A radio station in Liberia run exclusively by women. A youth parliament in Lebanon giving teenagers a chance to better understand their government. A support network in Somalia for repressed journalists.
These are just a few of the projects instituted by the United Nations Democracy Fund to promote democratization around the world. UNDEF Executive Head Roland Rich described these and other projects during his recent Wilkes University visit, which had him speaking to both students and the general public throughout the day.
The visit entailed informal meetings with three different groups of First-Year Foundations students and a 3 p.m. lecture in Gies Hall at the Dorothy Dickson Darte Center.
“We want our students to have a global context for what they’re learning here at Wilkes,” said Wilkes’ FYF Coordinator Ellen Flint, explaining the idea behind Rich’s visit.
Rich’s speech served as the inaugural offering of the United Nations Lecture Series. The series will bring speakers to the Wilkes campus throughout the course of the 2011-2012 academic year to discuss a variety of topics organized around the theme of “Human Security in the 21st Century: Challenges and Solutions.” The series is being presented by Wilkes in partnership with the Higher Education Alliance for the United Nations.
Though Rich’s speech was advertised to Wilkes students as dealing with the topic “Elections – Road to Democracy around the World,” Rich freely admitted to shifting the focus of his lecture.
“I’m sorry, Mr. President, but I won’t be talking much about elections,” said Rich, following a brief introduction from Wilkes President Joseph Gilmour. “I don’t want to talk about democracy, which is an enormous subject that really belongs more to the philosophy department. I want to talk about a real political science issue, democratization — how countries become a democracy.”
Students who attended the lecture didn’t seem disappointed by the altered direction. Junior history major Alex Madaya said she did not realize Rich’s speech had been promoted as dealing with an election theme. Sophomore political science major Nour Elbattah argued that Rich’s lecture was a valuable experience, regardless of his topic.
“It’s not often you get an opportunity to sit in on a speaker from the U.N.,” Elbattah said. “The fact that Wilkes was able to give students that opportunity is something I think more people should take advantage of.”
Following an explanation of the academic theories behind democratization, Rich exhibited a PowerPoint presentation which illustrated UNDEF’s many efforts to put theory into practice, bolstering democratization in countries throughout Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.
During the concluding Q-and-A session, Rich was quick to point out that one of UNDEF’s primary goals is to give people around the world an opportunity to both explore and expand their freedoms within their homelands. However, he claimed, UNDEF isn’t interested in telling people what they should do with those freedoms.
“We fund voice,” Rich said. “We don’t tell that voice what to say.”
For more information about the UN Lecture Series, call 570-408-4306 or visit www.wilkes.edu.