Annual jUNe Day bring United Nations to Westport

WESTPORT — It was smaller in scale this year, but the 56th annual jUNe Day celebration still offered a special message to the community and its international visitors.

Some employees of the United Nations came out to town to enjoy a day in the suburbs, taking their families to the beaches, Earthplace, and other favorite spots around Westport.

Organized by the United Nations Association of Southwestern Connecticut in conjunction with the town and U.N. itself, this annual event was the brainchild of the late Ruth Steinkraus Cohen.

“She was a force,” remembered event Chair Michaela MacColl, who had worked with Cohen, after whom the Post Road bridge was named. “She said, ‘I started in the sixties and seventies by inviting the ambassadors.’ but, she said, ‘Michaela, we needed to do something for the people who work do the work.’ ”

The opening ceremony featured remarks by guest of honor Christian Saunders, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for supply chain management in the Department of Operational Support.

“I know from personal experience that you sacrifice tremendously for the U.N.,” he said, commending the families who lend their support to those who work there. “I think the pandemic has made this worse because people have been able to work 24 hours a day.”

Saunders also spoke about the darker side of the pandemic.

“We’re all had an incredibly stressful last 15 months,” he said. “Many people have died. Many people have lost loved ones.”

While he told the crowd the United States has able to get access to vaccine, people have not been as lucky in other parts of the world.

“Nine out of 10 people still don’t have access,” he said, noting that the virus — in whatever form — is not just going to go away.

“I don’t think the virus is done,” Saunders said. “I think it’s important to maintain the preventative measures.”

State Sen. Tony Hwang, a first-generation immigrant from China, praised the United Nation’s work. “Maybe because you’re so close to it you don’t recognize the unique influence you have in the world,” he told the crowd.

“We believe in the U.N.,” said Bernard Nieuwenhuis of Weston, who has volunteered for the event for several years now along with his wife.

“What they try to do is keep peace in the world,” he said, “and help people out, which a lot of countries don’t believe in.”