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Women working for peace

Commission on the Status of Women: Temple residents, students travel to New York

For the second year in a row, Barbara Thorngren of Temple made the trip to New York City this month to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

During her week in the city Thorngren attended seminars on subjects such as how to stop human trafficking, went to a peace ceremony at Battery City Park and a silent prayer ceremony at Ground Zero, and shared ideas, programs, policies, laws and new technologies that support health and livelihoods of women and girls from around the world, with women from around the world.

“I was able to meet young women from Kenya and Japan, and they were so thrilled to be able to share their thoughts. There’s no place safe for them to talk about their national issues,” said Thorngren.

She was even able to make a personal connection to the firefighters of Harlem, just days before the department was called out to assist in a devastating gas explosion that rocked Harlem on March 13. Later, they were able to offer healing in one of their pre-planned all-day peace symposium, called “Weaving a Blanket of Peace,” which took place at St. Joseph’s Church in Harlem, located right next to the Fire Department.

Thorngren was also working with a peace foundation called Grandmothers Circle the Earth Foundation. The foundation sends out elderly women from multiple native cultures to spread teachings and ceremonies.

While in New York, after holding a welcoming ceremony and consultations through the weekend, Thorngren, a group of her former students at Nashua Community College and members of the Grandmother’s Circle went to Battery City Park to hold a water ceremony. After that, the group made a special trip to Ground Zero, where they held a silent prayer ceremony. Ground Zero, now a monument to those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, displays an unending waterfall, surrounded by a wall inscribed with the names of the dead.

“It was really a very powerful experience,” said Thorngren of the visit.

Early in the week, the group visited a church in Harlem, where they planned to hold a peace symposium on the last day of their trip. While they were there, Thorngren made a special stop next door to acknowledge the local fire department. Thorngren, a former member of the Temple Volunteer Fire Department, had brought a patch from the Temple Department, along with two T-shirts to give as gifts to the firefighters. The group was only able to have a short visit, as the Harlem firefighters were called out on an emergency.

Two days later, those who had met the firefighters gathered in prayer for them, after the Harlem crew was dispatched on a much more widely-reported emergency: a gas explosion at Park Avenue and 116th Street in East Harlem, which collapsed two buildings and killed seven people and injured dozens.

“When the explosion happened, we all just gathered at the place we were staying and prayed,” said Thorngren.

That Saturday, just two days after the explosion, they were back in Harlem for the highlight of their trip — a day-long peace symposium at the St. Joseph Church in Harlem with the members of the Grandmothers Circle the Earth Foundation. Thorngren was joined by three of her former students from Nashua Community College — Francisco Pucciarello, a ConVal graduate from Peterborough, Kareem Dieng from Milford and Beth Grunewald from Merrimack — who attended the symposium along with her. The Grandmothers shared personal stories, songs, ceremony and teachings. The event was open to the public and attendance was overwhelming, said Thorngren, likely, in part, because of that week’s events.

On Monday, Pucciarello, who now lives in Harlem while pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University, said the it felt like a sign when Thorngren invited him to join the “Weaving a Blanket of Peace” symposium, since the church it was held at was only blocks from where he’s living.

“I thought it said something that this is right in my community,” said Pucciarello.

It was also a way for him to open doors to talk to the community about his own studies and passions, which include the gentrification of the neighborhood and race relations. He was able to speak about those issues during the symposium, he said, and make multiple connections within his own community with like-minded activists.

And, Pucciarello added, it was fascinating to see the group of native women speaking to the people of his neighborhood in matters of spirituality. Thorngren said the church was full of a diverse group of people — some of whom had traveled to attend from the Commission on the Status of Women, but many from the church and the local neighborhood, too.

“Harlem is a very old neighborhood,” Pucciarello said. “New populations and demographics can be a little shunned in old school Harlem. So to have something that was very flavored with Native American influence and having so many people come and be receptive — it was nice, but I was surprised. I didn’t know how the older women would receive something like that, but they loved it. It was a really good outcome.”

Thorngren agreed that the whole event had been a positive experience, and the timing of it had given those rocked by the recent explosion a chance to come together and reconnect as a community.

“It was one of those perfect things,” said Thorngren. “There were men, women, older people. It seems like they just thought ‘God, this is what I need.’ We felt like we were helping in the way that we could.”

Thorngren said she made a point to return to the fire station that day, as well, to thank the firefighters for their service during the explosion, and bring them a plate of sandwiches for lunch.

“We always remember to thank our emergency responders in times of crisis. I think we need to put it on our agenda to thank them more frequently than that,” commented Thorngren. “That community is very wonderful.”

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com.

She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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