Category Archives: 2019

UIMF Participates on Civil Society Discussion on Zero Draft for CSW63

On February 18 at 8:30am, the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU), participated in an online conference call to discuss the changes made to the Zero Draft Outcome Document for the United Nations (UN) 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63). This session consisted of follow up discussion on the document created by UN Women entitled “Draft agreed conclusions: Text presented by the CSW 63 Bureau,” a modified version of the document created by UIMF and other civil society participants in a series of online discussions organized by the NGO Commission on the Status of Women, New York (NGO CSW/NY).

(L to R): Michael Hinatsu and William Gum during online session 

The primary goal of the February 18 session was to examine the differences between the document submitted by NGO CSW/NY and the document released by UN Women. While a number of the recommendations put forth in the UN Women document intersected with issues raised in the online conference call sessions, many of the concerns and calls for action raised by UIMF and other participants were not included in the UN Women document. As a result, much of the time during the current session was spent replacing those missing recommendations, in order to create a document to send to member states affiliated with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that was more comprehensive and issue-sensitive, that would allow member states to be more aware of civil society concerns during negotiations on CSW63’s agreed conclusions.

Participants of online session from around the world discuss changes to the Zero Draft

UIMF’s language about mountain women and girls, nontraditional students, engaged/experiential learning, and gender equality in the workplace was not included in the UN Women document, but were replaced in the document created on February 18. Other civil society participants, as in other online sessions, expressed support for UIMF’s language—especially the language about nontraditional students and mountain women and girls. As in each online session, UIMF and others effectively coordinated both the inclusion of specific language describing civil society concerns, as well as a sense of cooperation and urgency that such language be addressed by CSW63. This updated document will now be sent to individual ECOSOC member states and others to increase the chance of its issues being discussed at CSW63.

Ms. Winifred Doherty leads online session

UIMF would like to thank Jourdan Williams, Youth Representative to the UN for the International Health Awareness Network, and Winifred Doherty, Main NGO Representative to the UN, who were instrumental in organizing the online sessions and in formulating the document sent to UN Women. Additionally, UIMF thanks Dr. Ross E. “Rusty” Butler, main focal point of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, for making it possible for UIMF to participate in the online sessions.

Michael Hinatsu speaks during online session about adding mountain women language to the updated document 

UIMF continues to reach out to the UN Secretary-General, ECOSOC President, and the 54 UN member states affiliated with ECOSOC to advocate for mountain women to be included in CSW63’s final document. UIMF also is hosting a parallel event at CSW63 titled “Student engaged learning to empower mountain women and girls” will be held at the second floor of the Church Center of the UN on Tuesday, March 19, 2019 at 8:30am.

Michael Hinatsu, UIMF member

PR of Austria to the UN, Ambassador Jan Kickert discusses mountain targets with UIMF

On Tuesday, January 19th, 2019 the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU), met with the Permanent Representative (PR) of Austria to the United Nations, Ambassador Jan Kickert. The event was held prior to his lecture on campus, which was titled What Foreign Policy for a Small Country? The Case of Austria. Being able to present to Mr. Kickert was not only a great way to highlight UIMF’s advocacy efforts at the United Nations, but it was also a great way for me to follow up with Mr. Kickert our previous interaction, when we both participated at the International Mountain Day Celebration in New York on December 11, 2018.

As part of established tradition, several members of UIMF participated at lunch with Ambassador Jan Kickert before his presentation. These lunches with the dignitaries that visit are a great way to network not only with the visiting UN dignitaries, but also with other distinguished guests at the lunch. After the lunch, several UIMF were given the opportunity to meet VIP-guest and present on their past successes with advocacy of the UN sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda as well as plans for participating in the 63rd Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) in March.

During UIMF members meeting with Ambassador Jan Kickert 

I began UIMF’s presentation by welcoming everyone to the event and thanked the UVU Office for Global Engagement the chance for us to meet with Mr. Kickert during his visit to UVU. After that, I introduced Ms. Megan Davis, a freshman at UVU who has been active in UIMF since fall 2018. Megan provided UIMF members and Mr. Kickert with a brief history of UIMF and who it strives to involve. During her presentation, she presented Mr. Kickert with relevant documents relating to UIMF’s most recent activity, among which included the statement by Congressman John Curtis (R-UT) commending UIMF members for SMD advocacy, the written statements copies for CSW62, CSW63 and others. After Megan presented, I welcomed Brandon Pedler, President of the German Club and a non-traditional student, to inform VIP-guest about UIMF focus on mountain targets as part of the UN Agenda 2030 Development agenda.

Mr. Pedler went into further detail about UIMF’s successes at the United Nations, particularly its contribution to the adoption of three mountain targets among the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during 2013-2015. Mr. Martin Sajdik, the predecessor to Mr. Kickert, was the president of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) when UIMF members advocated for the adoption of mountain targets. This was very interesting to Ambassador Kickert.

Abeir Isawy presents folder with UN documents to Ambassador Jan Kickert

Following Mr. Pedler presentation, I invited Ms. Abeir Isawy to present on SDG 4.7 about engagement all adult learners in SDGs implementation, and how UIMF implements this goal by presenting at CSW63.

After Abeir, I spoke about our participation at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2018, a trip I went on and presented at. I made sure to keep my presentation short as we only had a short amount of time to present.

Then, Ms. Hailee Hodgson spoke about UIMF efforts to participate at CSW63 and push for adoption of the language in the final document of it by hosting in particular a parallel event. Her presentation was critical to ensure our agenda for CSW63 was clear and also to make sure Mr Kickert was aware of the event as we head to CSW63. Hailee then asked Mr. Kickert how we can better jointly advocate for mountain women at CSW63, and we are hoping to garner some increased coordination with his mission. Ambassador Kickert explained that the mountain targets and women are important for him also personally, because he was involved in hosting a conference “Women of the Mountains” in Austria two years ago. He agreed to assist in any ways possible and during CSW63 in particular.

As one of the last presenters, Mr. William Gum spoke as a representative of the model UN team. He said that UVU MUN team will participate in the Model of the United Nations of the Far West in San Francisco in April this year by representing Austria. He had some specific questions for Mr. Kickert regarding Austria’s foreign policy goals at the UN, as well as other questions on human rights and women empowerment. Ambassador Kickert answered in details to Mr. William Gums questions.

Group photo of UIMF members with Ambassador Jan Kickert

I then closed the session by thanking Mr. Kickert for so attentively listening to our presentations and being gracious enough to answer our questions. Overall, the event was a success that not only prepared our students attending CSW63 for working with diplomats, but also allowed UIMF to highlight their past successes. I hope we can continue to foster a partnership with the Austrian Permanent Mission to the UN in the future.

Samuel Elzinga, President – Utah International Mountain Forum, Foreign Affairs Club


Samuel Elzinga-Austria Task List 



Hailee-Hodgson-Discussing a sustainable mountain development with the PR of Austria to the UN, H.E. Jan Kickert


Brandon Pedler-UIMF meets with Ambassador Jan Kickert


Hannah Bieker-PR of Austria to the UN Ambassador Jan Kickert speaks at UVU


Dirk Gum-Discussing Model UN Agenda With Ambassador Jan Kickert


Lacee Meyer- An Event in Relation to the Individual


Megan Davis-PR of Austria to UN, Mr. Jan Kickert visits Utah Valley University


Ezra Pugliano-Meeting with PR of Austria to the UN, Ambassador Jan Kickert


UVU Student Addresses 2019 Utah Rotary President-Elect Training Seminar & Assembly

New and old leaders from Utah District 5420 gather to inspire, educate, and learn to better connect the world

            ( L to R): D.J. Smith, Orem Rotary, Clark Merkley, President-elect. Orem Rotary,  Hannah Bieker,  UVU Student with Dean Jackson, District Rotary Leader  

The 2019 Rotary President-Elect Training Seminar (PETS) and Assembly for Utah District 5420, was held February 15th and 16th at Salt Lake Community College. There, past, present, and future Rotary and Rotaract leaders convened to hear presentations from District Governor Scott Leckman, District Governor-Elect John Hanrahan, District Leader Dean Jackson, and participate in break-out sessions and group discussions lead by various Rotary and Rotaract leaders. (See: agenda at:

As the Rotaract Handbook explains: Rotaract is a service club for young people ages 18 to 30 and are dedicated to finding innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges while developing leadership skills and making friends from around the world. Rotary clubs both sponsor and play the primary role in guiding, mentoring and supporting Rotaract clubs. Rotaract connects young leaders with Rotary’s worldwide family, giving them the chance to expand their professional networks and foster international understanding. Rotaract at Utah Valley University is actively supported by members of Orem Rotary. Kyle Warren, President-elect of UVU Rotaract and I, as Rotaractor participated at the seminar along with several members of the Orem Rotary under the leadership of the Orem Rotary President-elect, Clark Merkley.

(L to R): Hanna Bieker, UVU Rotaract,  Martha Velasco, District Rotaract Advisor and Kyle Warren, President-elect-UVU Rotaract

The first day of the conference began with the Pledge of Allegiance, 4-Way test, Invocation, as well as a welcome and opening comments were delivered by District Trainer Dean Jackson, after which he introduced the first speaker, District Governor Scott Leckman. As the outgoing District Governor, Scott Leckman shared how he first became a member of Rotary International and how he remembered the feelings of excitement and nervousness he experienced sitting in his first PETS conference.

Next, Orem President-Elect Clark Merkley took the stage to address the conference attendees and invited the members of Rotary International to participate in the upcoming United Nations Civil Society Conference that will be held in Salt Lake City on August 26-28, 2019. Detailing the great opportunity to highlight activities of Rotary International as the NGO in general consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations since 1993.

Hannah Bieker addresses conference attendees

In relation to his statement, President-Elect Clark Merkley invited me on stage, to  address the conference   regarding my upcoming presentation at the 63rd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in March 18-20, 2019. I, along with a dozen of my fellow members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF) a coalition of student clubs at UVU, will travel to New York and participate in the UN event. Our group’s primary focus will be to bring global attention to women and girls in mountain communities, who are among the poorest and most vulnerable to climate, economic, and other challenges. Whereas my role at the UN will be to demonstrate how through service oriented learning we can implement through Rotaract the UN sustainable development goals, such as ensuring everyone has access to clean water, Polio eradication, and the empowerment of women in the developing world. I informed the audience that I will be the first to represent Rotaract at the United Nations and my objective will be to highlight the successes of Utah Rotaracts, their past service projects, what is currently being worked on, and our plans for the future. As part of UVU’s model of Student Engaged Learning, it has been the responsibility of myself and my peers of arranging logistics, approach embassies, draft the official language, and most crucially, raise the funds necessary to attend the UN conference.  My words could not express just how thankful I am to the Orem Rotary Club and President-Elect Clark Merkley, not only for introducing me to the conference but for their incredible generosity in donating $500 thus allowing me the opportunity to travel to New York and affording me the privilege of representing Rotaract at such a prestigious level as the United Nations.

The second day of the conference, held on Saturday February 16, 2019 contained a full day of presentations and discussions among attendees. After being provided a light breakfast, the conference began with the Pledge of Allegiance, recitement of the 4-Way test, and invocation, District Trainer Dean Jackson provided a welcome and his opening comments. Soon after, District Governor Nominee (DGN) Linda Sappington addressed the conference. I found her to be the most inspirational as she lead the audience through her story of joining Rotary International and her life altering experiences that followed. DGN Linda Sappington was first approached in 1993 by a friend who encouraged her to join their local Rotary Club in St. George, Utah. Trusting the judgement of her friend, Linda joined thus becoming that club’s first female member. Unbeknownst to her at that time, her acceptance into the club made four male members leave simply because they did not want a woman to be apart of their organization. It is hard to imagine something like that happening in today’s time. But Linda explained that women joining Rotary back then was not an easy thing. It took a United States Supreme Court ruling to allow women into the club. But Linda proved herself to the club through her dedication to service and passion for helping others. She even shared of an experience between herself and a male member who admitted to being one of the men who opposed her joining, but expressed how he was initially wrong about her and was glad she was a part of their organization. This impacted me because I will be the first to represent Rotaract in the United Nations. In March 2019, I will travel to New York and present to the UN Commission on the Status of Women and demonstrate how through service oriented learning we can implement through Rotaract the UN sustainable development goals, such as ensuring everyone has clean water, polio eradication, and the empowerment of women in the developing world.

During the first break-out session of the day, Rotary and Rotaract Clubs formed groups to discuss ways in which Rotary International can obtain and maintain membership. This break-out session was lead by Chief of Staff for District Governor-Elect John Hanrahan. This was a great opportunity for the newest and oldest members of Rotary and Rotaract to collaborate as to which recrutement techniques resonate best with each generation. The exercise embodied this year’s Presidential Theme: Rotary Connects the World. Through connecting the experiences and views of Rotaractors and Rotarians through each generation.

         Rotaractors and Rotarians share their recruitment ideas

           Overall, my experience at the 2019 Rotary President-Elect Training Seminar and Assembly was better than I could have ever imagined. It was an incredible way to spend my weekend learning from past, current, and future leaders and service projects. I am honored to of have had the opportunity to attend this event, grateful to the people who make organizations like this possible, and thankful of the great friendships I made. I look forward to the next opportunity I have to learn from leaders like these who all share the passion of service to others.

Hannah Bieker, a  member of the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at UVU as well as UVU Rotaract club


Agenda of the 2019 district president-elect training seminar  


Statement of Hannah Bieker 



SMD Club Supports S.47 Natural Resource Management Act

The Sustainable Mountain Development Club (SMD) at Utah Valley University (UVU) writes today to commend our Utah Senator, Mitt Romney, and his 91 colleagues in the Senate who supported and passed S.47, Natural Resource Management Act (2/12/19). This legislation greatly expanding tracts of land to be protected by the federal government, preventing destructive drilling around several national parks, and allocating funds to be used in further preservation efforts.

We strongly believe that a crucial aspect of sustainable development across the nation, and especially in those mountainous areas, includes the preservation of pristine wilderness. The overwhelming bipartisan support for this act has shown integrity in their office and responsibility to promote the common good among the people they represent. We truly hope that the House of Representatives will pass, and President Trump will sign S.47 with equal vigor and excitement for our nation’s wilderness.

Historians have called the national parks, and the principle of public lands as a whole, “America’s best idea” and “democracy at it’s very best”. The nation’s public lands provide the American experience in its purest form; that the nation should set aside the greatest wonders of our land for the enjoyment and adventure of the people, and that they be protected by America’s first great achievement, the republic itself.

While large-scale legislative actions like S.47 Natural Resource Management Act are crucial to the preservation of our nation’s pristine wilderness that responsibility ultimately falls upon all Americans. We encourage everyone to take an active part in preservation efforts across the nation, no matter the size, for these lands are ours.

Kyler Pigott, President SMD club at Utah Valley University

UIMF at the Utah Valley University club rush

UIMF members during the club rush at UVU

On January 23rd and 24th, Utah Valley University (UVU) hosted its spring 2019 club rush for its students to learn more about the various clubs on campus. For the many clubs on campus, club rush is an opportunity to recruit new members and to highlight the most exciting aspects of their clubs to prospective members. The Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs on campus (, took this opportunity to highlight their recent efforts at the United Nations and also to earn extra funds for the club, as clubs who successfully participate in both days of club rush earn an additional 100 dollars.

As the President of both UIMF and the Foreign Affairs Club, I saw this as an excellent opportunity to earn extra money for our clubs while also highlighting and promoting the sustainable mountain development agenda, which is at the core of UIMF’s activities. Tabling, which is sitting with the club table and answering any questions any passerby may have, is essential to a successful club rush, so I ensured the students tabling had a broad knowledge of UIMF initiatives and successes. All club leadership, namely Joseph Lloyd, Mark Driggs, Viktoriia Bakrii, Lacee Meyer, and myself, tabled for at least one 30-minute session each day. We also strongly encouraged every member of the club to participate in club rush if they have been involved in UIMF for at least one semester prior. Not only did the entire club leadership participate in club rush, other members like Megan Davis, Hailee Hodgeson, and Hagen Isaacson also tabled. These students, who have been very active in the club, were key to showing other students the important work club members participate in and the benefits of working with UIMF. The club leadership also provided a unique perspective for many interested students as well.

I felt like club rush was a resounding success. Having participated in club rush for 3 semesters, I finally felt like I knew what would draw students in, how to talk to students who are unsure about joining UIMF, and how to ensure we are properly staffed at the table. This was overall a very productive club rush, and I hope we will continue to set a precedent of good club rushes in the future.

Samuel Elzinga, President, UIMF 


Megan Davis-Promoting Mountain Sustainability with UIMF during the club rush at UVU


Hagen Isaacson-UIMF Participates in Spring club rush at Utah Valley University


Mark Driggs UIMF Participates in UVU club rush


Kyle-Warren-Rotaract at UVU Club-Rush 2019


UVU Rotaract contributes to the Frodsham Community Christmas Party

On December 15th, 2018, the Utah Valley University (UVU) Rotaract members contributed to the Frodsham Community Christmas Party. The Frodsham Community hosted its 27th annual Christmas party in Farmington, Utah. For the last twenty-seven years, the Frodsham’s, long time residents of the Farmington area, have reached out to the community to bring service to hundreds of people throughout Davis county and Salt Lake county during the Christmas season. For many, Christmas time is full of good memories and love. However, for others, the time can be bleak due to less fortunate situations that they may be going through. The Frodsham Community Christmas Party seeks to find those who are in need during the holiday season. The event provides a warm meal, wrapped new Christmas gifts, gently used clothing donations, toy donations, as well as food, toiletries, feminine hygiene products and a variety of other necessary items to those in need. ( )

Members of the Frodsham Community during the Christmas Party

While serving over nine-hundred guests with the help of hundreds of volunteers, the 2018 Frodsham Family Christmas party was a great success. This year, UVU’s Rotaract club decided to reach out and provide service during the event. Kyle and Mckenna Warren, grandchildren to the founding Frank and Barbra Frodsham, helped to organize UVU Rotaract’s efforts with the Frodsham Community Christmas Party. In addition to the Warrens, Jesse Sandstrom and his wife Abigail, as well as sisters, Hannah and Hailey Bieker came to help out in the event. All who attended and were able to be part of the event left saying they had a strong feeling of service and the reward of helping in the community.

(L to R): Mckenna Warren, Kyle Warren, Hannah Bieker and  Hailey Bieker during the Christmas Party

Rotaract seeks to help the world, both on the local and International level. “Rotary is a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves” (

Mckenna Warren and  Kyle Warren after the event,

With many of our friends and neighbors experiencing difficulties, we as the UVU Rotaract club thought that this was a perfect event to lend a hand. Today, we live in a world where there is constant need. Many of these needs go unknown to most people. UVU Rotaract hopes to be able to make a difference in the lives of those who need it. We will continue to reach out and give aid in any way that we can.

Kyle Warren, UVU Rotaract President-elect (2019-2020)


UIMF Contributes to final online discussion on CSW63 Zero Draft Document

On January 18, 2019, the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU), (  participated in the final conference call session related to preparing the Zero Draft Outcome Document for the United Nations (UN) 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63). This session was the culmination of UIMF and other civil society efforts to discuss topics, concerns, and groups of people that will be included in the Zero Daft Document, which will be used at the Commission by Permanent Representatives of UN member states affiliated with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to negotiate the language of CSW63’s final document. The final document, also known as the agreed conclusions, represents global priorities and actions to take related to the priority theme of CSW63, which is “social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.”

(L to R): Michael Hinatsu and  Hazim Alshanbari, UIMF members  during  online discussion 

The purpose of this final session was to synthesize the nearly 34 pages of recommendations put forth by  civil society groups and NGOs from around the globe including UIMF at previous sessions, as well as to add any urgent or critical recommendations to those synthetizations. Much of the work in this regard had been completed by Jourdan Williams, Youth Representative to the UN for the International Health Awareness Network, who along with Winifred Doherty, Main NGO Representative to the UN, is instrumental in organizing the online sessions and in formulating the Zero Draft. A Zero Draft Innital inputs were sent on January 23, 2019 to UN Women, a part of the UN that focuses global efforts to support women and women’s issues, and then to diplomats who will negotiate on CSW63 agreed conclusions.

Discussion of the content of the Zero Draft Document  

The purpose of the synthesis was to consolidate the many recommendations put forth by UIMF and others into comprehensive, inclusive, and direct recommendations to guide negotiations of diplomats. Much of the specifics related to groups of people, infrastructure, health, climate change, justice, employment, and other topics were rephrased or taken out in order to make the document concise. However, a considerable amount of time during this session was given to UIMF and other participants to ensure that the synthesized version was as inclusive and detailed as possible. UIMF suggestions related to climate action, representation of women in the workforce, and marginalized communities were mostly considered and implemented in the synthesis. Additionally, past UIMF contributions to language about mountain women, nontraditional students, and engaged (or experiential) learning were also included in the synthesis as main points. This will greatly increase the chance of such language being directly negotiated during CSW63 and possibly ending up as part of the agreed conclusions.

Michael Hinatsu, UIMF members  during  online discussio

UIMF’s participation in these sessions represents an unprecedented opportunity for UIMF members to engage with civil society and NGOs who share common concerns and who would like to have their say in what may become the agreed conclusions of CSW63. UIMF’s participation in these sessions was also essential in advocating for mountain women and girls, nontraditional students, and the engaged learning model that UVU successfully implements, in such a way that awareness of these topics is heightened and opportunities for cooperation at the regional, national, and global levels have been increased. UIMF is indebted to Dr. Ross E. “Rusty” Butler, main focal point of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, for providing the links and connections that allowed UIMF to meaningfully participate in these online sessions.

UIMF continues to reach out to the UN Secretary-General, ECOSOC President, and the 54 UN member states affiliated with ECOSOC to advocate for mountain women to be included in CSW63’s final document. UIMF also is hosting a parallel event at CSW63 titled  “Student engaged learning to empower mountain women and girls”  will be held at the second floor of the Church Center of the UN on Tuesday, March 19, at 8:30am.

Michael Hinatsu, UIMF member


ZeroDraft Innital inputs submitted by NGOCSW to UN Women 


UNA-USA about UIMF celebrating IMD 2018

United Nations Association of the United States (UNA-USA) posted a piece “International Mountain Day Celebration at the United Nations” on January 13, 2019. This was a result of the partnership established between the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University and UNA-USA and an another example of the UIMF efforts  to raise an awareness about mountain targets in the State of Utah and North America. Samuel Elzinga, President of UIMF, who participated at the IMD celebration at the UN on December 11, 2018, wrote a piece.

According to the UNA-USA mission statement: “The United Nations Association of the United States (UNA-USA) is a movement of Americans dedicated to supporting the United Nations. With over 20,000 members (60% under the age of 25) and more than 200 chapters across the country, UNA-USA members are united in their commitment to global engagement and their belief that each of us can play a part in advancing the UN’s mission and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Link to the post:    

Story of humanity: building bridges between mountain women

I would like to share a story about two women from two different parts of the world, with different religious beliefs that were able to be connected by hearts and are working now for building peace in their own capacities. I met Deann Torsak, in Orem, Utah during International Women’s of Mountain Conference under the umbrella of the United Nations Mountain Partnership in 2015. The main idea of the conference was to get women from different mountain countries together to discuss how to solve common problems caused by challenges from living in the mountains, like high altitude, extreme temperatures, lack of communications, challenges in education as well as many others. Deann was the executive secretary of the conference and was responsible to contact the speakers. I am from Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan. I enjoy working on projects that address topics like peacebuilding, empowering youth especially girls and the importance of education. I was studying in Texas A&M, when I submitted a paper for the conference on the status of children’s education in mountains of Hunza, Pakistan and that is how she found me as a potential presenter at the conference.

She is now like a mother to me in America. With Tony Medina, another student-organizer of the conference, who donated his points for my air ticket from Texas to Utah and back, Deann not only offered me her house to stay during the conference but also given me four beautiful siblings (3 brothers and a sister) in the United States and since then we share this unbreakable mother-daughter bond. It looks like nature has connected us for a reason and since then I call her as my Mommy.

She is a Christian and I am a Muslim from Pakistan, and we have made this strong connection of unconditional love, respect and support for each other. All of us know how a mother cares for a daughter without expecting anything in return, and that is exactly how she treats me.

Left to right: the first row: myself,  Deann Mommy, sister Judy; the second row: brothers Handen, Jathan, and Dad Kenny.

I am currently working on my Ph.D. in agriculture at Washington State University. This Christmas, mommy Deann invited me to her house in Provo, Utah to celebrate Christmas with her family. We met after three years. Before, I was not very well aware of Christmas traditions, but mommy Deann and her family explained everything to me and made my trip worth visiting. I got to know that Santa comes early in the morning and leaves stockings full of gifts. On 25th of December, I was woken up by my little sister, Judy who told me that Santa had left gifts for all of us and it is time to open the gifts. I had no idea that Santa brought me gifts too, which obviously made me so happy that Santa treated all of us equally, who said Muslims don’t accept gifts from Santa.

I made many traditional Pakistani foods for my family in Provo including the traditional Pakistani  breakfast by making paratha (bread) and anda (egg) as well as daal (lentils), chawal (rice) for dinner, taught my brother, Handen how to make Pakistani chicken curry but a less spicy version and they taught me how to make pumpkin pie and stuffed turkey.

This picture of Mommy Deann and myself was taken during our hike to Bridal Veil Falls in Utah by using camera timer and tripod.

I know the importance of connecting to people like mommy Deann in my life and how she has added many beautiful things to my life through her presence. She defends me, and my religion and I defend her and her religion when people say something wrong about any or both of them. It is important for each one of us to know people from different countries and religions and to bridge the gap, and learn that diversity is a great blessing if we know how to value and celebrate it. We have one life and a beautiful opportunity to appreciate the differences and to celebrate common things.

In the end, what matters the most is how we treat people around us and how people remember us. I hope we continue to spread love and peace and make each other’s lives easier by being kind.

Noorani Barkat, a Ph.D. Candidate at Washington State University


VIDEO: Christmas message of peace