Most of the U.N. staff who spent Saturday in Westport had to jump aboard school buses to get to and from the town's attractions. Fariz Mirsalayev and his father, Mubariz, were given a more personal tour by Bill Meyer.
"It's an opportunity to be with people who know about the United Nations, who support the work of the United Nations and who support the ideals," said Fariz. As an officer in the U.N. Office of Protocol and Liaison Service, any chance to get out into a new community is one to spread good will and diplomacy for Fariz.
For 45 years, the last Saturday of June has served as an opportunity for U.N. staff to get out of New York and enjoy a day taking in all Westport has to offer. Deemed jUNe Day, it has become a popular event for the international employees. This year proved particularly so.
Michaela MacColl, jUNe Day chairwoman, said they had more than 350 registered participants this year, with more showing up unannounced. Normally the event draws closer to 250. She suspected a string of warm days was at the heart of the increased interest.
Many of the visiting staff members hail from locations around the world. For the Mirsalayevs, home is the Republic of Azerbaijan, part of the former Soviet Union. Mubariz was in the United States visiting his son's family. Fariz felt it would be good for his father to see more of the nation than just New York so he brought him along. They talk about the history of their nation as a once and now re-emerging power in the global energy market. Mubariz speaks very little English, so Fariz spoke to his father in their native language to ask questions, go over the day's events and explain who the strange man with the notepad and camera talking to them was.
Meyers is happy to play tour guide and take for himself a chance to learn about another country. He noted that the Rotary Club, of which he is a member, has its own honorary seat in the United Nations. On his itinerary for the day was a stop by Saugatuck Congregational Church's Field of Flags display. Meyers is a member there. He said he has participated in the jUNe Day celebration for 10 years.
A welcoming ceremony featured First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, and Joseph Verner Reed, undersecretary general and special advisor to the secretary-general of the United Nations, U.N. Association and International Visitors Committee of Southwest Connecticut president Bill Hass and Assistant Secretary General of the UN Michael Adlerstein. After that, the staff was cut loose to take town tours, visit the beaches or square off in soccer matches.
Hass said the main take away for the day was the value of camaraderie. "If you build a friendly relationship with people then you are actually achieving agreements on a political level," he said.
According to Joseloff, the event is symbolic of Westport's position as a globally minded town. Enforcing that viewpoint, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge over the Saugatuck River was adorned with all of the flags of the United Nations. Cohen created jUNe Day and founded the International Hospitality Committee of Fairfield County. She died in 2002.
Mirsalayev didn't need the speeches to remind him how important and valuable understanding and goodwill are. Well before the ceremony began he stood outside with his father and Meyer talking about those very topics. "The more people from different cultures and backgrounds meet, the stronger the bonds between people are," he said.
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