The world comes home to Westport on jUNe Day
Updated 7:02 am, Sunday, June 26, 2011
The International Hospitality Committee of Westport's 46th consecutive jUNe Day welcomed about 200 people -- staff and delegates of the United Nations and their families -- to Westport on Saturday for a day of relaxation, recreation and community exchange.
Families representing nations from across the globe have the opportunity to interact with local citizens, resulting in greater international understanding for the visitors and their hosts, organizers said. The event aims to promote world peace by reinforcing friendship between the visitors and their hosts, and it honors the signing of the United Nations Charter on June 26, 1945.
"I think that the international spirit of camaraderie comes to life and having people from the UN come up gives them a feel for what a small American town can be, something they don't necessarily get to experience working at the UN and living in New York City," said Jo Shields of Westport. She and her son David Dickison, 16, were first-time volunteers.
"With the visual and performing arts there is no need for language. Through the arts so much can be expressed," said Helen Klisser During, director of visual arts for the Westport Arts Center. During said jUNe Day may be a laid back day of enjoyment, but it has greater value. "There are little connections that are made and those ripples can go very far," she said.
The UN guests went to Compo Beach, and played tennis and golf at Longshore Golf Club. For the first time, the Wakeman Town Farm welcomed UN guests, who were invited to collect eggs, sample fresh-grown produce and tour the farm.
Some visitors never left the school, preferring instead to play soccer.
Those who toured the town were impressed by its beauty and hospitality.
"This town is almost like a movie set environment. It's very inviting and friendly," said Ariel Clemons, a fashion designer who was invited to attend jUNe Day by a friend who works at the United Nations. Clemons said she looks forward to returning to the town on her own to explore.
During the walking tour Clemons, a native of South Korea, found her nation's flag on the Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen Bridge over the Saugatuck River and posed in front of it. Steinkraus-Cohen was the founder of jUNe Day.
For a week in late June each year, to coincide with jUNe Day, the Route 1 bridge is adorned with the flags of all 192 member nations of the United Nations. jUNe Day Chairwoman Michaela McColl said there was one gaffe involving the flags this year. Workers from the town's Department of Public Works, who install the flags each year, placed the one from the Philippines upside down, which momentarily unsettled a child from that from that Asian nation. An upside flag signifies that a country is at war, McColl said.
The rest of the day went without a hitch.
"There's a bunch of people who look forward to this day. We always put it in the calendar," said Alvaro Calderon of Peru, a librarian at the UN. Calderon said he has come to jUNe Day every year for the last 25 years. "It's become a tradition for us," said Calderon, who is coordinator of the UN soccer team.
Li-wen Zhang, a Chinese native, attended the Westport event for the first time Saturday. "From my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for this hospitality and people (who) devoted their time, resources and hearts to this international community. They bridged their friendship, their peace-loving mind to the United Nations. I'm truly moved," said Zhang, who works for the UN Security Council's Economic Sanctions Committee.
McColl said the feeling is mutual. "They're working to make the world safer and happier and healthier, and we're just saying thank you," she said.
"It's wonderful because we're communicating at the grassroots level," said long-time jUNe Day volunteer Allen Raymond, who is also the town's historian. Raymond led one of three walking tours downtown. He said the jobs of the visitors from the UN are impressive but on jUNe Day "they're just friends." The event opened with a welcoming ceremony that honored Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed of Greenwich, the under-secretary general and special advisor to Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.
jUNe Day is sponsored by the United Nations Association and International Visitors Committee of Southwestern Connecticut -- also known as the International Hospitality Committee of Westport -- in cooperation with the town of Westport.