Representatives of the Utah International Mountain Forum have the privilege of attending the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) of the United Nation in New York in March, during spring break. Five student representatives of UIMF will have the opportunity to raise awareness and promote the work students have done in the past. This year marks ten years since the first Women of the Mountains Conference was hosted at Utah Valley University. The UIMF has made major contributions to transform these conferences into major grass-roots forums in North America on promotion of sustainable mountain development and gender agendas of the United Nations and the UVU student clubs coalition looks forward to sharing those experiences at the United Nations.
Tony Medina during 60 CSW in
New York in March 2016
Students plan both to share their contributions to the promotion of the mountain targets among UN SDGs and SDG#5 on gender in particular, and to learn how deepen their understanding and knowledge of the CSW and how the UIMF’s contributions fit into the UNWomen Agenda. The visit will be a follow up to the 2016 60th CSW, where President UIMF Tony Medina attended and led the UVU delegation.
The UIMF visit was made possible by the ELLA Grant and GEL Grant provided by UVU
UIMF Discussed Mountain Targets and SDG’s with PR of Kenya to the UN, Ambassador Macharia Kamau
Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations, Ambassador Macharia Kamau visited UVU and lectured before the UVU faculty and students on the theme: “United Nations Post 2030 Development Agenda” on February, 9, 2017. Ambassador Kamau, in addition to many other roles, was the co-chair on the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. Members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU, had the opportunity to host the Ambassador for a special session with a Q&A roundtable prior to his general lecture. In addition, we were fortunate enough to have former members of the UIMF who graduated in 2015 in attendance.
Ambassador Macharia Kamau during
session with UIMF members
Prior to Ambassador Kamau’s remarks, Danny Davis, moderator of the session, introduced participants to the distinguished guest and in particular Tony Medina, President of UIMF (2014-2016), who addressed the VIP guest on how the UIMF has been working toward the mountain targets as part of the SDGs set by the UN, particularly in regards to gender since 2007.
Christian Jensen, UIMF President, shared with Ambassador Kamau the United Nations recognition of the UIMF’s efforts in hosting the Fourth International Women of the Mountains (WOM) conference under the umbrella of the FAO-UN in Orem in October of 2015. For the first time ever, such a high level United Nations forum was hosted through efforts of the students only, as part of the experiential model of student learning. This conference was gathered as a follow up event to the historic UN sustainable development summit in New York, which adopted the SDGs as a roadmap for human development in 2015. Christian emphasized that the WOM conference has been hosted since 2007 as a grass roots forum to promote gender and the Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD) agenda of the United Nations in North America.
Munkhbat Batmunkh, Vice President of UIMF, then shared how the UIMF coalition of clubs was featured in the 2016 United Nations Secretary General’s report on sustainable mountain development (SMD). UVU is the only university in North America which was mentioned in that United Nations document. The WOM conference in October 2015 addressed the critical issues faced by women and children living in mountainous regions across the globe and provided a forum to discuss gender issues. The report highlighted the UIMFs contributions to SDGs 5, 6, and 15, and their promotion.
As Vice President, SMD club, I was honored to thank Ambassador Kamau, as a co-chair of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs, for giving an opportunity to UVU student Jesler Molina to speak during the session of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs on December 11th 2013. The Ambassador was pleased to be reminded by that important fact of working together with UVU students during the adoption of mountain targets among SDGs. He was warmly greeted by Jesler Molina, President UIMF (2013-2014) who was also in the audience during the session.
Jesler Molina, and Ambassador Macharia Kamau during Session of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs in 2013
Jesler Molina and Ambassador
Macharia Kamauat UVU in 2017
In addition to these accomplishments the UIMF shared with the Ambassador Kamau, Tony Medina informed the VIP guest, that he, Christian Jensen, Munkhbat Batmunkh, and myself will be attending the 61st UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) this March. This will be an excellent opportunity to promote the work of the UIMF and its implementation of SDG#5 focusing on gender issues and mountain targets in particular, at the CSW61, and engage in the discussions and presentations taking place there. While there, Ambassador Kamau has extended an invitation for these students to meet at the Kenyan Embassy to further discuss the post 2030 development agenda.
Group photo of Ambassador Kamau,
and his wife, with the leadership
members of UIMF, and faculty
In his response, Ambassador Kamau focused on the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and the importance of the goals that have been set for the next generation. He expressed appreciation to UIMF students for active involvement with the SDGs adoption and said that what was done at UVU gives him satisfaction, that the hard work of the OWG team was worth it. After the millennial development goals of 2015 were accomplished, the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals set a new agreement as a successor. The new goals were to be a global framework rather than focused only in developing countries. This is due to a growth in population, technological advancements, economic prosperity coupled with income disparity, gender inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, and global security challenges. With that being said, finding a sustainable path for closing the gap between the rich and the poor, the developed and underdeveloped is the priority of the 2030 Agenda. After three years of negotiations, the 2030 Agenda was adopted, in an unprecedented multilateral effort. The agenda consists of 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets to be met by 2030. And there are three mountain targets among them, for which UIMF and UVU made so many efforts in order to be adopted since 2013.
The Sustainable Development Goals
During the Q&A session, Ambassador Kamau encouraged participants to use the resources they have living in this century to reach out to students all around the world to work in partnership to reach their collective goals and promote the SDGs. Following which, questions of how these goals could be achieved even in times of political turmoil were posed and answered. Ambassador Kamau responded with the powerful words, “no matter who is in power, and what their agenda is, as long as the people stay engaged, our institutions continue to work towards good, and if history’s positive momentum stays behind us we can continue to point in the right direction despite political waves.” With that being said, the success of the SDGs is dependent upon partnership and sacrifices made by every government, international and regional institution, and every person. By doing this the world can be a safe, clean, sustainably joyful place for generations to come.
It was a very important and meaningful meeting with such a distinguished UN official which benefitted both sides and provided UIMF members with new experiences and energy in order to continue implementation of the post 2030 development agenda and mountain targets in particular.
Regan Warner, Vice President of the Sustainable Mountain Development Club.
UIMF Will Discuss Mountain Targets and SDGs with PR of Kenya to the UN, Ambassador Macharia Kamau
Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations, Ambassador Macharia Kamau will speak before UVU students and faculty on the topic “United Nations Post 2030 Development Agenda” on February 9, 2017 at 11:30am. The Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU) has the special privilege of hosting and discussing the contribution of UVU students to the post 2030 development agenda with Ambassador Macharia Kamau during separate meeting before the main presentation. The Ambassador Macharia Kamau played a key role in adopting the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda (SDGs) as a co-chair of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs and currently he contributes to the UN efforts with the implementation of the UN post 2030 development agenda.
This is not the first encounter the UIMF has had with the Ambassador Macharia Kamau. UVU student Jesler Molina was given the opportunity to speak during the session of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs on December 11th 2013.
UVU student Jesler Molina speaks during the session of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs on December 11th 2013;
(L to R): Co-Chairs of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs: PR of Hungary to the UN Ambassador Csaba Kőrösiand PR of Kenya to the UN Ambassador Macharia Kamau.
UIMF members now have another chance to talk to Ambassador Macharia Kamau and report how they were able to contribute to the adoption of mountain targets among SDGs. They will also inform the VIP guest about the 4th international Women of the Mountains conference hosted in October 2015 as a grass roots forum to promote gender and the Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD) agenda of the United Nations in North America.
When I started at Utah Valley University (UVU), I intended to get in and get out as fast as I could. Keeping my head down, not get involved in anything because as a mother of four and the manager and owner of a small business here in Utah, I did not have time for anything extra. Little did I know what my future would hold. Early in my junior year, my peers from Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU asked me to get involved with extra-curricular activities, like an international conference in 2015 and I instantly said “no.” Eventually, I said I could help a little and then I was put in charge of cultural events during the conference. I had almost completed that task when I was asked to take over the Education panel. I spent maybe a week trying to get the panel in order when I was informed by the UIMF leaders that I was being promoted to executive secretary of the conference. The prospect of this frightened me deeply. Unsure how I would balance everything, I still charged full steam ahead.
It was because of this one event, that my life has forever been impacted. I met ambassadors from all over the world, became friends with the international NGOs, like Days for Girls CEO Celeste Mergens, among others and most importantly now have two Pakistani daughters.
During the conference, titled “Women of the Mountains” our family housed Noorani Barkat, who at the time was in Texas working on her Masters in Agriculture. She submitted a paper regarding the Education of Women in Pakistan. Together, with the help of my colleague Tony Medina, who was in charge of the logistics and protocol during the conference, we were able to get her to Utah: Tony paid from his own pocket for her air travel from Texas to Utah and I hosted Noorani with my family. We had many deep discussions about culture, traditions and even religion. It was much to both our and her surprise that we found we had more in common than we thought regarding religion (we being Latter Day Saints and she being Muslim). We taught her to make American pizza from scratch (we got Turkey pepperoni) and she taught our youngest son how to cook authentic Pakistani chicken korahi from scratch.
Fast forward six months, and the UIMF team started to plan for the 2016 International Mountain Day on December 2nd 2016. It was dedicated to the cultural exchanges between mountain communities to promote sustainable mountain development agenda around the world. I remembered the film submission about Kalash tribe in Pakistan of Ms. Mehak Asad for the conference, whom we were unable to bring in 2015 due to limited funds. I discussed with other UIMF members the possibility of bringing her to Utah to present the film, very appropriate for the celebration. After the approval of the idea, I immediately reached out to Mehak. Within seconds she responded and was on board. With a generous donation from Dr. Michelle Taylor’s office at UVU, we were able to bring Mehak to Utah. Again, our family hosted an international guest. As with Noorani, a great cultural exchange took place.
Our 10-year-old daughter Judy and I went to Salt Lake International airport to pick up Mehak. It was funny, when we stepped into a store to get something to drink, Mehak walked right past us. I said to my daughter “I am pretty sure that is her, we should go find her.” Judy wasn’t so sure, but away we went to find Mehak. She almost bumped into us, when I said “Mehak?” Of course, it was her, and it was an automatic connection. On the way home, she mentioned how she was expecting something much different. Upon further discussion, several days later, we learned that in Pakistan, the media portrays the United States in such a light that many think that we are all very ill-mannered individuals, and she was thankful that we were nothing like how the Pakistani media portrayed Americans. It was an interesting discussion as we talked about how the American media tend to portray Pakistan in an ill-mannered fashion as well.
Mehak came early to experience an American Thanksgiving. It was her first time eating turkey, and she had her fill! She was able to experience a bit of Christmas as well. She loved the lights and symbols. Mehak even helped our family decorate the Christmas tree and our house!
Left Photo: Mehak and Judy Torsak in traditional Pakistani dress; Right Photo: Modeling traditional clothing; Provo, Utah: (L to R) Handen Torsak, Mehak Asad, and Brayten Torsak
Mehak had prepared to bring traditional Pakistani clothing for the entire our family. The clothing Judy is wearing, Mehak’s mother made especially for her. She was so excited that the dress was made special for her. Two of our boys Handen and Brayten were happy to model their Pakistani clothing as well.
Mehak (in yellow dress) with the majority of the Torsak extended family at the Salt Lake City, Utah
For Thanksgiving, many of my husband Kenneth’s family came to celebrate. As part of that celebration all of us went to Salt Lake City to see the Christmas lights at Temple Square. We toured around the city enjoying the sights as well as the Church (LDS) History Museum and the world-famous Tabernacle. Mehak is now officially part of the Torsak family, and she wanted a family picture! She tracked someone down to take a family picture.
Mehak has fun with Judy Torsak and her classmates at Lakeview Elementary School in Provo, UT
Mehak went to school with Judy and experienced 5th grade in Utah……In Portuguese. Mehak joked that she didn’t understand a thing because it was in Portuguese but she loved how interested the kids were, and how fun it was to share her culture with them.
Mehak was happy to find a Pakistani Market in Salt Lake City, Utah
She was going to cook for us, but wanted a very particular kind of rice. We drove to Salt Lake City to look in the Asian markets there, we didn’t find what she was looking for, but as we drove home we drove past an “Indian/Pakistani” market and she screamed….”Mommy there was a Pakistani market, turn around” Scared me when she screamed but man the market was so awesome!!!
Women of the Mountains: Deann Torsak and Mehak Asad in Provo, Utah
On Thanksgiving morning, Mehak and I took a drive around Utah Lake. She decided that we should wear Pakistani clothing. She was impressed at how beautiful the lake was and the snow-capped mountains.
There really is no good way to appropriately articulate the experiences Utah Valley University has afforded me. I will be always grateful for that. It is a unique place that allows students to learn from books and professors as well as world class hands-on experiences, and UVU is truly an institution of engaged learning.
Both Noorani and Mehak call me mommy, and they forever hold a special place in our family!
Deann Torsak, executive secretary of the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference