ìThe United Nation is like a helpful crew of people!î
I think that this book is very very cool!!!
ó Third grade students
Nane Annanís home is not far from the United Nations building in New York, where her husband, Kofi Annan, labors over world problems as the highly respected and effective Secretary-General of the United Nations and recent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. In the last year, armed with a thirty-four-page childrenís book, she has set aside a natural reluctance to step into the spotlight of public attention in order to promote a cause in which she deeply believes: seeing the world through the eyes of children.
Her book, The United Nations: Come Along With Me!, is an invitation to a journey on which one sees global issues through the lives of children around the world. The idea for the book came from a trip she took with her husband to Southern Africa. There she saw mothers making bricks so their children would have a home. She also met war victims. She felt she had to tell others about what she had experienced.
Young children have curiosity and compassion, she explains. ìSo I thought it would be very important to let them know how life is in other countries. I tried to make the book personal and less abstract, saying my husband and I are like a mini-United Nations. Iím from Sweden, heís from Ghana, and we live in New York.î
Mrs. Annanís personal journey begins in Stockholm, Sweden, where she was born as World War II drew to a close. Her father, Gunnar Lagergren, was an accomplished international jurist who served as a judge in the European Court of Human Rights. Her mother, Nina von Dardel Lagergren, was the half-sister of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from the Nazis before he disappeared as a prisoner of the Soviet army. Ms. Annan spent some of her childhood in various cities in Africa and the Europe. After earning a law degree from Stockholm University in 1968, she entered the Swedish court system as an assistant judge. On leave from the court system, she assisted in legislative projects as assistant secretary of the Swedish Parliamentary Aliens Act Commission (1976-81) and as an expert of the Swedish Commission on Ethnic Prejudice and Discrimination.
In 1981, she joined the UN High Commission for Refugees as a Legal Officer and began work in Switzerland. That year she met and married Kofi Annan, who was also working at the High Commission. Ultimately, they moved to New York where his work at the UN led to his election in 1996 as Secretary General. Ms. Annan has accompanied him on many of his trips around the world, frequently meeting with womenís groups and visiting UN field offices.
Art with a Message
Ms. Annan is an accomplished artist who no longer has time to paint. Instead, she focuses much of her time on womenís issues and programs to alleviate poverty, improve the welfare of children, and combat AIDS and provide treatment for its victims. In the past few years, she has visited elementary schools to talk about children in other parts of the world.
ìAt the United Nations here in New York they deal with war and peace issues,î she says. ìI see what happens to people. I see what happens out in the world. ÖThose situations you cannot just walk away from,î she continues. ìI see the effects of what happens to people and, yes, it is depressing, but in my experience I see people doing something about it. Yes, I want to give that kind of spirit to children.î
At the urging of David Finn, a noted author and friend, she put her thoughts on paper and later scanned photos from her trips. She sketched out some ideas for illustrations so her young readers, and adults too, could see the human dimensions of the United Nations as it influences the lives of ordinary people every day. It would be three years before all the parts came together in a finished childrenís book.
On her visits to UN projects around the globe, Ms. Annan met many people who did not complain or just shrug their shoulders, but rolled up their sleeves to do dangerous and difficult work to improve peopleís lives. In North America, she told students about what she saw. They listened so intensely, she said, you could hear a pin drop. ìOf course, this was a drama of real life.î The students at one school became so involved that they contacted a school in Mozambique and began fund raising to help clear their playground of landmines.
This is more than a read-alone or a read-aloud book. It is a starting point for a journey, an opportunity for a teacher or parent to discuss with young children the larger issues of humanity. Come Along with Me is an understandable and inviting way for teachers to introduce the world to caring and curious pupils, all the while keeping their concern, curiosity, and hope alive.
Nane Annan, The United Nations Come Along with Me! (New York: The American Forum for Global Education, 2000). Available through the UN Bookstore, New York, NY 10017. Call 800-553-3210 or visit online at www.globaled.org.
UN.org/Pubs/CyberSchooIBus. This website provides a wealth of information including curriculum ideas, teaching units on poverty, health, resources, country statistics, model UN information and much more. For example, the Intermediate School Kit on the United Nations (for older elementary and middle level students), includes information on migration, pollution, health and literacy, painting and peace. The kit is interdisciplinary, drawing from music, mathematics, art, biology, geography, history, and literature.
ìThe United Nations,î Issues in Global Education, issue 156 (1999-2000), is a short, readable report with essential information about how the United Nations is striving to accomplish its mission. Available from The American Forum for Global Education, 120 Wall St., Suite 2600, New York, NY 10005, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan education organization for promoting responsible participation in an inter-connected world. It offers publications, programs, and professional development opportunities, along with conferences and forums for exchanging ideas and practices related to global education. (www.globaled.org)
Tedd Levy, a former middle school teacher who is now an educational consultant, was president of NCSS in 1998-99. He lives in Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
ìThey are Out There
If you say the words poverty and education, peoples eyes tend to glaze over. But if you tell them about the women in South Africa who are building their own houses, they realize that everything is possible. That is what I wanted to show with this book what is being done, quietly and without equivocation.
Behind the title of my book, Come Along With Me, was the intention to talk about my trips around the world and what I have seen. Of course, my journey in a sense started when I married my husband.... So I show a photo of us on our way to the United Nations chapel where we got married.
The journey begins in Timbuktu, in a trading center on the outskirts of the Sahara. There we meet refugees who give us highly symbolic gifts. They place on my husband a high turban, saying that the higher the turban, the more problems it shows that he carries. They give me a white and brown cloth, telling me that we have to live together, whatever colors we are.
I show a photo of a 100-year-old refugee woman who we met in Kosovo who could not understand what had happened to her, why she was so far away from home. I show little girls in a refugee camp in Africa, waiting to go home, and a childís painting depicting the horrors of war.
I have devoted two pages full of photographs to the peace keepers and UN workers because I am so impressed by them. Wherever I have gone, even to the most remote areas, the UN workers have been there. They do not appear on television, and we do not know their names, but they are out there doing good.
Then I talk about poverty and what it means: not having enough to eat, not being able to go to school, and having to work instead. One hundred and ten million children are not in school, and two thirds of them are girls. There is also a part about the indomitable will of mothers who work to make sure that their children go to school...
In the book, I relate how I walk through the slum and I come to a wall. In the wall there is a door, and it is opened by this radiant young woman with all these little children behind her in red gym clothes. I did not always carry a camera with me, so I made a painting of this scenario instead. That is what became the cover: ìCome along with me to the land of learning and the future.î
ó Nane Annan, ìSpeech to the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco,î June 11, 2000.