Category Archives: 2015


On December 11, 2015 representatives of 195 nations reached a landmark accord on climate change in Paris that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change. It was important that during the COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP21), that mountain regions were highlighted. The Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS) under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN) spearheaded efforts to bring mountainous communities and the effects climate change has on them to the forefront of the discussion. MPS asked all interested institutions and individuals around the world to sign a petition requesting that during the UNFCCC COP21 new climate deal the impact climate change has on mountain peoples and ecosystems is fully discussed.

Members of Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU), including myself, were able to be part of those initiatives, due to the relationship formed between UVU and MPS in 2006 when our university became a member of the Mountain Partnership. It was an excellent opportunity for many of us to get acquainted and contribute to the activities of the MPS, which coordinates the sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda of the United Nations globally. Students were also able to gain professional skills, and experiences on an international level.

Climate change has a serious impact in mountainous regions for a number of reasons. For example, the fact sheet, released by the White House1 states that issues relevant to Utah due to the climate change would be: agriculture, water, health, ecosystems, and tribes. The Southwest region of the United States produces more than fifty percent of the nation’s high value specialty crops; these crops will be damaged if snowpack and stream flow amounts decrease. With a decline in water sources may increase competition between farmers attempting to irrigate their crops. Dry climates becoming drier will increase the likelihood of fires destroying ecosystems and impacting the people who live in the Southwest region. Decreased snowpack will decrease the amount of water that is available to use, this can pose health risks if temperatures rise and there is a limited amount of water available.

Since June 2015, we were involved in gathering signatures for the petition. It became part of the curriculum for my International Relations class, when our teacher, Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev introduced it to us. Additionally, he asked me if I was interested in gathering signatures among other political science classes at UVU. I agreed to coordinate those efforts and I am very glad that it allowed me to discover a whole new world of global politics closely intertwined with destinies of people who live in the mountainous state of Utah.


Our team gathering signatures at Utah Valley University

Many students not only signed the petition, but also approached others to obtain 5-10 additional signatures. Our team included Rex Linder, Jon Thorderson, Danny Davis, Aaron Smith, and Trevor Williams among others. Petition signing was included in the agenda of the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference which UVU students, myself included, successfully held at UVU on October 7-9, 2015, as a gathering to promote gender and the SMD agendas of the U.N. in North America. Here we worked together with Yanko Dzhukev, who led a campaign to gather signatures through social media (for information, see his piece at: Many dignitaries, and scholars from 20 mountain nations, who attended the conference, signed the petition. Student members of the organizing committee led efforts in gathering signatures:

The more the issues of climate change were discussed, the more we were able to learn for ourselves about the significant impact of climate change in mountainous regions and why it is important to be involved in those activities. Dr. Russell Williams from Memorial University of Newfoundland, in Canada came to speak at UVU on “Canada’s Role in Global Climate Change Negotiations” on October 28, 2015 and I asked our Canadian guest to sign the petition. His signature is one of many that I am proud of.


I am standing with Dr. Russell Williams from Memorial

University of Newfoundland, in Canada, when he signed the petition

In addition, we set up a booth in the hall at UVU. We were sure that there were many other students that were also passionate about this issue. We were confronted with questions and several arguments. Data from the Yale project on climate change communication shows that in 2014 60% of the people in the State of Utah, and 57% in Utah County thought that global warming is happening. However, I was surprised to see the number of people among my peers at UVU who didn’t accept climate change.


Signatures are gathered by students at Osh Technological University, Kyrgyzstan Under the advice of Dr. Almaz Atabekov (standing)

Students at UVU gathered signatures and were able to get support from many partners around the global mountain communities, including former Soviet Union nations. For example, students and faculty at International University of Kyrgyzstan, Osh Technological University, and Kyrgyz Technical University actively contributed to the campaign by signing the petition. Scholars from the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RANS) have supported our efforts as well; this group is an NGO with Consultative Status under the ECOSOC. RANS cooperates with UVU in joint advocacy of sustainable mountain development activities since 2010. Together we were able to contribute to the efforts of MPS to gather 6,283 signatures far exceeding the required 5,000.


Members of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.

The COP21 discussion was filled with voluntary climate plans from many countries all around the world. Major global corporations from around the world made their pledges by providing substantial funds in support of research and development of new technologies based on renewable, wind and other sources. This is a large step forward, but there is still a long way to go. Students and youth from around the world can and have to make their own contribution through raising both an awareness of the importance of climate change and additional funds to mitigate challenges caused by it. Making sure that the effects of climate change are addressed in all regions, but making sure that mountainous regions are not overlooked is still a goal for them as well and for students at UVU in particular.

Darian Hackney, UVU student and member of UIMF



The White house Office of the Press Secretary, a FACT SHEET: What Climate Change Means for Utah and the Southwest, May 6, 2014

UVU sends first student intern to UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization

For Immediate Release

University Marketing & Communications: Melinda Colton | 801-863-6807 | [email protected]

Written by: Alex Sousa | 801-863-8208 | [email protected]

Yanko Dzhukev, a political science major, will be the first student from Utah Valley University to intern at the Mountain Partnership Secretariat under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome.

Dzhukev was selected from several members of the Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at UVU, which promotes the United Nations Sustainable Mountain Development agenda in the State of Utah and in the Rocky Mountain region.

“This historic internship for Yanko further solidifies the strong UVU/U.N. links which we have established over the years,” said Rusty Butler, associate vice president of International Affairs. “It is serious global engagement at the highest level.”

The internship begins January 2016, when Yanko will be tasked with conducting research and updating data on the current Mountain Partnership members; helping to prepare information for reports and social media campaigns; assisting with editing and fact-checking; and supporting the preparation of content and mailing list for the monthly newsletter.

“It will be a great opportunity for me to grow professionally and get engaged on global level, and at the same time to promote among the global audience some of the best examples in sustainable mountain development in Utah and North America,” said Dzhukev.

The internship is a result of contributions from UVU faculty and students in promoting the U.N.’s agenda since 2006, when UVU joined the Mountain Partnership.

The FAO coordinates programs and activities advocating global sustainable mountain development and focuses on the global eradication of hunger and malnutrition.

New Year Greetings from the Mountain Partnership Secretariat

image001The team at the Mountain Partnership Secretariat wishes to thank all of you for your commitment to sustainable mountain development and the important work done together during 2015.

We have achieved a lot this year. Thanks to the efforts of all of you, many significant activities have taken place at national and local level, engaging both governments and civil society groups to keep up the momentum on mountains and ensure that they receive investments and political attention. Mountains were highlighted by side events at two Rio Convention conferences.

The Mountain Partnership Secretariat released two flagship publications, which you are encouraged to download and read:

International Mountain Day was a roaring success with celebrations held all over the world. This year’s IMD theme “Promoting mountain products for better livelihoods” culminated in an 11-day exhibition, “Mountain High! Festival of Peoples and Products”, that showcases textiles, crafts, mountain beverages and foods such as tea, coffee and quinoa in Delhi, India until 28 December.

We look forward to your continued collaboration and sustained support to improve the livelihoods of mountain peoples and protect mountain environments around the world going into 2016.

Sending you mountainous wishes for the holiday season!


unnamedThe Mountain Partnership Secretariat

UIMF hosted the Fouth International Women of the Mountains Conference

The fourth International Women of the Mountain Conference (WOMC) in distinction to a tradition to host it during the International Women’s Day on March 8 have been hosted during  October as a follow up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable development which adopted the UN Sustainable Developing Goals (SDGs) in New York in September 2015.

WOMC was hosted by the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU) in Orem , UT on October 7-9, 2015.  For the first time more than 70 students and many of them UIMF members hosted it through student engaged learning on their own: they started  preparations in December 2014 and finished it in December 2015 by adopting the .  As a feedback of engaged learning, of the organizing committee reflected in their essays about experiences as conference hosts.

According to , participants addressed the following topics: 1) Transmitting Family Values, Heritage and Culture; 2) Health of Women and Children; 3) Education of Women and Children; 4) Economic Issues of Women and Children; 5) Climate Change and Gender; 6) Human Trafficking and Exploitation; 7) Leadership for Women, and; 8) Access to information and public services.

The agenda of the conference included a session of members of the Mountain Partnership and a business fair for businesswomen from different mountain nations to work with local companies from the State of Utah.

WOMC was attended by , representing 20 mountain nations, including officials from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the U.S. State Department, Ambassadors of mountain nations accredited to the United Nations and the United States, experts and scholars on gender issues, faaculty and students.

from July 29, 2016 for the first time recognized UIMF members for hosting WOMC as a gathering “to address the critical issues faced by women and children living in mountainous regions across the globe”

Jesler Molina, Deann Torsak and Tony Medina, UIMF






2015 Women of the Mountains Conference Experiences: Drafting the Final Document

As students at Utah Valley University (UVU) approaching graduation, we really found ourselves wanting to get more involved professionally and practically, so to speak. We were looking for a cause to get involved with outside the classroom that would give us not only an experience, but would also allow us to distinguish ourselves in today’s competitive markets. Fortunately, we were able to find this opportunity in the (WOMC) as members of the secretariat of the conference. WOMC was sponsored by number of international institutions including the United Nations Mountain Partnership and it took place at the UVU campus located in Orem, Utah on October 7-9, 2015.

The WOMC was a true model of student engaged learning. As you may or may not know, this year’s conference was facilitated by students; members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU. It was truly awesome to watch the conference unfold, seeing the incredible things that students are capable of, and to be able to be a part of it. Our faculty, and many other prominent scholars and experts throughout mountain communities, served as advisers guiding us students through the complex process; from raising funds to sending invitations and calls for papers, taking care of accommodation for participants, and many other things. While much effort went into the preparation and execution of the conference, it wasn’t until its successful end that the greater part of our work in the conference really began.

Our job as members of the Secretariat was to draft the final document of the, compiling thoughts and ideas from the conference participants, including recommendations to the international community on gender issues. In August 2015, Deann Torsak, executive secretary of the conference, distributed the various responsibilities among the members of the Secretariat. Initially four students signed up to work on the final document of the WOMC. However, by the end of the conference only two of us from original group remained committed to do that very important job. We accomplished our task under the guidance of our advisers Dr. Butler, Associate VP for International Affairs and Diplomacy and focal point for the Mountain Partnership at UVU and Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, faculty in the History and Political Science Department at UVU and advisor of UIMF. We were extremely impressed and inspired by every participant’s level of dedication.

Our responsibilities included many activities important for the success of the conference and for our further professional growth, such as: analyzing similar documents, methodologies, and procedures adopted by other international forums. To achieve a high level of professionalism in our task required us to study additional academic literature, and the United Nations official documents, on different topics of gender and sustainable mountain development agendas. It was important for us also to utilize previous experiences accumulated by our predecessors during the adoption of this document. For example, we drew from the and the final document of the in Utah, which was gathered in March 8-9, 2007.


(L to R): Jesler Molina, outgoing President of UIMF, Rex Linder, and Seth Gordon during the session to discuss the draft of the final document of the WOMC

Drafting the document began by gathering the submitted papers of conference participants and recruiting recommendations and suggestions from them on their expectations of the final document. To ensure maximum accuracy and efficiency, our team divided the different panels between each of our members and studied the information collected before collaborating to prepare the initial draft of the document before the conference had begun. During the conference, each team member was assigned different sessions to attend, in order to make certain that all of the additional thoughts and ideas outlined by presenters would be incorporated into the developing draft of the document. As a result, we distributed and presented the first rough draft of the final document to all conference participants in a plenary session at the end of the conference activities on October 8, 2015.

For the month or so that followed the conference, we worked very diligently compiling notes and developing the various drafts of the document. In all, we sent out variants of the document to every conference participants three times. Each time the participant were given approximately one week to study it and to make suggestions concerning necessary changes to the: language used, to add new ideas, and recommendations, etc. We are so grateful to the many conference participants who actively corresponded with us regarding the document’s content and offered helpful and important suggestions. Mia Rowan, from the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, and Dr. Jed Shilling, from the Mountain Institute, were among our major contributors; and from whom we learned how to work on an official document of this caliber. It took close to a month and a half before the final version of the document was adopted by conference participants. That moment was the day of the approval of the document, which was the December 1, 2015. The final document was submitted to the Mountain Partnership Secretariat for further use and distribution among all interested stakeholders around the world. The Final Document is available at the WOMC 2015 web-site:  

As students of UVU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences (Seth-Philosophy and Rex-Political Science), we found that our education had definitely provided us with the necessary tools and prepared us for such a task. It was an amazing experience being in correspondence with the various participants in the conference, receiving suggestions and constructive criticism in order to accurately portray all of the presenter’s work and the overarching, critical messages of the conference. Our involvement in this conference provided us with invaluable real world experience and skills which include knowledge of bureaucratic processes, working in a team setting, and drafting a professional document, to name a few. We are glad that we were able to finish the job we started, seeing it through to its successful end. We are very proud of the level of quality we were able to achieve in this document, which was quite a challenging task for us; requiring a lot of time and dedication, while still juggling our regular school assignments and work responsibilities. The skills we gained here will undoubtedly assist us in our future endeavors.

We thank everyone that participated and contributed to the success of the conference.

Seth Gordon and Rex Linder, members of the 2015 WOMC Secretariat

My Engaged Learning Experience during the Women of the Mountains Conference

A lot of amazing and accomplished women representing mountain nations from different parts of the world graced the campus of Utah Valley University (UVU) during the (WOMC) under the umbrella of the United Nations Mountain Partnership located in Rome, Italy.  Our university hosted the WOMC on October 7-9, 2015 and I was fortunate to be a part of the students organizing committee and to contribute to the success of the conference. Our team was very happy that for the first time we were able to host this high level international conference entirely through the students’ efforts.  We were also glad to spread a word and raise awareness among so many people in the State of Utah and Rocky Mountain region about important gender issues and challenges for sustainable development for mountain communities.

I am also a member of Utah Valley University Multicultural Student Council (UVU MSC), which is an organization committed to helping historically marginalized groups, and WOMC presented a great opportunity to network and get together with many dignitaries, diplomats, officials, experts and scholars from a variety of local, regional and international institutions. Surely these amazing people from all around the globe had much to teach us.

During the conference I was part of media team and I worked closely with Jenny Starley, PR and Fundraising at the WOMC organizing committee. I was in touch with local newspapers and I contacted, for example, local newspaper Daily Herald with providing editors with media kit and all necessary information.

Picture1(L to R): Yankila Sherpa, President, Snow Leopard Trek, Nepal, Mia Rowan, Communications and Advocacy Officer, Mountain Partnership, F.A.O – U.N. and Deann Torsak, Executive Secretary, WOMC during the conference

Because of my similar responsibilities with UVU MSC, I was also able to photograph the participants who attended many different events during the conference. I am glad that many of my photos were later posted on Instagram, Facebook pages, Flickr pages of the WOMC and then were shared on the similar pages of the Mountain Partnership secretariat in Rome, Italy.

Many women-conference participants brought a perspective to this campus that I felt has been missing. They showed how each and every single individual can make a difference. I especially felt that charm during my interaction with Yankila Sherpa from Nepal. There were many distinguished women with great accomplishments during the conference, but she helped UVU students feel like her fellow colleagues.

Many men also came and spoke at the conference and added to what many of the women shared. The whole conference was a major success in terms of the information and the education that was given about the importance for all of us to help mountain women and mountain communities to sustain themselves and be contributors to the economic success and prosperity of their nations. Students and faculty of our school and all of UVU certainly benefitted from the appearance of all guests and speakers.

Picture2(L to R): Uday Teki, Director of Special Projects, Pioneer Park Coalition, Salt Lake City, and Danny Davis during the Conference

I personally benefited from the conference form of education that I gained through facilitation. I was able to help some of the guests around campus and provide for many of their needs. I was also able to gain so much professionally and get acquainted with so many important people and experts in gender and sustainable development issues, along with the amazing thoughts and ideas that they brought. Personally, this was the highlight of my time at UVU thus far.

Danny Davis, member of the organizing committee, Women of the Mountains Conference 

Lessons from Moderating the Heritage Panel, Women of the Mountains Conference 2015

In October 7-9, 2015, students-members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University hosted the , under the United Nations Mountain Partnership. It was the first time that students were given charge to organize the event and it was very exciting for us all.

I felt honored to be invited during summer 2015 to join student organizing committee and to moderate for the Heritage and Family Values Panel of the conference. Frankly speaking, as the single parent of ten children, and full-time student at UVU, at the beginning, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be effective and helpful with the activities of the conference due to my lack of the time. My conversation with other members of the committee and advisors allowed me to put aside my concerns and doubts. I am so grateful to them for their understanding support and encouragement, due to which I was able to contribute my energy, thoughts and ideas to the WOMC agenda and activities.


(L to R ): Second raw – Dr. Cholpon Akmatalieva, Faculty Adviser for the Conference; First Raw: Carolina Allen, founder, Big Ocean Women and Megan Raines during preparations for the conference

According to my responsibilities I focused on gathering attention and possible participation at my panel from scholars, experts, women leaders in the State of Utah and beyond its borders. I spent a lot of time to send a call for papers for the conference to all interested institutions and individuals by means of social media and personal contacts. Thanks to our meetings with other student organizers and with Deann Torsak, Executive Secretary of the Conference during the months ahead of the conference I was able to learn how to work with correspondence, how to process abstracts, final papers of the participants, among other things. It was great experience for me to learn from their organizational skills, hard work, and persistence. Advising professors also dedicated time and energy to get to know the students and offer support, suggestions, and encouragement.

I was thrilled during preparatory stage for the conference to get acquainted with many prominent experts and scholars on women issues, leaders of NGOs from our state and other parts of the North America and overseas. Several NGOs, whom I was able to contact have accomplished many important projects and initiatives with focus on gender equality or other gender issues and even for example attended the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW59) at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 March 2015.


Wendy Jyang, Chairperson, Utah China Friendship Improvement Sharing Hands Development & Commerce, presents at the panel

During the conference meeting the panelists and becoming familiar with their fascinating life stories, and the unique experiences that they brought to share with our panel was the highlight of my involvement. As moderator of our panel on Heritage and Family Values, I introduced first to the audience Wendy Jyang, who spoke to us about her agenda as the founder of the NGO registered under the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). She shared her passion for strengthening families and honoring the roles of mothers as an inroad to eliminating poverty globally, but particularly in China. Carolina Allen, founder Big Ocean Women an organization which has also brought its agenda before the CSW59 at United Nations headquarters, followed Ms. Jyang with a philosophical explanation of the Big Ocean Women’s goals to preserve and protect motherhood and the underpinnings of maternal-eco-cultural feminist movement. Ms. Allen explained how the ocean became of a symbol to her of the quiet but persistent influence that a woman can have on her environment as she observed a wave gently, but repeatedly, wash up against a rock and begin to change its shape. Both women stressed the importance of the individual.

UVU Professor Laura Hamblin followed with an introduction to her website Iraqi Women Refugees: An Oral History Project, which offers a look into the traumatizing life experiences of Iraqi Women. Dr. Steve Emerman from UVU concluded the panel with a fascinating explanation of his studies pertaining to lichen growth on sacred Mani walls in Nepal. His presentation partly focused on the way that local men and women differed in their interpretation of how and whether or not the walls were cleaned. Professor Emerman also explained how the lichen growth helped date historical events like landslides in Nepal.

All presenters also made some suggestions and recommendations based on their presentations, which I summarized and later submitted to the secretariat in order to include to the official documents of the conference.

As the session concluded I felt excited about what we had experienced in the two hours we had together. The panelists each took us on a unique journey to a new part of the world: from China, to the beach in Hawaii, to streets of Iraq, and the mountains of Nepal.

I felt the entire conference was like that; a chance to explore the globe and an opportunity to meet new women-friends from around the world. It was also a great opportunity for us students to contribute to the noble goal of spreading word about gender and sustainable mountain development agendas of the United Nations among so many people in the state of Utah and Rocky Mountain region.

I am happy that I took the chance to be involved and look forward to the next Women of the Mountains Conference.

Megan Raines, moderator of the Panel on Heritage and Family Values, organizing committee of the WOMC2015

Celebrating International Mountain Day 2015 with Ambassador Peter Thomson, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations,

On 7 December 2015, the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU) had the honor and privilege to host the Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations, His Excellency Peter Thomson as part of the agenda to celebrate the International Mountain Day (IMD) 2015. Ambassador Thomson gave a lecture entitled “Why small-island developing states matter at the United Nations” which was attended by UVU students and faculty in addition to the local Fijian-community members. His Excellency Peter Thomson held office as Vice President of the UN General Assembly for the 2011-2012 session and currently he is the President of the Council of the International Seabed Authority for its 2015- 2016 session.


Ambassador Peter Thomson during presentation at Utah Valley University

The Ambassador’s lecture was very enlightening and synonymous with the major goals of the UIMF to support and promote adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. VIP guest began lecture by mentioning that his visit was not the first one to Utah, but it was his first actual stay. He told a story of a Greyhound bus trip he took across the United States, ultimately using the Salt Lake City station as a transfer point back in 1969. Today, much like back in 1969, he made a point to mention that Utah is a very clean and tidy place and doesn’t have a trash-pollution problem like New York City or Washington D.C.

            He then began to hit on the main topic of his lecture, which of course we at the UIMF were very interested in hearing. As Ambassador Thomson explained, there are approximately 53 Small Island Developing States (SIDS), most of these countries belonging to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), making up 25-27% of the United Nations’ voting body. What makes them ultimately unique, and as his lecture title alludes to, is that this group of nations has come together in a united coalition to become a very powerful and impactful group which performs lobbying and negotiating functions for the SIDS within the United Nations, most notably focusing on climate change and its impact on the SIDS worldwide.

            This was why we at the UIMF were so interested in his lecture. How can we, a group advocating for implementation of Sustainable Development Goals in the mountainous regions of the world, create a similar group with the same amount of impact and respect as AOSIS? Similar to the SIDS, mountainous regions are deeply impacted by climate change, and are just as dependent on the SDGs as SIDS. The message we took from Ambassador Thomson’s lecture was the mountainous regions of the world need to unite in a unified voice of change and adherence to the SDGs to garner the same respect and impact as SIDS.

            Ambassador Thomson also briefly touched on the human migration problem facing the world. Another grim aspect of climate change, if it continues to go unabated, is that the populations on atoll-type nations will be completely flooded and displaced by approximately 4-5 feet of sea water. Fiji has set a precedent by offering all of the people on their neighboring islands a home on Fiji should climate change claim their homes. He urged the mainland nations and countries to act similarly, as coastal regions house millions more people than Small Island Developing States, and all of those people will need to migrate and resettle.


Members of UIMF with Ambassador Thomson

Following the Ambassador’s lecture, Dr. Rusty Butler, the Associate Vice President of International Affairs and Diplomacy and focal point for the Mountain Partnership at UVU, during special meeting introduced UIMF members to Ambassador Thomson. This was a very unique opportunity for us to inform Ambassador Thomson about our contribution to the United Nations gender and sustainable mountain development agendas and our interest to create a group similar to AOSIS, only for the mountainous regions of the world. His advice was to continue the course that we are currently on. He specifically mentioned that group voices are heard more because they are louder and if they are united. He encouraged us to continue to pursue our North/South partnerships, to make sure that we are engaging the communities living in developing mountain nations throughout the world. And finally, he shared with us two thoughts before he had to leave to another meeting. He said, “Partnership is the leadership,” and “remember it’s one planet-one people. Don’t give up.”

            Ambassador Thomson’s visit was very impactful and gave all of us in attendance a renewed sense of urgency of working together on many urgent issues including climate change. Although we all face separate issues resulting from it, we all have a common interest in stopping it before it is too late. By doing nothing, we solidify our death as a species on our planet. But, by coming together as a people to fix a problem we created only unites us and brings us closer together as nature intended.

            Ambassador Thomson’s visit to UVU was arranged thanks to the special program of hosting foreign dignitaries at UVU campus of the office of International Affairs and Diplomacy led by Dr. Rusty Butler.

Tony Medina, President, Utah International Mountain Forum, a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University




Poster of the 2015 IMD Celebration

On Friday December 4th 2015, members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU), students, faculty, community members and friends, gathered at the Gould Auditorium in the University of Utah’s Marriott Library to celebrate (IMD). This event has been celebrated in Utah every year since 2010 as part of continual joint effort from all interested institutions and individuals to promote the Sustainable Mountain Development (SMD) agenda of the United Nations across the state of Utah. Another important goal of that event is to raise an awareness among different communities in Utah about importance to share best examples and experiences in SMD across the state with mountain communities globally.

In general IMD celebrations coordinated by the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, which is part of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy. Contribution to the event and its hosting on a local level in Utah was done before by a number of institutions and NGOs in the State of Utah, members of the Mountain Partnership, including Utah Valley University, City of Orem, Gruppman International Music Institute.

With this in mind and as part of the recommendations adopted in the final document of the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference (October 7-9, 2015), the UIMF has collaborated with the University of Utah (UofU) to engage all interested institutions at UofU and Salt Lake City area and to host IMD 2015 at the Marriott Library’s Gould Auditorium. Thus, it was the first time the event was hosted outside the campus of Utah Valley University. Support for the event was provided by a number of organizations from Greater Salt Lake area, including the Marriott Library at University of Utah, which created posters to promote the event among other activities.

The theme of this year’s event was “Promoting Mountain Products for better livelihoods” and the program included many organizations local to this mountain city that traditionally provide services for the local community. To be inclusive to the need of so many different organizations, organizers of the IMD celebration broadened the scope of the event and included Community Services as products for better livelihoods. While any discussion of mountains regions needs to include the people and services that reside there, agenda of the event included presentations from eight local groups and a keynote speaker as a highlight of the IMD 2015. Several organizations also presented their products and services on specially arranged tables to the people in the audience.

The event started with refreshments and time allowing for participants and visitors to speak with the various organizations like Onchenda Open Global Group, Edible Campus Gardens, Americorps and Norwex, the Bennion Community Service Center and Office of Sustainability at the UofU. Organizations in presence there were only a small percentage of the many groups that people can choose to become involved with to support sustainability and community goals. Some of these groups also presented that evening were able to share their goals and ideas with all those in the audience.

The formal program began with a welcome by Tony, Medina, President of UIMF and two of us, with explaining goals of the IMD2015 celebrations and reading greetings from institutions, members of MP from Utah, in North America and from overseas: the Mountain Institute, Washington, D.C., International University of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, the Kyrgyz Republic, Central Asian Institute of Applied Geosciences, Bishkek, the Kyrgyz Republic, city of Orem, Utah, Gruppman International Music Institute, Provo, Utah and others.     To showcase some of the many young talents the local community has to offer, the evening included a musical performance by the students of Pacific Heritage Academy of Rose Park, Utah, “We are Friends.” The Pacific Heritage Academy is a public charter school authorized by the Utah State Board of Education.


A musical performance by the students of Pacific Heritage Academy of Rose Park, Utah.

The first presentation was made by Colleen Grant Dick from Onchenda Open Global Food Cooperative. She spoke about Agriculture in the Mountains and how biodiversity and going with the flow of nature will ensure mountain communities survival and sustainability. Onchenda is a start-up social enterprise with the goal of ending world hunger by empowering local farmers, urban/suburban and rural families, would-be edible horticulturalists, and anyone else interested in growing/raising their own organic food and selling the surplus through local online food webs.

The University of Utah supported the event well, with half of the presentations being given by organizations on campus as well as student groups. The first of these groups to present was the University of Utah’s Sustainability Office. Ayrel Clark-Proffitt, Marykate Glenn and Alya Hussain presentation was titled “Sustainability Office: What’s Our Product? Engagement” and they talked about the different programs of their office to promote sustainability. Some of these programs include: Sustainable Campus Initiative Fund (SCIF), Student Energy Ambassadors, U of U Farmers Market and the Edible Campus Gardens. The Edible Campus Gardens teaches students how to create a sustainable food cycle by growing and then selling organic produce on campus. It is also a place where students and community members can learn about food self-sufficiency.

Next presenters, Julia Maciunas and Sam from the Food Recovery Network (FRN), a student group from the University of Utah, talked about the importance of recovering food to feed people in need. The FRN is partnered with Chartwells Dining Services, which provides food services across campus, to receive surplus food donations. The food is then donated to local food pantries in the Salt Lake Valley. Gina Cornia from Utahn’s Against Hunger (UaH) a local food policy and advocacy group spoke about the need to increase access to food through advocacy, outreach and education. Since 1981 UaH has been working to eliminate hunger in Utah.

Ryan Pleune from the Pacific Heritage Academy spoke about the school’s use of Expeditionary Learning as a teaching model as well as social studies and Pacific Islander cultures in order to teach the Utah Core Curriculum. Knowledge of one’s culture is an important aspect of sustainability as it draws on traditions of respect for the mountains, land and sea that are used by all.

Roger Crandall, Brand Ambassador for the Transit Solar Car “Elf”, shared ersonal experience of owning such car in Salt Lake City. This vehicle runs on solar, lithium batteries to power the small electric motor and peddle power. This type of transport causes zero emission, is easy to drive and presents a healthy way of driving for communities and the environment.

Jennifer Jones from the Lowell Benin Community Service Center, another organization from the University of Utah, spoke about the many ways the center involves students in the community activities, and through the partnerships with local community organizations in particular. The Center also is looking for additional organizations that would be interested in partnering with them to provide students, and the University community, different opportunities to build a better society. Sawson Gholami from the Real Food Challenge, another student group based at the University of Utah, spoke about the importance of food justice. The Real Food Challenge is tied to a national movement that aims to shift $1 billion of existing university food budgets away from industrial farms/factory foods and towards local/community-based, fair, ecologically sound and humane food sources – “real food”.

The keynote presentation of the 2015 IMD celebration was made by Jason Singer Smith, professional climber, speaker and writer. He spoke about his love of the mountains and the importance of nature to our wellbeing. During the main part of his presentation Jason told the story of his abduction by militant group, part of Al-Qaeda in Central Asia, and Kyrgyzstan in particular and how he, and his partners, were able to survive as hostages, escape from captivity and how that changed him immensely. During his time in captivity he learned how trust can be an important aspect of any relationship and how this can be used to escape from potentially dangerous and life threatening situations.


(L to R) Tony Medina, President of UIMF presents certificate to Jason Singer Smith, professional climber, speaker and writer.

The evening ended with presenting of certificates from the Mountain Partnership to individuals in the audience who contributed to the Fourth International Women of the Mountains conference in October 2015 at UVU. Overall this event was a success in engaging new institutions across the state of Utah by members of the UIMF in raising an awareness and advocacy of the sustainable mountain development agenda. As one of the outcomes, some NGOs in attendance consider the opportunity of joining the Mountain Partnership and continue working towards sustainable mountain development. 

 Hosts of the IMD 2015 at University of Utah: Carlos Alarco, University of Utah Liaison, at UIMF and Kamaile Tripp, Salt Lake City Liaison at UIMF

Engaging mountain communities through the international Women of the Mountains Conference

May 8th 2015, I remember walking into class – International Relations of the Middle East. I had just flown all the way across the world from Bulgaria for summer school at Utah Valley University (UVU) located in city of Orem, state of Utah, USA. I had signed up for eight classes aiming to graduate as soon as possible. I remember stepping into class, meeting my professor – a short individual, speaking with a very strong accent and knowing I had absolutely no idea what is coming next. From this moment on, my life has completely changed. I had been playing professional basketball for nine years in Bulgaria and I decided it was time to give it up and focus on my other dream: a diplomatic career in the field of International Relations. I did not have any understanding how that was possible and I had to do to make it happen. After all, my life I had only been about playing basketball. I only knew that the time had come and it was now or never.

Professor Baktybek Abdrisaev began lecturing and in the middle of it, he started to talk about an international conference titled “Women of the Mountains” under the umbrella of the United Nations Mountain Partnership (MP) that was going to be held in October and that he needed students willing to participate in its preparation and hosting. MP coordinates global activities with a focus on the sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda of the United Nations and works under the umbrella of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy.

He later informed us that for the first time such a high level international forum will be hosted by students and in particular by the members of the Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at UVU. The next thing he mentioned was an incentive for his students to get involved: extra credit for those, who are willing to participate, plus gaining professional experiences and skills on an international level. I knew only one thing – I need all the help I could get; taking so many classes in one summer and I had to do whatever it takes to complete my courses successfully because I could not afford to not pass any of my classes. So needless to say, I was very interested.

The next morning I woke up early. The first thing I did was to rush to his office. “I want in,” is exactly what I said, even though I did not know what I was getting into. I soon realized that this was the very moment when my actual education in diplomacy started. I was asked how I was willing to help and what would I like to do for the conference. I knew that at the end of the summer I had to fly back to Europe, so if I wanted to work for the conference it had to be something I could do from a distance.

I was introduced to the members of the organizing committee of the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference (WOMC) including Tony Medina, Vice President for logistics and protocol; Dean Torsak, Executive Secretary; and Jenny Starley, PR and Fundraising. I quickly decided to manage the social media campaign, having learned that the websites for the conference had only been managed occasionally during last few years. I accepted the responsibility of the social media liaison. My initial work consisted of contacting globally over 300 members of the Mountain Partnership – governments, intergovernmental organizations, major non-governmental organizations and sub national authorities, informing them about the conference, and inviting them to follow the Women of the Mountains conferences social media outlets.

It was important for me to increase our social media presence in order to promote our efforts on a grass roots level and engage student groups from the State of Utah and beyond, to raise awareness and advocate for SMD and gender issues throughout the Rocky Mountain region and the world. I spent countless sleepless nights sending personal emails aiming to put the Women of the Mountains Conference on the social media map. Not very many institutions and individuals knew about us and I had to find new ways to attract attention and interest from the local and global audiences. From those 300 emails, to my disappointment, I received only a few replies. Many recipients didn’t take us seriously as we were only students.

Later, to my surprise, I received some encouraging responses from people ready to do whatever it takes in favor of the mountains. Through this communication, I was able to contact, and later meet at the conference, many amazing people from all over the world, and people that I will always call friends. I am very happy now to count among them, for example, Noorani Barkat, from Pakistan who is a graduate student at Texas A&M. During the Panel Session on Education of Women & Children she was very outspoken about role of education of women and children in improving lives of mountain communities in Pakistan. I was also impressed by the energy and persistence of Sejuti Sarkar De from India, a chief coordinator for the Society for Natural Resource Management and Community Development, who was so determined to come to the conference, that she found funds for air travel, while we provided her accommodation and transportation in Utah. Sejuti made a great presentation during conference on the topic of “Utilization of Forest Products by Mountain Women.”

Similarly, I was glad to establish the first contacts and then facilitate a dialogue with several women entrepreneurs and participants of a business fair, whom our student organizing committee was able to bring to Utah by raising funds for that purpose: Yunita Kopjanski, a founder and executive director from North Sumatera, Indonesia, who was interested in finding a business partner in Utah with focus on Renewable Energy for improving livelihoods of mountain communities in her native country; Diana Lucia Chaman Salas, a project coordinator of the Red de Agroindustria Rural (REDAR) del Perú from Peru, another amazing young woman that I had the chance to communicate and interact, was looking for local business partners in Utah focusing on use of educational alternatives for rural development in the Andes.


Ambassador Baktybek Abdrisaev, Diana Lucia Chaman Salas,(Peru) Project Coordinator, Red de Agroindustria Rural (REDAR) del Perú and Yanko Dzhukev

My involvement with the conference allowed to me also to work with Ms. Mia Rowan, a Communications and Advocacy Officer from the Mountain Partnership Secretariat, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. I was able to learn from Mia Rowan many professional lessons, both in use of media and in gender and SMD advocacy as well, and I am so thankful to her for sharing with me her enlightening experiences. And finally, it was a special pleasure for me to contact and invite as a presenter at the conference Mr. Joseph Loftin, the principal of Wasatch Academy, where I had received my secondary education. Wasatch Academy, founded in 1875, is an independent, coeducational, college preparatory boarding school for grades 8-12 located in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. It has students from more than 40 different countries including mountainous ones. Mr. Loftin, during his presentation titled, “Access to educational opportunities for women in communities throughout the world,” spoke about opportunities at school for students and girls in particular to broaden their horizons to gain a global perspective from living and learning alongside students from different cultures and traditions.


Joseph Loftin, Principal, Wasatch Academy, Mount Pleasant, Utah
“Access to Educational Opportunities for Women in Communities Throughout 
the World,” Panel Session on Education of Women & Children

As part of the activities of the conference I was also responsible for creating and using the conference social media outlets to contribute to the campaign organized by the Mountain Partnership for inclusion of mountain indicators among the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during their adoption by the United Nations in September 25, 2015. These SDGs were built upon the Millennium Development Goals and laid a foundation for the post 2015 development agenda of the United Nations. During the sessions of the United Nations Open Working Groups on SDGs in 2013-2014, UVU students were able to contribute to the joint efforts of MP members to ensure that the three mountain-related targets have been included among the draft of SDGs.

Starting at the beginning of June 2015 through the moment when United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 in September 25-27, 2015 adopted new SDGs, we attempted to reach out to numerous mountain related governments, organizations, individuals, and well-known mountain climbers. For that purpose I created an additional social media link – “Keep Mountains in the SDGs.” I contacted also the leaders of mountain nations and their Permanent Representatives to the United Nations urging them to advocate for keeping mountain indicators among the SDGs during the intergovernmental negotiations on the outcome of the document. I kept on pushing this very important agenda and urging for support, spreading this message because all of us, members of the UIMF, wanted to make a significant impact. Finally, when the three mountain indicators were adopted among the SDGs, it gave to us, and myself, satisfaction in knowing that we have fulfilled our obligation.

Meanwhile, our social media network grew significantly. I was able to attract more than 400 people to join our social media network. Our Facebook pages, titled: “Women of the Mountains,” and “Mountains Matter” was followed by more than 200 people, and more than 160 people joined our “Utah International Mountain Forum” pages. Alongside Facebook, I administered a “Women of the Mountains” LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter accounts and a Flickr profile where I have uploaded all of our photos.

An additional item on the conference agenda was also to contribute to the social campaign organized by F.A.O.-U.N. and the Mountain Partnership in gathering signatures to support petition “UNFCCC – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: Ensure that the impact of climate change on Mountain Peoples and Ecosystems is fully addressed in the UNFCCC COP21 new climate deal.” We are proud that through efforts of our students and partners in many part of the global mountainous world, including in Kyrgyzstan, our team was able to mobilize more than 1,000 signatures from 6,283 gathered in total as a result of this campaign.

My social media liaison work kept me busy all the time, as there was always something to be done. No matter how many invitation letters I had sent or how many posts I had made, I felt like something extra could, and probably should be done. It was very interesting and enriching experience, allowing to me to network with so many institutions and people around the world and build personal relationships along with promoting very important for me mountain cause. I believe that coming from Bulgaria, a country where the mountains play a very important role in the lives of the people, has allowed me to understand in a more intimate way exactly how the WOMC demonstrates its importance for the people of my country to work together with mountain communities in North America and globally. Frankly speaking, during the preparations to the conference, I had completely abandoned my school work, as I saw the fruits of our labor beginning to take root.

I was very happy to be part of the student team which successfully hosted the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference in Orem UT on October 7-9, 2015. Many of my colleagues started preparation to the conference one year in advance when traditional organizers of the WOMCs, Utah Valley University and the Kyrgyz National Centre for Development of Mountain Regions, decided that students from the State of Utah and UIMF members in particular will be able to play role of major hosts of the 2015 WOMC. UIMF was created in 2011 and as a coalition of several student clubs at UVU gained recognition since that time on local and international levels for contribution to the promotion of the United Nations SMD agenda. The Fourth International Women of the Mountains conference continued the traditions set during the previous International Women of the Mountains Conferences hosted in Orem, Utah in 2007, 2011 and in Puno, Peru in 2012 in promotion of gender and SMD agendas of the United Nations and in strengthening the involvement of North American mountain communities with the MP. The conference gathered a majority of the MP members from North America in addition to representatives of the U.N., U.S. State Department, envoys from mountain nation accredited to the U.N. and to the U.S., experts and scholars on gender issues from the Rocky Mountain region and abroad.


H.E. Ion Jinga, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations and Yanko Dzhukev during the conference at Utah Valley University

Generally speaking, I had such a valuable and enriching experience during the Conference. While being in Europe for the summer, I flew back to Utah to be there for the conference and to see that all the hard work that we had invested during entire year come about. We had more than 120 distinguished guests from twenty mountainous countries, and I felt so happy of being a part of such a big event. And, now that I know that my contribution made a difference, I am ready to invest so much more and many more sleepless nights for the mountain cause that is completely worth it. A cause that most of the people take for granted, but not me. Advocating for sustainable mountain development has become a new passion of mine and I will continue to pursue it in all of my future endeavors in international affairs.

In closing, I would like to thank all of my colleagues that joined together for such a worthy cause. And finally, I would like to thank His Excellency Professor Baktybek Abdrisaev, for helping me reach my full potential and believe in myself.

Yanko Dzhukev, Organizing Committee, Social Media Liaison of the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference