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SDGs Are For You and Me

By Joyce S. Dubensky, CEO, Tanenbaum
Reposted from Medium, October 24, 2018

These days, most days are designated as special. Either they honor a person or event, or invoke reflection on a grand vision. And most of the time, we just ignore them. But today is UN Day. And if we pause for a moment without cynicism, we know that this matters.

I have reasons for saying this. For one thing, the UN adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) two years ago that articulate 17 separate and related goals or visions. Alone that would be nice. Yet each had specified activities for meeting its vision. So it is more than a dream. It is a plan.

I’ve given these SDGs a lot of thought. Taken together, they describe a just, whole, fair and peaceful world — something I often call a “Lived Peace.” These goals address everything from ending poverty to ensuring clean water, equal education, equitable health care, security and safety. They are all important and Tanenbaum is proud to stand among the organizations worldwide contributing to the larger vision, particularly regarding our work with religiously motivated Peacemakers in Action.

Take for example, Sustainable Development Goal №16, which “promote[s] peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide[s] access to justice for all and build[s] effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

This includes SDG 16.1, which promises to “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related death rates everywhere.”

Consider Ethiopian Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac. Working behind the scenes, Ephraim finally saw success when, this past June, the neighboring nations of Ethiopia and Eritrea reached an official peace agreement after two decades of conflict. As a national elder, Ephraim was featured in a September New York Times article covering Ethiopia’s newly elected president, Abiy Ahmed. Regarding President Abiy’s leadership style and frequent references to “the ideals of love, forgiveness and reconciliation,” Ephraim observed:

“It’s not political language. It’s religious language.”

Similarly, the late Peacemaker Fr. Alec Reid, who worked for peace in Northern Ireland was recently lauded in reviews of the newly-released documentary about Pope John Paul II’s historic trip to Ireland in 1979. Reflecting on Fr. Reid’s behind-the-scenes work in the peace process, the film’s director, David Naglieri, praised his facilitation as “absolutely critical” to its success — including how he sparked a secret dialogue between Hume and Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, a cataclysmic event that fueled the reconciliation process.

I could go on talking about how the work each of our Peacemakers is doing is relevant to promoting peace. But the truth is that the work our Peacemakers are doing is relevant not just to one, but to each and every SDG put forth by the UN to be achieved by 2030.

A few examples…

SDG №4 commits to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

For more than twenty years now, Peacemaker Dr. Sakena Yacoobi has risked her life to teach women and children in Afghanistan. In the face of a brutally oppressive Taliban regime, she secretly taught them to read and used education to reclaim Islam — believing that if people had access to the verses themselves, they would see its underlying messages of peace, justice and equality.

She is not alone. Many Tanenbaum Peacemakers are creating equitable education. Consider Abuna Chacour, who created the Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI) in Israel. As a Melkite Catholic priest who identifies as a Palestinian, Arab, Christian and Israeli, he established a school that welcomed Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Druze students in 1982. His vision: to educate, to build community, and to create the relationships needed for a peaceful Israel. Though his vision is not yet realized, his school continues to operate, now boasting more than 4,000 students from kindergarten through the university level.

SGD №8 vows to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.”

Longtime peace activist, Quaker and occasional politician, Peacemaker Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge now works through her organization, Embrace Dignity, to defang sex trafficking in South Africa. Her approach? Change the prostitution laws in South Africa, and support those wishing to exit prostitution through referrals to counseling, skills training, small business development and education providers. In addition, for the last six years, Embrace Dignity has also been chipping away at sex trafficking through policy change. It is advocating for the partial decriminalization of prostitution (i.e., the Nordic Model), which gives women help to exit the industry, while simultaneously holding buyers and sellers accountable.

To be fair, the SDGs are not a panacea. However, they do provide a roadmap that can lead to change. And they remind us that the power to make the world a better place lies in each and every one of our hands. The SDGs are about collective action, and Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action Network demonstrate that, as individuals, we all play a crucial role in building a better future.

So today, my hat is off to the UN. Because when you put it all together, the SDGs…imagine a world in which difference is respected… and create a world that puts respect into practice.

Tanenbaum Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac speaks at the United Nation’s Church Center Chapel

Tanenbaum was honored to be a part of the United Nation’s seminal event, Faith for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), held at the Church Center Chapel. Tanenbaum Peacemaker in Action Dr. Ephraim Isaac (Ethiopia) spoke eloquently to a diverse crowd; attendees from diverse religious backgrounds and beliefs gathered to discuss how religion can further the quest to eliminate poverty.

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TANENBAUM Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac (left) with Karin Achtelstetter – Credit: @KarinWaltraut

“I am here of behalf of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and as one of its Peacemakers in Action.

First let me congratulate you on your good efforts to deal with the critical question of poverty through the power of religion.

I used to be an incorrigible optimist. I am still, but a corrigible one. My remaining optimism is to see people like you here in this room that have the good will to do the good.

But, let us be realistic. In a greedy world where about 1% of the world’s population owns the wealth of the world and does not want to part with it, how do you propose to eliminate poverty in 15 years as you say? In a world where one American person would rather pay one million to travel to Africa to kill one elephant, or, where the King of Saudi Arabia would rent every room of the most expensive American hotel for several days and have a parade of over one hundred cars parked in a garage all of it decorated with red carpets…. especially at a time when thousands of Middle East refuges are seeking dire shelter, how do you convince the world to do what is right?

I am Jewish and yesterday, on Yom Kippur day, I chanted the Prophet Isaiah who said three thousand years ago (to paraphrase): You fast, you put ashes on yourselves, you exhibit your piety, and say to me “why do you not see our piety, how we humble ourselves with ashes on our heads?“  The Almighty responds, “Down with your piety, what I want is free the prisoners and those you oppress, feed the hungry, cloth the naked, help the poor…” If the great prophet has had so shouted about 3000 years ago, in other words, saying as we say today use your faith to help the poor, and that is what the Almighty G-d wants, and nothing has happened for 3000 years, how do you propose to abolish poverty in 15 years?

I know the World Bank has a lot of money, even if not as much as the 1% of the richest people in the world, and I know the religious people have all good intentions. Still how do we propose concretely to change the world?


Click here to learn more about Dr. Ephraim Isaac and Tanenbaum’s Peacemakers in Action.