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The Women of the Mountains conference organizing committee held their first Fundraiser last Saturday, August 29 at the Pacific Heritage Academy ( in Rose Park, Utah. “Pacific Heritage Academy is a DBA of Pacific Heritage Schools, a Utah Not-for-profit entity and a registered 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. Pacific Heritage Schools received authorization in 2011 from the Utah State Office of Education to operate a public charter school, to be called Pacific Heritage Academy, in the Salt Lake City School District beginning in the Fall of 2012.”

Event Program

This event would not have been possible without the generous in-kind donations, sponsors and volunteers, under the leadership of Kamaile Harris, Salt Lake City Liaison for the WOMC organizing committee, who created and coordinated the event. Kamaile Harris is a community leader who promotes sustainable ways of life through networking, building coalitions and partnerships in the area of Salt Lake City. She was thrilled to be a part of the organizing committee of the WOMC by organizing the fundraising event at the Pacific Heritage Academy to contribute to both the success of the WOMC and the activities of the United Nations affiliated Mountain Partnership with focus on sustainable mountain development.



(L to R): Kamaile Harris and Jennifer Starley

Great support to her was provided by Jenny Starley, PR and Fundraising for the WOMC organizing committee. The event was a great example for many UVU students of building long-term engaged learning experience through cooperation with local communities in Salt Lake City area.

There was a tremendous amount of support from local sponsors to make the event a success. Participants attempted to outbid each other at the silent auction which included over $4,000 in generous in-kind donations from local organizations, artists, individuals and sponsors. Even vegetables were donated by High Desert Produce Co. from West Valley City, Utah.


(L to R): Lisa Shepherd, member of the organizing committee of the WOMC with Alex Azmi, Director of the Documentary “To Climb A Cold Mountain”

Upon conclusion of the reception and closing of the silent auction, the guests and participants were treated to a screening of the documentary, To Climb A Gold Mountain ( The movie was generously donated and attended by the Director and Producer, Alex Azmi, from Los Angeles, California. Mr. Azmi provided a QA after the screening where participants were able to further discuss the film’s compelling subject matter of the triumphs and struggles of Asian women in the United States throughout different eras.


Guests of the event inspect items for bidding

Participants were greeted by Genre Zero, a local music band from Rose Park, Utah. The reception included Asian Fusion vegan food samplings from Jennifer Russell-Fenus of SLCVeganista’s Kitchen. Participants enjoyed; eggless egg foo young with mushroom brown sauce, rice, vegan egg rolls and Thai tea.

The fundraiser volunteer staff; Jim Boswell, Thelma Rother and Manda Lujan are some of the best local experienced event staff in the Salt Lake area community. Hamyanie Gustafson is a Seventh grade student at Pacific Heritage Academy who also volunteered and was a great example of hard work.


(L to R): Event Volunteers Thelma Rother and Hamyanie Gustafson serve Refreshments to the guests of the Fundraiser.

Many members of the organizing committee of the Women of the Mountains conference were happy to volunteer during the event, including Deann Torsak, executive secretary of the conference, Tony Medina, VP for logistics and protocol among others.

The fundraiser brought a new awareness to our guests about the critical issues faced by women and overall gender inequality living in the mountain areas in particular. The organizing committee of the Women of the Mountains conference concluded their successful event by announcing the funds which were raised of just over $1,200.

Genre Zero’s Band Manager and Vocalist, Joshua Isbell has given organizing committee of the Women of the Mountains conference permission to utilize their song, Berry Blossom, in an upcoming promotional video. The song talks of growing gardens and sharing our bounty, which is in line with Women of the Mountains values to live sustainably.

This was the first experience with fundraising benefitting gender and SMD agendas of the United Nations. Next one Kamaile and her team would like to host after the WOMC and to contribute to the efforts of Sagar Basnet, Utah Valley University student from Nepal, who helps to rebuild school in his village. They already started preparations for that and some items for bidding were already sold during fundraiser on August 29, 2015 with those goals. We wish Kamaile, Jennifer and their team success.

Stacy Medina, member of the organizing committee of the WOMC

Fundraiser for Women of the Mountains Conference

Gold-Mountain-PosterJoin us for this Women of the Mountains UVU Fundraiser. It is a preview of the subject matter we will be presenting at the conference in October.

Here is the agenda:

6 to 7 pm
Refreshments by SLC Veganista’s Kitchen
Music by Empty Set Records
Silent Auction

7 to 730 pm
School Welcome
MC Greeter
Read of Silent Auctions

730 to 830 pm
Film Screening of “To Climb a Gold Mountain” Directed by Alex Azmi and Produced by Rebecca Hu.

830 to 9 pm
Q&A with Director Alex Azmi
Announcement of Funds raised


Students engaged learning at Utah Valley University by hosting the International Women of the Mountains Conference

Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, Dr. Rusty Butler, Dr. David Connelly

Utah Valley University (UVU) will hold the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference (2015 WOMC) on October 7-9, 2015. UVU traditionally co-hosts the WOMC with the International University of Kyrgyzstan as a gathering to advocate gender and sustainable mountain development (SMD) agendas under the auspice of the Mountain Partnership (MP) under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN). MP is a United Nations voluntary alliance of partners dedicated to improving the lives of mountain people and protecting mountain environments around the world. (For more information, see:

One main feature of all WOMCs is their focus on raising awareness about the importance of gender and sustainable mountain development agendas of the United Nations throughout local communities in the state of Utah and the Rocky Mountains region as well as their contribution to the efforts of the MP on a global level. Another important goal of the WOMC is to continue traditions of gender advocacy established by international communities during the Celebrating Mountain Women conference in Bhutan in 2002 (part of the commemoration of the United Nations International Year of Mountains.)

WOM 2007 Poster
WOM 2007 Poster

WOM 2007 Display Poster
WOM 2007 Display Poster

The First WOMC hosted in Orem UT in 2007 gathered representatives from almost all the Rocky Mountain States and emphasized the importance of regional cooperation in contributing to gender and SMD advocacy globally. The Second WOMC hosted again in Orem, UT in 2011, continued the tradition of the previous gathering and at the same time helped to expand a network of the Mountain Partnership members in North America. As one of the results of the 2011 conference, the Mountain Partnership secretariat created a North American regional hub in Colorado State under the auspice of Aspen International Mountain Foundation and Telluride Institute.

2011 WOMC Poster
WOM 2011 Poster

WOM 2011 Display Poster
WOM 2011 Display Poster

The Third WOMC held in Puno, Peru in 2012 was the first gathering held outside of the state of Utah, implementing the decisions of the Orem Declaration of Mountain Women (the final document of the 2007 WOMC) to alternate the location of the conference between the State of Utah and mountain nations around the world.

WOM 2012 Poster
WOM 2012 Poster

WOM 2012 Display Poster
WOM 2012 Display Poster

WOMC is a grass-roots initiative which unites officials from different international organizations, led by the United Nations, the World Bank, diplomats, scholars and leaders of NGOs, educators, students and local community representatives. Their goal is to network, socialize and discuss joint initiatives and projects with a focus on engagement in global gender and SMD advocacy mountain communities from North America.What should we expect from the coming Fourth International Women of the Mountains conference on October 7-9, 2015?

Display Posters from previous conferences

This conference will be hosted for the first time by students from the State of Utah. In 2011, Utah Valley University students created the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of several student clubs with a focus on SMD promotion in their state and in the region ( already have several achievements in that area:

  • UVU students contributed research to the Report on SMD in North America, prepared by the Mountain Partnership for the landmark United Nations RIO+20 conference in Brazil in 2012.
  • They were able to raise funds to send representative to the RIO+20 conference and to participate at the Third Global Meeting of the Mountain Partnership as a side event there.
  • Two UVU student contributed to the agenda of the Fourth Global Meeting of the MP in 2013 which developed strategies for SMD advocacies by MP members in 2014-2017.
  • They advocated for the inclusion of mountain indicators among Sustainable Development Goals during sessions of several United Nations Open Working Groups in 2013-2014.
  • Since 2010, they made a tradition to commemorate the United Nations International Mountain Day on December 1.
  • Since 2011 they host an annual essay-contest on different SMD aspects among high schools in the state of Utah as a tool to foster new leaders for future SMD programs.

The student led initiative to host 2015 WOMC is based on UVU’s engaged learning approach which is “….in the spirit of the Carnegie Foundation designation, designed to help realize the two engagement categories that UVU has achieved:

  1. Curricular Engagement (Curricular Engagement describes the teaching, learning, and scholarship that engages faculty, students, and community in mutually beneficial and respectful collaboration. Their interactions address community identified needs, deepen students’ civic and academic learning, enhance community well-being, and enrich the scholarship of the 2015 Carnegie Elective Community;
  2. Outreach and Partnerships (Outreach and Partnerships describe two different but related approaches to community engagement. The first focuses on the application and provision of institutional resources for community use with benefits to both campus and community. The latter focuses on collaborative interactions with community and related scholarship for the mutually beneficial exchange, exploration, and application of knowledge, information, and resources (research, capacity building, economic development, etc.) (

During preparations for the conference, UVU students were able to expand their coalition by including in their organizing committee community organizers from Salt Lake City, Utah County and their peers from the University of Utah and Brigham Young University, among others. Many of them are learning very important skills of managing logistics, protocol, and raising funds for the conference.

The organizing committee represents students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Many of them combine a membership in the organizing committee with their university study, full-time jobs and taking care of their own families.If you are interested in supporting them or wish to contribute to the conference and be a part of supporting student’s engaged learning experience at UVU, see for more details at:

For additional questions please contact the following members of the organizing committee:

Deann Torsak, Executive Secretary of the Conference by:;

Tony Medina, VP for Logistics and Protocol by:;

Jennifer Starley, Press-Secretary and Fundraising by:;

Yanko Dzhukev, Social Media coordinator by:;

Kamaile Harris, Salt Lake City Liaison by:;

Carlos Alarco, Liaison at University of Utah by:;

Mary Cisneros, Economic Panel Moderator by:;

Kiersten Palmer, Business Fair Coordinator by:;

Parker Nielsen, Head of Protocol by:;

If you are interested in receiving the weekly WOMC newsletter, please contact Gabrielle Williamson, media specialist by;

Dr.Baktybek Abdrisaev, was Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to the U.S. and Canada (1997-2005), now Distinguished Visiting Professor of History and Political Science at Utah Valley University and an Advisor to UIMF, Dr. Rusty Butler, Associate Vice-President, International Affairs and Diplomacy and focal point (coordinator) for the Mountain Partnership at UVU, and Dr. David Connelly, Chair, Department of History and Political Science, UVU, and Editor-in-Chief of the “Youth and the Mountains” journal, published by UVU.

UVU Peru Study Abroad Follows Up Women of the Mountains Conference Goals

UVU Study Abroad program in Peru was held this May 2014. Dr. Sara Ulloa, Associate Professor of UVU Languages Department, and Advisor to the Sustainable Mountain Development Club at UVU   led a group of 19 students from Spanish, health, business, engineering and other fields to immerse themselves in the language and culture while providing service to Andean communities.

Group visited several places in Cusco and La Libertad to build bridges of understanding with Andean communities and its peoples. Collaborating internationally, students were able to start research on different aspects in order to promote solutions to problems and enrich the quality of life of its people. Research was based on the influence of the high altitude and remoteness on the living conditions of families, children and women in particular.

These issues were the focus of the Third International Conference Women of the Mountains, which UVU co-hosted in 2012 in Puno, Peru. The Conference in 2012 helped established closer relationships between the Rocky Mountain States, and Utah in particular, and the mountain communities and their families living on the high altitude of the Peruvian Andes. As one of the outcomes of the gathering in 2012 was the decision from UVU to create a study abroad program to bring faculty and students in order to continue work on the issues of gender and sustainable mountain development in Peru.

ulloa1 Group Picture: UVU Faculty and Students Together With Ccasacunca Community, Cuzco, Peru

During their stay in Peru, students met local people from the villages neighboring Cusco and Trujillo and experienced first-hand how it is to live in Andean communities. Students were able to make connections; find similarities and differences among their own culture and the Andean culture in order to intertwine this knowledge to an integrated view of the world.  Students who participated in this program returned home with a greater appreciation for others around the world and a better foundation for living and working in order to provide further assistance.

As a part of the program, UVU students also helped locals with schoolwork and brought school supplies and toys for children. In addition, plans for future cooperation between Utah and Peru, specially UVU and Cusco were discussed.

Faculty and students also visited local universities and discussed with local hosts plans for educational exchanges and mutual cooperation. Local scholars and faculty also expressed a strong interest to attend the Fourth international Women of the Mountains, which UVU will co-host in October 2015.

UVU Students Meeting Local Leaders and Children

UVU Students and Andean Children Rendering Honors to Andean Leaders


UVU Student, Matt French, presented UVU Souvenirs to Trujillo Teachers

UVU Students Teaching Children in BiblioBus, La Libertad

UVU Peru Study Abroad Group 2014, Machu Picchu, Peru

Furthermore, members of delegation were thrilled to visit famous and popular Machu Picchu and other touristic sites. Andean tour taught them about great heritage and skills in architecture of ancient Inca Empire, who were able to reach high peaks of civilization in such harsh environment of the mountainous Andes.

Fritz Culp and Matthew French, UVU students

Ambassador of Greece to the United Nations at UVU


H.E. Michel Spinellis – UN Ambassador from Greece Speaks at UVU

On June 9th, 2014 Utah Valley University (UVU) was fortunate to have in attendance His Excellency Michel Spinellis, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations as part of a continued effort by Utah Valley University (UVU) and special “Guest lecture” series of the UVU Office of International Affairs and Diplomacy to make its students more internationally aware and to introduce world leaders to the promising future of its students. H.E. Michel Spinellis arrived early in the morning to provide students and faculty alike a brief introduction on Greece and its politics, as well as, to address current issues in world politics. Specifically, the Ambassador from Greece spoke on “Greece – European Union: Challenges & Opportunities”.


During Presentation of the Ambassador Michel Spinellis

Within his speech, Ambassador Spinellis went into a brief history of Greece and the motivations of its people because of said history. Ambassador Spinellis explained why Greece’s history and culture have played their roles out on Greece’s political stage. Also, he explained Greece’s reasoning behind some of its current political decisions and was most pleased to find several of those in attendance who were actually from Greece.

Discussion of Greece did not end with his lecture. After the completion of his lecture, Ambassador Spinellis was taken on a tour of Utah Valley University’s completely indoor campus. While walking, discussions ranged from Greece to a history of UVU and the contributions it has provided to the field of international politics.

After touring UVU’s campus and working up a hunger, Ambassador Spinellis was treated to a traditional meal from Greece. Prepared and served by cooks from UVU’s leading culinary arts program. During lunch and after, His Excellency entertained questions from those in attendance who had made his visit possible. Questions from Christopher Clark, Director of the Theater Arts program at UVU, who is leading a group of students to Greece, and Dr. Rusty Butler, Associate Vice-President for International Affairs.

In attendance for this luncheon was Christopher Wiltsie, President of the Sustainable Mountain Development Club at UVU. Mr. Wiltsie was in attendance as a showcase of UVU’s commitment to student engagement and the necessity of educating its students – no matter the formality. Mr. Wiltsie’s commitment to this occasion was not merely superficial. Asking thought-provoking questions regarding Mountain Sustainability in the small country of Greece and even providing information on some of the work that has been done recently by his club. Ambassador Spinellis was most interested in the work that has been done by Mr. Wiltsie and his team and commented on the work that has been done in the United Nations regarding sustainability in the mountains, especially as it pertains to the UN’s post-2015 goals. Commenting on the fact that Greece has plenty of its own mountains and the need for cooperation between countries and the dissemination of reliable practices.


Joseph McCain with Ambassador Michel Spinellis

Understanding, cooperation, and a holistic approach to development and politics seemed to be an underlying point to Ambassador Spinellis’ visit to UVU. One this is for sure, Ambassador Spinellis’ visit was a reminder that there is much that can be done. Working together, regardless of outlet is one way that we can build a more sustainable future.

Joseph McCain, President, Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at UVU

Djiba Soumaoro – Ambassador Spinellis

Sungjae Lee – Ambassador Spinellis

UVU contributes to the OWG12 agenda

UVU Contributes to the 12th Session of the United Nations Open Working Group

The 12th session of the Open Working Group (OWG) was held during June 16-20, 2014. During this session participants drafted Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which will replace Millennium Development Goals as the United Nations time-bound and quantified targets in 2015.

Mountain Partnership secretariat sent a message before the session informing its members that “ Despite…collective efforts, mountains have almost disappeared from the text” in the preliminary draft of SDG.

It was a top priority for UVU to respond to the appeal with concern from the MP secretariat. As per request from Dr. Rusty Butler, the Mountain Partnership (MP) focal point at Utah Valley University (UVU) and with support from the MP secretariat, I represented UVU at OWG12 during June 16-19, 2014.

owg12-bekAt the 12th Session of the Open Working Group

UVU is a member of the Mountain Partnership (MP) a coalition of institutions worldwide that promotes the United Nations Sustainable Development (SMD) – agenda. As an advocate for this cause UVU regularly hosts the international Women of the Mountains Conferences. In addition, UVU offers its support of major initiatives and actions of the MP secretariat.

During the last several years UVU contributed to the Third and Fourth Global meetings of the MP. The third meeting convened in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2012 and the fourth in Erzurum, Turkey in 2013 respectively. UVU was able to participate in forums, which MP gathered at the United Nations to promote mountain indicators as well as help in the drafting of the SDG since the fall of 2013.

UVU and its Office of International Affairs and Diplomacy provided the necessary funds for me to participate at the OWG. This was a part of a UVU tradition to support the promotion of the SMD – agenda in the Rocky Mountains and globally and it was established since UVU joining MP in 2006. When UVU expressed a desire to be a part of the MP team during the 12th Session of the OWG, it received full support from the MP secretariat and F.A.O. in getting accreditation and a pass to the United Nations during my June 16-19, 2014 trip.

Even though, UVU doesn’t have a permanent presence at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, the university has several long-term projects with focus on the promotion of the SMD agenda, which contributed to the efforts of the MP secretariat during OWG12.

For our advocacy campaign, we used the already established project by the Office of International Affairs and Diplomacy, titled “Distinguished Lecturers” series that focuses on bringing foreign dignitaries and accredited United Nations diplomats in particular to UVU. UVU hosted Permanent Representatives of 15 nations during 2012-2013, including envoys from such mountain countries as Switzerland, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Greece etc. among others.

Personal letters from Dr. Rusty Butler, a focal point for MP at UVU urging intervention and support to the efforts of the MP secretariat were sent in advance of the OWG12 session to Permanent Representatives of 13 nations at the United Nations, including H.E. Simona Mirela Miculescu, Permanent Representative of Romania to the U.N.; H.E. Csaba Kőrösi, Permanent Representative of Hungary to the U.N., H.E. Ferit Hoxha, Permanent Representative of Albania to the U.N.; H.E. Carlos Michelén, Permanent representative of the Dominican Republic to the U.N.; H.E. Palitha T.B. Kohona, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the U.N.; H.E. Libran N. Cabactulan, Permanent Representative of Philippines to the U.N.; H.E. Pajo Avirovikj, Permanent Representative of Macedonia to the U.N.; H.E. Paul Seger, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the U.N.; H.E. Andrei Dapkiunas, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the U.N.; H.E. Talaibek Kydyrov, Permanent Representative of the Kyrgyz Republic to the U.N.; H.E. Charles Thembani Ntwaagae, Permanent representative of Botswana to the U.N.; H.E. Vitaliy Churkin, Permanent representative of Russian Federation to the U.N.; H.E. Michel Spinellis, Permanent representative of Greece to the U.N. among others.


Another important initiative used by UVU during OWG12 was a joint effort with the Permanent mission of the Kyrgyz Republic to rally support from diplomats to the MP secretariat effort. It was based on ties established since 2005 with the Permanent mission of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations as well as the Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United States as a key institutions in order to promote cooperation between the Rocky Mountains and Central Asia with focus on SMD-advocacy. UVU hosted Ambassador Talaibek Kydyrov, Permanent Representative of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations in March 2013 and Ambassador of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United States Muktar Djumaliev in June 2013. The Kyrgyz Mission to the U.N. last fall hosted Joseph McCain as the first intern from UVU and now prepares to have more UVU students. Both diplomatic missions are now actively involved in preparations to the Fourth international conference Women of the Mountains in Orem, Utah during October 7-9, 2015. UVU also works very close with several institutions in Kyrgyzstan, members of the MP in order to pursue joint projects with SMD-promotion. International University of Kyrgyzstan is a co-sponsor of the mentioned above the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference.

This model UVU currently expands in order to develop similar ties with Latin America (probably Peru or Argentina) and Africa (probably Kenia, Lesotho or Morocco).

Major activities on behalf of UVU during the OWG12 session, June 16-20, 2014 included:

  1. Follow up suggestions from MP secretariat representative to work jointly with diplomat from Romanian mission to the United Nations, who coordinated actions to support a joint statement from mountain states advocating the inclusion of mountain indicators to the SDG draft;
  2. Follow up with getting responses to the letter of Dr. Rusty Butler from 13 Permanent Missions;
  3. Establishment of contacts with diplomats from different missions in order to get an additional support from their states;

UVU was able to contribute to joint efforts from MP secretariat team during OWG12 and statements and actions in support of the mountain indicators from such nations as Switzerland, Kyrgyzstan, Greece, among others speak for themselves. All correspondence was always copied to both representatives of the MP secretariat and to diplomat from Romania. Not all diplomatic missions responded to the letters from Dr. Butler and to my inquiries. It gave us more incentives in order to think how for UVU to build stronger and longer lasting ties with those diplomats and their respected nations.

UVU appreciates involvement from MP secretariat in such important forums, like OWG12. At the same time, we hope to do much more further in order to mobilize support from North America to the mountain cause and this is one of our major priorities.

It will be important if MP secretariat will continue to get involved willing to contribute MP members to work jointly at the United Nations. Joint efforts on inclusion of the mountain indicators to the SDG draft represent just one of the steps in long-term actions of the MP.

As a part of the visit to the United Nations headquarters I was able to meet representatives of F.A.O. liaison office at the United Nations and introduce to them activities and programs at UVU with focus on SMD-agenda promotion.

owg14-bek2 Presenting to Sylvia Hordosch from the office of UNWomen souvenir from UVU students

During the meeting with Sylvia Hordosch from the office of UNWomen we discussed plans of joint activities as a preparations to the fourth International Women of the Mountains conference, which UVU will co-host together with the International University of Kyrgyzstan during October 7-9, 2014 in Orem, UT.

Baktybek Abdrisaev, Advisor, Utah International Mountain Forum