pakistani Muslim activist for interfaith understanding, talked about her two sons’ marriage to women from other faiths and cultures and how this challenged her to go beyond merely talking about intercultural understanding to welcoming them into her expanded family. Ms. Almas Jiwani, president of the National Committee in support of UN Women Canada, described the wealth of experiences growing up in a multicultural household in Zaire/Congo and her work around the world promoting women's empowerment. She emphasized the UN's theme for the International Day of Families this year: "Ensuring Work-Family Balance."

Mr. Franco Famularo, Secretary General of UPF-Canada, described his childhood in an Italian immigrant family in Montreal, where his was the only family eating pasta for dinner. Thirty years ago, he was introduced by UPF founders Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon to a young Japanese woman, and they participated in a mass wedding with 2,074 other couples.

“The quality of character and the quality of love of the man and woman makes all the difference,” he said. “This was part of the World Peace Blessing movement, making a public commitment to the universal human family bound together in solidarity and mutual respect beyond the barriers of race, nationality, and culture.” Their daughter and the children of other intercultural couples who helped staff the event enhanced its multicultural blend.

Many UPF observances of the International Day of Families include recognition of couples celebrating milestones of marriage. At the close of the event, flowers were presented to Rev. Chae Hee Lee, chair of UPF-Canada, and his wife, In Ae Lee, who were celebrating 50 years of marriage and made everyone, from senior Ambassadors for Peace to first-time guests, feel like members of their extended family.

Presentations:

See also coverage of the conference in Allafrica.com, and the New Times of Rwanda.

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