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International Day of Families Forum Hosted by African Union Mission to the UN

New York, USA - The Permanent Missions to the UN of Angola, Iraq, Nigeria, Qatar, and Tunisia, and the NGO Committee on the Family, in partnership with the Universal Peace Federation, co-sponsored a program on “Addressing Poverty by Strengthening Families” at the Office of the Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, New York on May 16, 2011. The program was directed by Mrs. Genie Kagawa, Deputy Director of the UPF Office of UN and International Relations.

On behalf of H.E. Mr. Téte António, Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the African Union,  Mrs. Mirriam Omala-Gauvin welcomed the distinguished audience and prominent roster of speakers and applauded the efforts made by the UN and NGOs alike to lend emphasis to the significance of the family on the International Day of Families. She was followed by H.E. Professor U. Joy Ogwu, Permanent Representative of Nigeria, who stated in her remarks that peace can be realized only if poverty is lessened. "Every person must experience value in their work and labor and all their basic needs taken care of." she said.  Violence and war would consequently be reduced, heralding a new era of peace for all people.

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Dr. Michael Balcomb, UPF Communications Director, introduced the UPF perspective that families can be a significant instrument of peace and reconciliation. "Although the UN is dealing with a myriad of problems, we should not view the dilemmas facing families simply problems to be solved," he said. "Families can be seen as great resources for development, especially if they are given adequate support." In addition, Dr. Balcomb showed photos of some of the International Day of Families 2011 programs organized by more than 40 UPF chapters; programs on family strengthening and the need to address poverty among families.

The keynote speaker was the Hon. Jose de Venecia, Jr., the distinguished former Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Philippines. He spoke about the recent radical changes such as the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and noted the fact that these changes originated not with any political party or opposition groups but with young students, labor unions, and families. Speaker de Venecia is the Founding Chairman of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties and Chief Executive of Centrist Asia Pacific Democrats International.

"Now is the time to consider strengthening the families, which are agents for positive and transforming changes in the world," he said. He also detailed his proposal to the United Nations for solving the crisis of global poverty through a “Debt for Equity” initiative. The idea sparked interest among diplomats and the NGO community.

Mrs. Lynn Walsh, Director of UPF's Marriage and Family Peace Initiative, moderated Session II on "Policies and Best Practices." The impressive panel of speakers were able to demonstrate grassroots achievements in alleviating poverty on the family level and stimulated the audience towards substantial action.

Ms. Renata Kaczmarska, Focal Point of the UN Programme on the Family, gave important statistics on those who suffer the most from poverty, such as single parents, large families, people living alone, and the elderly. She considered family-focused strategies as an important key to achieve the MDGs. She views families as allies in achieving these goals and as both agents and beneficiaries of development. Her PowerPoint presentation demonstrated examples of family-focused, anti-poverty programs that work around the globe.

Mrs. Susan Roylance, International Policy and Social Development Coordinator at the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, talked about how she and her husband invested four years in a drought-prone Kenyan region, giving technical support with irrigation skills to families suffering from hunger and poverty. After four years, the entire area was considered “famine free.” It was a hands-on, "one-family-at-a-time” solution to hunger in an area that had suffered famines every three years.

Mr. Mike Bobbit, Director of the Fatherhood Initiative of the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, presented a program that has been carried out in New York City under the leadership of Mayor Bloomberg, to work with fathers of three different age groups who do are not living with their children. He pointed out that a higher rate of crime, poverty, lack of education, and social imbalances come from families where the father is not present. Other US cities are looking to emulate New York's approach to poverty-related family problems.

Mrs. Nadia Schmigel, Co-Chair of the NGO Committee on the Family, which was a co-sponsor of the event, presented the work of her Committee at the United Nations and the various initiatives being made by the Committee to help a wide range of needs related to families around the globe.

Speakers had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience in topical discussion groups, and members of the audience were very interested in best practices for strengthen families in various parts of the world.

NOTE: The International Day of Families, declared by United Nations General Assembly 1997 Resolution 52/81 as an official part of the UN calendar on May 15, highlights the need to strengthen and support families in performing their societal and developmental functions. This year, the UN underscored the necessity to address poverty in families through the theme: “Confronting Family Poverty and Social Exclusion.”

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