Photo: QUNO – Kate Graham (front row on right)
Sitting in a large, well-lit room, with Quakers from around the world, I start to introduce myself. I’m the last one to go, and I’ve had plenty of time to fail to think about what to say. But to my surprise, instead of words, I’m welling up, suddenly overwhelmed by an emotion that seems to have come from nowhere.
What I was wanting to say was that it felt that in joining this group, I was bringing together nearly every strand of my life – my background and passions for international development and justice, fundraising, Quaker faith and practice, and a real sense of the humanity and commitment of those sitting around the table with me.
The group was the General Assembly of QUNO: the Quaker United Nations Organisation, made up of staff, the QUNO Committee (which I had just joined) and visitors from Britain Yearly Meeting and QUNO in New York. The Committee is made up of five Trustees appointed by Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) and five from the Friends World Consultative Committee (FWCC). This latter involves friends from throughout the world: Africa, Middle East and Europe, Far East and Australia, South America and the USA.
Whilst that sounds like a lot of abbreviations, in human form it brings in diverse voices and views and a richness of perspectives, where structures enable this. Our morning worship included a programmed worship, in contrast to the silent worship we in the UK are used to. Lead by a Kenyan, we sang hymns and listened to a Rwandan Quaker Pastor and peace-worker meditate on the challenges of being a peace maker, knowing who we are, finding our ground, and keeping going. It was moving and inspiring, and reminded me that our time together was important outside the meeting room as much as within the formal business.
With just 11 staff, QUNO has four current programmes, one tackling the human impacts of Climate Change, one the rights of Refugees, one addressing the Arms Trade, and the most recent, on Sustainable and Just Economic Systems tackling agreements at the World Trade Organisation to reduce plastic pollution and subsidies for virgin plastic. The programme representatives are each assisted by a Programme Assistant, a talented young person recruited for a year, as a paid internship. One of the most moving moments was in my induction, when each of the assistants explained how they had come to QUNO, and what they had learnt, and the impact it had had on their life. Many of these young people have gone on to senior roles throughout the sector, and form a considerable cadre of alumni. It’s an unsung benefit of the work and one of the ways in which QUNO has a lasting impact.
I was excited to hear how a small group of people can have an impact: how the changes in wording in agreements are achieved, and the importance of international agreements to country campaigners like you or I trying to hold our MPs and Government to account. I was also amazed to hear about QUNO’s beginnings: how a small group of Quakers went to Geneva to join the League of Nations, setting up their own self-styled Quaker Embassy in 1923, and starting to work with the United Nations 75 years ago. I feel privileged to be part of this, and I hope I can be of service.
I’m delighted that I’ve been appointed Assistant Treasurer (working alongside Robert Gibson, also from Ilkley Meeting, who is the Treasurer), and look forward to helping on the fundraising side of things.
If you would like to find out more about QUNO, visit their website here: www.quno.org
If you would like to read some of their publications, the excellent “How to be a Hero for your Children” can be downloaded here
And the Toolkit for negotiators: making 12 cases why climate change matters. This is an excellent resource, clear and well referenced, for anyone wanting to engage with their local council, local MP or more senior politician.