During Ambassador Chabala’s discussion, he responded to comments about the struggle to end of apartheid in South Africa and how this influenced all of Africa. According to Austin Chin: “Thank you Dorset Village Public Library, YANA VT, Grace Initiative for the talk on Nelson Mandela. Ambassador Chabala provided compassionate insight. I learned a lot and was moved by the narrative. Ambassador Chabala stated that Mandela remains a living being inside his spirit, and that he remains a guiding father for peace , inclusion and reconciliation. This was compelling for me and the audience.”
News Release — Grace Initiative
March 27, 2018
Vermont group involved in women empowerment seminar for UN Commission on Status of Women
UN CSW 62 – International and Vermont –
Practices for Rural Agricultural Development and Peacebuilding
On March 22, the Permanent Mission of Iraq to the UN, the Al-Khoei Foundation and the Grace Initiative, along with organizational support from the Yale Alumni Nonprofit Alliance (YANA) New England and Vermont, and Yale Blue/Green organized a seminar for the UN Commission on Status of Women (CSW) 62 in New York. This year the UN CSW focused on the empowerment of women and girls in rural development. In view of this year’s theme, our seminar called for empowering women and girls in advancing peacebuilding through community agricultural practices, with international and Vermont perspectives. The CSW seminar focused on an innovative practice that Grace Initiative with its partners, including its partners in Colombia, is promoting called Restorative Rural Agricultural Development (RRAD). An organic fertilizer company, GrewGrow Ventures was a sponsor of the event as well.
Restorative rural agricultural development (RRAD) combines three essential building blocks of family and community viability: (1) restorative justice, which includes elements such as story-telling and healing, (2) relationship building, engagement and social cohesion, and (3) community agriculture endeavors, which promote sustainable food security and livelihoods. This is especially important for women and girls, who suffer disproportionately during conflict. To this end, we firmly believe that agriculture offers a variety of healing benefits as it provides those involved with purpose and opportunity as well as physical and psychological benefits.”. In this regard, sustainable production of food, land and water are the sources of community peacebuilding, rather than the drivers of conflict. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), food insecurity and lack of water are a source for the rise of conflicts, exacerbated by climate-related shocks. Our project aims to promote conflict transformation while providing a local source of food security and livelihoods.
The restorative rural agricultural development program integrates global goals such as 2030 Agenda; food security; human rights notions of dignity and justice; climate change imperatives; action plans for preventing violent extremism; UN SCR 1325; the UN CSW62; the Beijing Platform; as well as the goals of the UN decade of family farming.
Ms. Jessica Scott, of UN Sustainable Development Network and Yale Blue Green, moderated the discussion, which included international and Vermont speakers. From the Permanent Mission of Iraq, Mr. Frias Alkhaqani explained the hardship that rural women face in Iraq, especially now after the war against terrorists. In this regard, RRAD has applications in Iraq. Ms. Rita Reddy, senior UN Gender Advisor, gave examples of women’s achievements in promoting community rural development in countries like Viet Nam, Malaysia and Timor-Leste. Ambassador Isaiah Chalaba (Zambia) endorsed the notion of RRAD as it combines spirituality and healing with community agriculture, and will consider integrating it into programs on Visionary Empowerment in Zambia. Visionary Empowerment focuses on rural programs for women and girls in community agriculture and education.
While attendees appreciated the international speakers, many found the Vermont (VT) speakers particularly compelling especially given its legislative efforts in promoting sustainable agriculture as well as its innovative Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) practices. Representative Amy Sheldon (Middlebury/Addison 1), who participates on the VT legislative agriculture committee, discussed community goals and challenges in advancing local organic branding and food production. Also, Representative Sheldon explained a variety efforts to promote VT farming and locally sourced food, through inter alia: the VT Food Bank; the link of fresh food from VT farms to schools and hospitals; the mission of the VT Land Conservation; and, the goals of the Women’s Agricultural Network (UVM). Also, Representative Sheldon discussed the hardship that dairy farmers face. (Representative Sheldon drove to New York and back to Vermont in one day to make sure that she was present for the legislation on gun safety). Ms. Heidi Lynch of Vermont Farmers Food Center (VFFC) discussed VFFC programs for health care, and its links with hospitals and the community to ensure nutritious and healthy food sourcing. Ms. Lynch also manages the VFFC National Education Association program on community farm stories. Finally, Ms. Amy Frost of Circle Mountain Farm concluded the program with both values and existential questions such as the links of community farming and the meaning of wealth, and the capacity to address life’s vulnerabilities and sudden shocks through farming. Also, Ms. Frost explained a link with CSAs and social justice. The Vermont speakers’ presentations exemplified local applications for global peace-building in a profound way. As Dr. Susan Sgorbati, Director, Corrective and Preventive Action (CAPA), Bennington College stated, “It is more imperative than ever to find ways to share information, collaborate on ecosystem projects, and build a world where we can provide a safe and healthy environment for our women and children.”
Ms. Sahar Alsahlani (Interfaith Farm Project and Al-Khoei Foundation) and Ms. Yvonne Lodico, the Initiative for Governance, Reconciliation, Agriculture, and Coexistence (Grace Initiative), a non-profit registered in Vermont.
Thai Ambassador to UN cites Vermont as a prime example for sustainability
Grace Initiative founder Yvonne Lodico, television producer Libby O'Connell, and Sal Tassone, executive producer of Los Angeles-based Zen Master Films, speak with Thai Ambassador to the United Nations Virachai Plasai at the Manchester Community LIbrary.
CHERISE MADIGAN - MANCHESTER JOURNAL
Posted Sunday, October 15, 2017 8:51 pm
MANCHESTER — According to Thai Ambassador to the United Nations Virachai Plasai, there is a lot Vermont can learn from Thailand when it comes to sustainability — but there is also much that Thailand can learn from Vermont.
Plasai visited Manchester on Saturday to speak on the U.N.'s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, though it was not the diplomat's first excursion to the Green Mountains. Last summer, Plasai was among 45 foreign diplomats from over 20 countries to visit the Northshire for a "Retreat on Sustainable and Resilient Communities," organized by the Dorset nonprofit The Grace Initiative.
"We have great admiration for this state and its people. We have great admiration for the United States of course, but Vermont has something special," said Plasai in an exclusive Journal interview. "I came here last year, and what your people are doing here in terms of sustainability is remarkable."
Plasai says that in this visit he hopes to not only share Thailand's sustainability efforts with audiences in town for Manchester's first Independent Television and Film Festival (ITVFest), but to also learn how Vermont and Thailand can continue to collaborate.
"Of course Vermont is a model in sustainability; in living in harmony with the environment and nature it's a model for us," said Plasai, who also served as the 2016 chair of The Group of 77. "What we can also share with you is our philosophy of living, which for me is more of a philosophy of decision making."
This philosophy was formulated by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, says Plasai, and has come to be known as "sufficiency economic philosophy."
"There are different ways of looking at life. I look at life as an endless series of decision making. Every day, every moment of your life, you have to make decisions when you wake up until you go to bed," said Plasai. "This is a decision making framework, and it's based on simple values including prudence, and reasonableness. You use knowledge and virtue in order to achieve self-resilience."
Plasai notes that the philosophy focuses on self-resilience rather than self-sufficiency, as the latter denotes a certain isolationism not adept for a globalized world.
"It's sufficiency in the sense that you know where that sweet spot is in your life, you live in harmony with yourself and with others," said Plasai. "By the same token, if you live in harmony with nature and the environment you can achieve sustainability."
According to the ambassador, this philosophy could have a multitude of applications in the state of Vermont.
"It can be applied in agriculture; you have a great agricultural sector here," said Plasai. "It can also be applied in the business sector, in public administration, and even in your everyday life."
In his ITVFest discussion, Plasai sat down with television producer Libby O'Connell at the Manchester Community Library to discuss the way in which this "sufficiency economic philosophy" can interact with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) for 2030.
Following a brief introduction by O'Connell, the ambassador explained his view of the SDG's and how they improve upon the 2015 Millennium Development Goals, which Plasai asserts were designed with primarily developing nations in mind.
"The philosophy behind this is that everybody works together," said Plasai, noting that many of the 2030 SDG's are appropriate for developed nations as well as those continuing to develop. "Nobody is left behind."
When it comes to sustainability, says Plasai, Vermont is a state that decision makers can look to as an example.
"From my visit here last year with my colleagues from the G77, we saw that in Vermont you are already very advanced in achieving sustainability," said Plasai, citing experiences with organizations such as Green Mountain Power and Merck Forest and Farmland Center. "I can only commend the approach of the State of Vermont. I hope you can continue in that direction; it is the right way and you can be a model for other communities. Certainly for us in Thailand."
Still, the state is ahead of the U.S. as a whole according to Plasai, who cited issues including: poverty, income inequality, obesity, student debt, the imprisonment rate, life expectancy, greenhouse gas emissions, and assistance to poor nations.
Regarding national politics, Plasai was asked by audience member Lana Hauben of the Manchester Designer Outlets how the Trump administration has responded to issues of sustainable development thus far.
"The U.S. administration understands the need for development and the need to participate in this process of implementing the sustainable development goals," said Plasai. "At the same time the administration sees a need to reform the U.N. system, so we work together to ensure that that reform does not jeopardize the development efforts."
Still, in his visits to Vermont Plasai notes that our similarities are more evident than political differences.
"It's a great honor and always a pleasure to come back to Vermont, a state that a lot of people in Thailand, and in my office, admire a lot for what you're doing for sustainability, for the environment, for the world," said Plasai. "After coming here, we concluded that much of what we do looks a lot like what you're doing here."
MANCHESTER — Manchester will be home to an international discussion on trauma and healing on July 16.
The local non-profit The Grace Initiative will celebrate its new program in Colombia by welcoming Dr. Richard Mollica for his talk, "Healing the Invisible Wounds of the Past." Mollica, the Founding Director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, is the author of Healing Invisible Wounds: Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World. Mollica taught the founder of the Grace Initiative, Yvonne Lodico, at the Yale Divinity School and will join her to support the Initiative's newest mission.
"Were going to be talking about Yvonne's work to establish an NGO working on the reconciliation amongst groups that have been in warfare with each other," said Mollica. "I'm going to discuss the issue of collective memory, and look at collective memory from two opposing perspectives: social healing, which is related to social justice, and personal healing, which is related to clinical, psychological, physical, and spiritual care of people who have been damaged by extreme violence."
This discussion celebrates the Grace Initiative's newest mission in Bogota Colombia, working with former combatants of the FARC. The Grace Initiative will work to support reconciliation through Centers for Social Transformation and Economic Empowerment, using Vermont's community centered agriculture and collective decision-making as a model for Colombia's path to healing and peace-building.
"I think the idea of groups sitting down with each other after decades of violence to try and create a safe and secure society is crucial," said Mollica. "Whether you're a victim of domestic violence or other abuse in Vermont, or a refugee coming to America for freedom and safety, the problem of recovering from violence inflicted from one human being to another is basic for every community and every society."
This vital healing from violence is at the center of the Grace Initiative's mission in Colombia, but is also applicable to many global issues.
"There are two catastrophic problems in the world today, and they're both related: global warming and the refugee crisis. There are many people who have been displaced by global warming and from violent events throughout the world," said Mollica. "Even if you're in Manchester Vermont, you can't avoid the fact that our country and the world are facing these catastrophic situations."
Though the discussion will tackle some troubling global issues, the ultimate message is an optimistic one.
"In a cruel and violent world, there is hope," said Mollica. "We can do more than survive, we can find strength and healing no matter what we have experienced."
This strength and healing stressed by Mollica is dependent on the justice that the Grace Initiative is seeking through their mission in Colombia.
"There's no healing without justice," said Mollica.
The celebration of the Grace Initiative's mission in Colombia, and Dr. Mollica's talk "Healing the Invisible Wounds of the Past," will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 16. Both events will take place at the Hill Farm Inn in Sunderland, and a donation of $30 to defray the costs of the event is appreciated. Following Mollica's discussion, farm-to-table delicacies alongside wine and Vermont beer will be served.
For more information, contact the Grace Initiative at email@example.com. To learn more about the organization, visit www.grace-initiative.org.
MANCHESTER — Vermonters have long had a reputation as warriors for social justice, and little-known organizations in our community are working fastidiously for peace and justice across the globe.
This week on Vermont Voices, a GNAT-TV talk show which works to link local news to national issues, I had the opportunity to learn about the work that Dorset resident Yvonne Lodico is doing to promote peace internationally.
Lodico came to Vermont after a long career with the United Nations and boasts degrees from NYU, Columbia, and Yale.
Recently, she founded the Initiative for Governance, Reconciliation, Agriculture, and Co-Existence, also known as the GRACE Initiative. The Grace Initiative, based out of Dorset, works closely with the United Nations and other international organization to promote peace and human dignity.
"I believe a lot in multilateralism, but sometimes there are issues that make it hard to move forward either because of the security council or other member states interests," said Lodico. "I noticed that a lot of NGO's had the flexibility to move into that space."
For Lodico, Vermont seemed to be the ideal place to begin her project.
"I noticed that there is a lot of peace building going on here in Vermont whether people recognize it or not," said Lodico, citing Vermont's Town Meeting tradition. "That sense of community, the accountability in governance, and the popularity of community supported agriculture are great examples to incorporate into peace building."
One project the GRACE Initiative has spearheaded focuses on the reintegration of the female soldiers of the FARC following the peace agreement enacted in Colombia this past September.
"I started to realize that there was really a lack of focus on the female ex-combatants," said Lodico. "Reintegration is the key of moving forward in peace; if that process doesn't go well then it doesn't bode well for other aspects of social cohesion."
Approximately 40 percent of FARC fighters are women, who have been cited as the most fear-inducing factions of the rebel army due to their ferocity in battle. Though these women proved to be capable combatants, they were often exposed to a litany of injustices including weaponized rape and forced abortion.
"The female ex-combatants have been perpetrators of violence and they have been victims of violence," said Lodico. "Often they were victims of violence when they left their homes, and that's why they chose to become guerilla fighters."
Despite their complex backgrounds, reintegration efforts have misguidedly focused on restoring these soldiers' femininity rather than their humanity.
One Colombian government ad targeting female guerillas reads, Guerrillera, feel like a woman again. Demobilize.
"Many of those women had very important roles," said Lodico. "They weren't just victims, they were leaders."
The six month long demobilization effort will end on May 31, when the work of reintegration will really begin.
Until then, approximately 7,000 FARC fighters remain relegated to 26 demobilization camps across Colombia. Already, there has been a baby boom among former female soldiers with 60 babies born to guerillas so far and 80 more due.
Going forward, Lodico hopes to engage Vermonters in the GRACE Initiative's reintegration program.
"For the project for Columbia we want to use community supported agriculture, so we've talked to the Vermont Farmers Food Center and they are ready to help train female ex-combatants on setting up a CSA," said Lodico. "I think we'll be able to even employ people to go to a post conflict country and train these women."
The legacy of this Vermont initiative may last well into the future.
"Recently someone wrote to me and asked if this would also be applicable in other places like Africa," said Lodico. "Hopefully we can start a sort of model for the reintegration of female ex-combatants not just in Colombia, but globally as well."
NORTH BENNINGTON - Two diplomats visited Bennington College Saturday to hold a talk on women's empowerment and the changing role of women in the workplace.
The event was a collaborative between the Grace Initiative and Bennington College's Center for the Advancement of Public Action.
Chulamanee Chartsuwan, ambassador and deputy permanent representative from Thailand and Fabian Garcia discussed the two-week United Nations Commission on the Status of Women along with issues in their home countries regarding gender equality and other ongoing social problems.
Since 1947, women and men from ministries of foreign affairs, government positions, and civil society meet each year to have discussions on topics regarding women. This year's meeting focused mostly on women's empowerment and women in the workforce, along with the "Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls."
Chartsuwan has been working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thailand since 1984. She has worked in Hauge and Singapore, and even in Brussels as the deputy chief of mission in the Royal Thai Embassy to Belgium and the mission to the European Union.
Chartsuwan gave insight on Thailand's perspective on women and noted that it's important for people to understand that these views are diverse across Asia.
"You need to look at each society differently before jumping to conclusions that this is the case for every woman," she said. "That you have to be submissive and do housework; no, that's not the case in Thailand."
Charstuwan gave a short synopsis of the historical background between men and women in her country. Two hundred to 300 years ago, men in Thailand had to leave their families for months at a time while doing some service for the state, as there was no taxes in the country at the time. With the men away, women had to become the heads of their households - some women became involved with the government. To this day women continue to contribute to decision making.
According to Chartsuwan, about 60 percent of Thailand's labor force is women. Roughly 6.8 percent of women are under the poverty line - there is no gender bias in poverty. Women have become much more accepted in the workforce, but they still do deal with the pressures of attending to family life. There is roughly an even split between women and men who own businesses, one of the highest in the world.
Despite all of this, the glass ceiling continues to exist. Chartsuwan believes that there is more work to be done to include women in politics. Women are also drawn back from reaching their full potential due to education. Some groups of women do not have equal access to good education, she said.
"In my ministry, we have more and more women, but at the top, it is still dominated by men," Chartsuwan said. "In my mission we recruit the brightest to the mission to support the work. I am proud to report to you that 75 percent of people in the mission are women."
Even though there are laws about gender equality and family development, there is still much more that needs to be done.
According to Garcia, some studies have suggested that it will take about 180 years for men and women to earn the same amount of money. Whatever steps the United Nations can do now to help speed up that process helps in the long run, he said.
"Men are partners in the quest of equality," Garcia said.
Both Chartsuwan and Garcia gave listeners a view on what it takes and means to work with the United Nations. They both reflected that it is a challenging job, that also offers them many different life experiences - sometimes they are even advocating for things they do not agree with for their government. It is also hard for them and their families, as they often have to relocate for different jobs.
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Pilanya Niyomthai, a counsellor for the the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations, and Yvonne Lodico, the founder of the Initiative for Governance, Reconciliation and Coexistence (Grace Initiative).
Sustainability and resilience are long-term progressions and the trajectory depends greatly on where and how the processes unfold. During the G77 Retreat, attendees learned that in Vermont, sustainability begins from inter alia its historical roots, its state policies and support, community practices and advocates, as well as from its farmers, academic institutions and private sector. The G77 retreat, co-organized by the Permanent Mission of Thailand, serving as the chair of the G77, and Grace Initiative showed the coincidence of Thailand’s Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (developed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej) and Vermont’s policies and practices, from state to community level dealing with sustainable agriculture, education, management of natural resources and renewable energy. (Story)
While the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development lays out a global action plan to achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions – economic, social and environmental, implementation must take place at the local level. To this end, the G77 retreat embraced international and Vermont synergies.
In addition to the previous coverage, we would like to point out that Chuck Ross, secretary of agriculture, captured the retreat’s tone when he welcomed the diplomats, underscoring the spirit and soul of Vermont, especially its sustainable farming goals and practices. Robert Allen, president of Green Mountain College, explained the college’s innovative focus on sustainability, and Ruqaiyah Morris, Bennington state representative, discussed the inclusive dedicated effort involved in transforming communities. Scout Proft of Someday Farm, illuminated the room with her experience and spontaneity.
Also, at Burr and Burton Academy’s Mountain Campus, Wanchat Suwankitti, of the National Economic and Social Development Board of Thailand, discussed Thailand’s plan and path to attain sustainable development goals through the application of the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy. Arrut Navaraj, managing director of Sampran Riverside in Thailand, discussed how he translated the philosophy to move farming in Thailand to organic farming, and how organic farmers supply food for businesses and hotels. Also, Gil Livingston, president of Vermont Land Trust, explained how Vermont supports the continuity of farming in Vermont. Later, Robert Dostis, of Green Mountain Power, gave an interactive discussion on clean energy.
On the second day, Scott Johnstone, executive director of Vermont Energy Investment Corp., discussed sustainable energy. Michael Knapp, of Green Rivers Corp., discussed the computer models tracking the impact of climate change for companies such as Starbucks. Arrut Navaraj linked food to people, through which one can see clear similarities between the Thai Sufficiency Economy Philosophy and Vermont’s practices.
Finally, Liz Ruffa, project director of Northshire Grows, explained the “farm-to-plate” network in Vermont. Moderators included Eloho Otobo of Grace Initiative and former senior UN staff member, and Narinder Kakar, a permanent observer at the UN for the University for Peace.
Of the 40-some diplomats, the participating diplomats included the current chair of the G77, as well as the incoming chair for 2017. Also participating was the ambassador from Indonesia, the chair of the Second Committee of the General Assembly for development.
To this end, we are thankful to everyone involved, taking note that many Vermont participants came from Burlington, Montpelier and Brattleboro. Grace Initiative is grateful for the trust of the diplomats, especially the Permanent Mission of Thailand and its ambassador, Virachai Plasai, for believing in the idea of a retreat for international learning and exchange for sustainable development — in Vermont. With the recent passing of Thailand’s king on Oct. 13, the retreat now creates historical bonds.
MANCHESTER — With the green mountains, farmland and local destinations and cultural institutions serving as a backdrop, 45 foreign diplomats spent two days this weekend learning about sustainability efforts in Vermont.
Top world leaders from 24 countries visited Northshire communities for the first United Nations retreat in the state. According to organizers, the retreat aimed to show diplomats the practices that support Vermont’s environment, businesses and people.
The diplomats represented the Group of 77 (G77). The collection of 134 developing nations is the largest intergovernmental group within the U.N.
Virachai Plasai, chairman for the G77 and Thailand’s permanent representative to the U.N., described the visit as “an eye opener.” Plasai, in an interview at Hildene, the Lincoln Family Home, said he and others viewed the retreat as an opportunity to see a sustainable way of life. And what they saw will guide the countries’ plans of how to meet global “Sustainable Development Goals” the U.N. adopted one year ago.
Plasai spoke of similarities between the environmentally conscious way of thinking that many Vermonters subscribe to and the ideas described in Thailand’s “sufficiency economy philosophy.”
The two-day visit, called a “Retreat on Sustainable and Resilient Communities,” was cosponsored by the Grace Initiative, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization.
It was founded by Yvonne Lodico, who previously worked for the U.N. for 15 years.
Lodico, of Dorset, said the retreat provided an opportunity for G77 delegates to gain insight and examples of strategies for sustainable communities. Lodico cited Vermont’s reputation for sustainability in agriculture and energy, and community-based efforts.“This is important for trust building, and for peaceful and inclusive societies,” she said.
G77 is named for the initial 77 member states. Today, its 134 members include Afghanistan, Brazil, Kenya, Palestine and Vietnam, all of which were represented at the retreat.
Diplomats departed the U.N. in New York City on Friday.
They toured the Burr and Burton Academy campus and were served a special dinner at Stratton Mountain Resort, where they were also addressed by Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz.
Stops on Saturday included Merck Forest in Rupert, the Marble House Project in Dorset for lunch and a panel discussion, and then Hildene, the Lincoln family home.
Along the way, they heard from state officials and representatives about Vermont policies and practices that support sustainable development. The U.N. adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals last September. It sets a list of 17 goals “to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all.”
The goals — which include achieving zero hunger, providing clean water and sanitation, action to address climate change, and responsible consumption and production — apply to both developed and developing countries.
Plasai said the sufficiency economy philosophy was proposed by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, after the 1997 Asian financial crisis.
The philosophy stresses three principles, he said: Moderation, reasonableness and self-immunity.
“We think this model can be one of the ways for achieving goals of the agenda,” he said.
Meeting the goals and targets could mean merging the philosophy of Vermonters and the philosophy promoted by the Thai king, he said.
“All of this, no matter what we call it, is being practiced in this state,” he said.