By Ed Kiersh
Westport greeted more than 370 members of the United Nations community today to celebrate the town’s 42nd annual jUNe Day festivities.
Guests at today’s jUNe Day ceremony at Westport’s Saugatuck Elementary School enjoyed food provided by local restaurants. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Phyllis Groner for WestportNow.com
Members of the United Nations staff and their guests, a vast array of people from India, Lebanon, Russia and a host of other countries, were here for a day of eating, recreation and activities which encouraged inter-cultural understanding and world peace.
“Supporting the U.N., showing this sort of friendship is vital, since there isn’t an important topic on the planet this world organization is not addressing,” said Westport’s Michaela MacColl, the president of the International Hospitality Committee of Fairfield County.
Guests were first greeted at the Saugatuck Elementary School with breakfast and short speeches from First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, MacColl, United Nations Under Secretary General Ibrahim A. Gambari and other dignitaries.
“This is a day to celebrate diversity, to encourage people’s getting together and to foster bridge building,” said Westport’s Aye Aye Thant, the daughter of former United Nations Secretary General U Thant, who heads the U Thant Institute. “We must recognize that we are all interconnected.”
The flags of most of the 192 United Nations members (they all could not fit) were flying on the downtown Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge to further emphasize this spirit of international fraternity and hospitality.
Numerous local restaurants, such as The Red Barn and Three Bears, provided food for the guests who were also ready for a day of picnicking, soccer, tennis, and sunbathing at Compo Beach.
“It distresses me that my country (Lebanon) is wracked by war, but this is good that people from all nations are coming together in harmony,” said Fouad Francis, a Washington D.C. resident who works for the U.S. government as a medical researcher at the National Institute of Health.
“People uniting like this is the beginning of a peace movement.”
Krishnan Sharma, a United Nations economist from Madras, India, was equally enthused by the event’s long range potential for fostering mutual understanding.
“This is the third time I’ve come to Westport for June Day,” he said before heading for the beach. “I enjoy Westport’s gracious hospitality. It’s a reaching out to people working for peace that can have long-term meaning for solving differences.”
One tireless campaigner for world peace wasn’t at the event. Anita Houston, a 94-year-old New Canaan resident who was devoted for 50 years fighting for the United Nations principles, and was devoted to such causes as the eradication of land mines, died last March. She was deeply mourned by many of today’s particpants.
“Anita was a drum major for peace,” said New Canaan’s Pete Runnette.
“Her energy was infectious. Under her leadership of New Canaan’s United Nations Committee, money was raised for two girls’ schools which will provide education to 500 young women who couldn’t go to school under the Taliban. She will be greatly missed.”
Under Secretary General Ibrahim A. Gambari, a native of Nigeria, also praised Houston, and the spirit of Westport townspeople.
“When I come to places like Westport, I feel the full spirit of the United Nations charter,” said Gambari, an adviser to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who presented a photo of United Nations headquarters to Joseloff.
“There are people here committed to peace, development and human rights. All that’s alive here, and I know the United Nations has friends here. We have detractors, so we need the support we’ve enjoyed in Westport for such a long time.”
Joseloff presented Gambari with a gift from the Westport Historical Society.