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US: Wives of UN staffers raise funds for orphans

By Suman Guha Mozumder
Last updated on: November 11, 2009 22:27 IST
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A few years after the Second World War that left many orphaned and shelterless in Europe and Asia, the wives  of the UN staff in New York set up a group to help the hapless children, sewing and knitting sweaters for therm. That led to the formation of United Nations Women's Guild in 1948.

Last week, Uma Ruth Banerjee, wife of former UN civil servant Ajit Banerjee, rekindled that passion among guests when she presided over the 60th anniversary of UNWG's founding with a gala dinner that featured 'Brides of All Nations.'

The event, a fundraising dinner dance that featured a bridal procession from 20 countries, including India, showing national wedding attire from across the world, was held at the exquisite Abigail Kirsch in the New York Botanical Gardens in Bronx.

Close to 200 invited guests paid $250 (Rs 11,624) a plate for the fundraiser for the world's underprivileged children, mostly in the developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but also in the United States.

Children are the main focus of UNWG that seeks to help children in need throughout the world and to serve as a center where women connected with the United Nations and its specialised agencies can bond in a common interest.

"I love children wherever they are from the core of my heart and I have always felt that we need to think of the future of the children worldwide, and if we fail to do that we will be giving our world to very poor hands," Banerjee whose involvement with the guild, mainly as a fundraiser and as head of different committees began over 30 years ago, told this correspondent in an interview. "My forte has always been fundraising."

Last week's fundraising is going to touch 42 countries, most of them developing ones, including India, which with 24 projects out of 80 is the biggest recipient of the funding by UNWG.

UNWG funds, among others a reading and writing program for slum children for Delhi. The program operates out of two rooms of a private school in the national capital for which the USIAD chief in India went and made a request a few years ago.

What is the idea behind bridal dresses?

Banerjee, who said she was brain behind it, said that the idea behind was that hardly anybody cares how daughters get married, but the costumes that the parents send for the wedding are sometimes the only thing that they have saved in all their lives. "So it is touching to see that these gorgeous costumes from Asia and elsewhere are the costumes, they can ill afford and yet they want to give it away to their children. I thought it was a wonderful thing to the expose the US and the western world to the beautiful wedding dresses. In the west we see only the white dresses. But there are many more!' she said.

One of the main reasons for the fundraiser, Banerjee said, was that the UNWH shop within the UN building that gets over $150,000 (nearly Rs 70 lakh) depending on the number of visitors a year for the cause may soon close thanks to renovation."If our shop closes the children would be in problem and would suffer the most and so this drive," Banerjee said.

The grand finale of several western-style wedding gowns was by couturier Angelo Lambrou, one of whose three models was Maithali Hann, a New York-based Indian American.

Among the 'brides' from 20 countries were Shikha Khurana of India, Tania Zahan of Bangladesh and Megha Lathigara of Pakistan. There was also a private auction during the dinner, Banerjee said .

The UNWG is a registered non-profit tax-exempt organisation, an independent body not funded by the United Nations Secretariat and its funds and programmes. The UNWG has offices in most of the 192 member countries where spouses of UN staff have formed local chapters to identify worthy projects for children from poverty stricken areas.

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Suman Guha Mozumder in New York