Servas Conference: Speaking at the House of Representatives – a Weekend of Intergenerational Dialogues

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On August 1, 2017, the United Nations Department of Public Information will host a day-long event, titled, “Intergenerational Dialogues on the SDGs”, focusing on the importance of breaking down barriers that contribute to ageism and all divisiveness based on age discrimination. Instead, the focus is on collaboration, specifically as it relates to enhancing the goals of the 2030 Agenda. official_visual_dialoguesMore information on the event can be found here, which can be accessed virtually via the UN Web TV. In-person registration is available here.

Indirectly in line with this, I traveled to my first Servas Conference in Washington DC, where I was given the privilege of speaking at the Rayburn House at the House of Representatives.

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I presented my discourse in front of our membership, which is largely a community of individuals aged 65+.  I talked about Kitchen Connection, my experience as a youth representative to the UN DPI, and my most recent adventures to Peace Boat — and I must say that I’ve never felt more understood by a community before.

65+ on paper, but ageless in reality — the members of Servas, a community of travelers and hosts that do so in the name of peace understand the innate values of human connection, dialogue, and conviviality, some values that I know are not always present, regardless of age.

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One of the questions that arose was the “issue” of the membership being an “older” one and figuring out how to engage more youth to be a part of it. I brought up the Intergenerational Dialogues as an example of the demand for such interactivity and of the privilege that it was for me to be connected to individuals who had the time, the energy, and the desire to share a piece of their life with me, and how I was certain that other youth would love to be a part of it.

We spent the next three days, learning from other guest speakers, including Max Amichai Heppner, who is a Holocaust survivor, and author of the book, I Live in a Chicken House, recounting the story of how his family sought refuge in Holland, with a family who hid 10 individuals and who risked their lives to do so. At some point in his discourse he mentioned: “I was the only 8 year old who already had his grave dug out for him.”

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Next to Max in this picture is Sheila who represents the estimated 8,300 homeless people who live in Washington DC. As the nation’s capital, all of us see this as an unacceptable statistic.

Standing side by side, what we realized is that Homeless or Holocaust – although in many ways incomparable are representative of the power of human injustice. Our presence there, however, is a testament to the desire of its reversal, however. And we do not stand alone.

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Carolyn Powers shared stories of her work at Internews  where reporters risk their lives in honor of the importance of the flow of information in conflict zones. The individuals working on the ground, often with makeshift radio stations help to disseminate vital information in war zones, refugee camps, and areas affected by natural disaster – often as basic as where to get water or how to access help from the various NGOs that come to assist in times of crisis.

Other highlights of our time together included:

Meeting and learning about the incredible work of UNA-USA – I can’t wait to collaborate!

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My induction into the membership as a board member. When I first received the email requesting calls for nomination, I honestly ignored it: “I may consider it when I’m 50, I told myself.” Months later, I was nominated and asked to join. Above you have a visual of our virtual meeting with the treasurer. This is symbolic of Servas’ commitment to intergenerational dialogue and collaboration.

Getting to hear from Elizabeth who is a conflict specialist about the same polarization and climate of “otherness” that has been happening in conflict zones for decades happen here in the West.

Learning a bit about the Quaker lifestyle and the importance of divine silence.

Being encouraged by Raymond and Richard to focus on my dreams and most importantly, on the quality of those dreams.

Following her escape from East Berlin (and risking 6 years in prison for it!) learning from Helga about her adventures to all seven continents and getting chills when she said that there is “nothing in Antarctica that doesn’t belong!”

Hearing about Nancy’s experience working as a librarian at a women’s prison and bonding over our mutual love for Orange is the New Black.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe many delicious vegetarian options.

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Gathering at the Lincoln Memorial to celebrate the 64th anniversary of the 1953 Korean Armistice.

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Going on a post-conference tour of Washington DC guided by Hayden Wetzel.

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Presenting with Jeanne on the work of the UNDPI and of the SDGSs.

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And getting to see my friends, who happened to meet for the first time a month before, and who already get along incredibly.

Cheers to humanism instead of ageism. #NGODialogues

Special thanks to:

Phyllis Chinn, US Servas board chair
Hayden Wetzel, Conference organizer
Tracy Jordan French, US Servas Administrator

Darryl, Jeanne, Mary-Jane, and all of the lovely new friends that I have made.

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