2015 John Gibbard Award for Youth Recipient – Anjali Katta

Rev. Epperson, Anjali Katta, Tazul Ali.
Rev. Epperson, Anjali Katta, Tazul Ali.

To celebrate each UN Day (October 24), the Vancouver Branch recognizes an outstanding youth, or group of youth, who are working towards global betterment.  In partnership with the Unitarian Church of Vancouver, this year’s recipient for the John Gibbard Award for Youth was Anjali Katta. At just 18 years old, Miss Katta is already an established gender equality activist. She is the CEO of her own non-profit, GirlsCo., that seeks to educate and inform youth about the issues that women and girls face, while raising money for girls education in developing countries. She also founded Bombay Pads, a program that delivers sanitary pads and sexual education to schools and orphanages in India. Earlier this year, Plan Canada chose Miss Katta as a Top 20 Under 20 Award.  She is currently studying at Stanford University.

Here is Miss Katta’s full acceptance speech:

Hello, my name is Anjali Katta and I am 18 years old from Vancouver BC. I just want to start off by thanking UNA Vancouver and the Unitarian church for this lovely event and for presenting me with this award. Awards like these are not the reason I do the things I do, but they give me hope in that the community I live in understands the importance of my work and also understands the importance of the cause I am championing for. In a sense giving the issues of gender equality and the empowerment of girls the validation and the credibility they deserve. The United Nations Association of Vancouver’s work with educating young people through awareness building is integral in crafting a brighter future for the local community, so I just wanted to reiterate how thankful I am for the work they do. I also want to thank my parents, despite how much I grumble and groan, they are the reason I am able to stand here, and their lessons and beliefs are the reason I’ve chose to dedicate a part of my life to improving the lives of those who live in my community and beyond. A final thank you goes to all the teachers and mentors who have helped put together events or guided me when I needed it most. Your help was essential in everything I’ve done from the equality summits to the countless fundraisers. I remember, once a venue cancelled a week before an event and I was absolutely terrified and completely lost. But a teacher came through and worked tirelessly to help me find a venue, and the event was a success. This example is representative of how lucky I am to know the people I know. And as lucky and privileged as I am, I am still disadvantaged.

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I am a girl. It breaks my heart, that gender, even in 2015, defines many of my opportunities. Trying to navigate the world as a girl, I can’t help but think about how far the movement for equality has come and how far there is still to go. A lot of people deny that there is more work to be done. They look back and take stock of the progress so far, and ask do we still need feminism. I’ve realized the best way to answer this question is to imagine what our lives would be like if the women’s movement had never happened and the position of women had remained as they were in the year of our birth. If you look back 30 or 20 or even 10 years ago, the change that happened over these periods is perceptible and significant, and therefore proves that feminism was and still is needed. I believe that girls are born with an inherent sense that they are equal but every single thing around them tells them they are less than. Don’t get your dress dirty! You can’t do that you’re a girl. If you’re a girl please jump off the smaller ski hill. You can’t debate, you’re a girl and girls get too emotional. These are all phrases that I’ve heard in my life and I can’t imagine what girls hear all across the globe. Every girl is smart and kind and clever and strong and unique and has an equal right to happiness, safety, and freedom. If we give a girl a chance, give her the tools to believe in herself and that she truly is just as capable, imagine how different the world would be. How many mothers would be able to teach their children to value an education? How many girls would be able to stand up in class and not care about the way she looks? How many girls won’t have to have their beauty equated to their intelligence? How many girls would be able to lift, not only themselves, but their family’s out of poverty? I’m saying this because each and every one of us owes it to the girls of tomorrow to take an active role in creating a future with more equality and less disparity. Every one of us should be conscious of what we say and do, the little things: like using the word girl as in insult or underestimating talents simply because of gender. We should foster discussion around equality and empower at a young age. Much of my work has centered around discussion and volunteering with younger girls, and I can attest to the difference instilling confidence can make. They stand taller, talk louder, and exist unafraid to let their voices be heard. Gender should not define opportunity and it’s our obligation to make that statement a reality. How much more peaceful, how much more free, and how much more just the world would be with more equality. So the next time you see a girl, don’t tell her how pretty she is—tell her how smart, kind, clever, interesting or the millions of other adjectives she is. Thank you.

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Tanya Smith, Courtney Szto, Tama Copithorne, Maurice Copithorne, George Somerwill, Anjali Katta, Tazul Ali, Patsy George.

Unitarian Reverend Steven Epperson on the United Nations & Canada

unacto1The following remarks were given by Vancouver Unitarian Reverend Steven Epperson on the occasion of the 2013 John Gibbard Award presentation.

There’s a poem by Vancouver based spoken word artist Shane Koyczan that I want to quote from to introduce my remarks.  Goes like this:

Remember how we forgot?  (Shane Koyczan)

Remember how we forgot?
Remember how no one ever really died in the wars we fought?
Because each gunshot came from our finger tips
And we never really kept them loaded just in case
Because each enemy was a friend and none of it was about oil, religion, or land
It was all just pretend.
Remember how we used to bend reality
Like we were circus strong men
Like our imaginations were in shape then
Like we were all ninjas trained in the deadly art of “did not”.
Like “I totally got you”
“Did not”
Remember how we forgot?

“When I was a child,” wrote Saul of Tarsus, the early Christian disciple, “when I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult I put away childish things.” (I Cor. xiii. 11).  Shane’s poem and this line from the Letter to the Corinthians came to my mind when I read the following sentence in an article in The Economist; it was about the Canadian government’s dubious plans to reform First Nation’s textbooks and curriculum:  Here’s the quote from The Economist: “Mr Harper’s people are not famous for listening to outside advice and [they] have a special disdain for the UN.” (“These schools…,” Economist, October 19, 2013)   Well, on this Sunday, we are commemorating the United Nations and celebrating the John Gibbard Memorial Award to Ms Vaisey for her achievements in promoting diplomacy, climate change awareness, education about the crucial role of water for a flourishing biosphere—on this Sunday, I think it’s important to consider the distinction between childish things and behaviour on the one hand, and the kinds of actions and attitudes we expect from adult, mature persons, institutions and governments on the other.

Playing games of pretend—like “I totally got you!”/”Did not!”—we expect and go along with these antics when kids do it, because we know they are, in fact, formative steps toward the art of the real; steps that disclose what is pretend, what is not; what is fair, what is foul in human beliefs and behavior.

If it’s the case that our nation’s current government believes that the United Nations is in need of fundamental reform; if it objects to perceived bias against Israel; if it finds ludicrous the presence of repressive regimes in the UN’s Human Rights Council—if that’s the case, and those may be legitimate grievances—is disdain and disengagement, is not living up to financial commitments, is walking out on meetings while others are speaking, is not contributing to peacekeeping, is dragging heels for years in not signing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples…and the list goes on and on—is that the kind of behavior we would expect from a mature, grown-up government that represents us at the United Nations?

Let’s say that our neighbours are throwing a party that gets unruly and unduly loud late into the night.  What do we do?  Whine and fret about it in the safety of our apartmeScreen Shot 2013-11-09 at 11.33.12 AMnts and condemn them to depths of hell?  Call the police so that someone else can take care of it?  Or do we go next door in our pajamas and ask them to tone it down because our kids can’t sleep or we’ve got to get up early in morning to go to work, or whatever.  I know that the latter option may take some guts; it may mean something of a confrontation.  But chances are our neighbours, too, are adults and didn’t realize the decibel level had gotten out of hand, and that they’d turn down the volume for the sake of peaceful co-existence and neighbourly goodwill once it was brought to their attention.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became an adult I put away childish things.”  And so F. W. de Klerk brought Nelson Mandela out of Robben Island prison and negotiated the advent of majority rule and the end of apartheid in South Africa.  And so the government of Great Britain entered into talks with the Provisional IRA in order, eventually, to secure the Good Friday Peace Accords for Northern Ireland fifteen years ago.  And so Obama and Hassan Rouhani, the newly elected president of Iran spoke before the UN General Assembly—to friend and foe alike—something that it seems Canada has nearly given up on; and these two presidents even talked on the phone together breaking a 33 year long taboo of disdain, demonizing and disengagement.  It’s no wonder, someone quipped recently, that Canada couldn’t get elected dogcatcher at the United Nations today.

I want to commend the Vancouver Branch of the United Nations Association in Canada for their good work and endurance through this time of petulant disdain by our government for the UN.   I do not believe that childishness is Canada’s long-term prospect with regard to the United Nations.  Eventually, we will put away childish things; an adult will walk into the room.  It will be someone like Saskia Vaisey whose good work we honour today.  I want the Association and Ms. Vaisey to know that Unitarian support for the aspirations and work of the UN runs deep and does not waver.  Our faith affirms and supports the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.  And though it may be a flawed vessel (what human institution isn’t?), we affirm the vision and good work of the UN past present and future.

Just this past week, I was deeply moved by the story of medical teams working for the UN’s World Health Organization, their efforts to eradicate polio, and of their work to staunch an outbreak of that dread disease in Syrian refugee camps. This is a concrete example of what the UN does best and how it has, for decades now, contributed to building a sense of world community and advocating of the well-being of all.

So in closing, again, I want to thank the members of the Vancouver Branch of the UN Association of Canada, and extend our heartfelt congratulations to Ms. Vaisey on receiving this year’s John Gibbard Memorial Award.

 

2013 John Gibbard Award presented to Saskia Vaisey

unacto1It was with great pleasure that the United Nations Association of Canada – Vancouver presented Saskia Vaisey with the 2013 John Gibbard Memorial Award today, Sunday November 3rd,  at the Vancouver Unitarian Church.

Saskia Vaisey, a first year university student earned the award for her work in promoting environmental awareness on a local and global level.   Amongst her many accomplishments was completing an endurance marathon in Botswana while raising awareness of water shortages in developing countries.  This past summer, Saskia also cycled 1700 km to Inuvik in order to raise awareness about climate change and promote connections between youth in the North and South of Canada.

IMGP8496In her acceptance speech, Saskia spoke about the need for all of us to take risks in order to make the world a better place.   She gave detailed examples of how each of the challenges she has undertaken started out seeming impossible, but were indeed possible with devotion and determination.   It was a fine parallel for the immense challenges faced by the United Nations in 2013 and her speech was a beacon of hope for the future.  Reverend Steven Epperson picked up on Saskia’s theme and spoke about the need for Canada to use the United Nations as a forum to make a positive difference in the world.

John Gibbard was a member of the Unitarian congregation, and a long-time devotee to promoting the ideals of the United Nations.    The John Gibbard Memorial Award is given annually to a young student or group of young people from the Lower Mainland who demonstrate dedication and commitment in working for a better world.