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Global ties make boundaries artificial for Jo Stowell

Believing the fortunes and futures of the United States and United Nations intertwine, Jo Stowell first joined the United Nations Association-Spokane four years ago and is now the chapter president.

Jo Stowell

Jo Stowell

Offering reflections as the chapter celebrates the 60th anniversary of the United Nations, founded under “the strong influence of Americans,” she quoted former South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “The only way we are going to survive is together.”

Although she spent 25 years as a psychotherapist, focusing on the micro issues of human relationships, her interest in the macro issues of international relations motivated her, too.  She wanted to be a diplomat.

After early years on a farm in Ord, Neb., she went to the University of Denver to study voice, but earned her degree in social sciences.  She also earned a master’s degree in international affairs in 1972 at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. 

“Growing up in the Methodist Church also gave me a foundation in a tradition that respected diversity,” said Jo who was a leader in her high school youth group and the Methodist Student Foundation at the University of Denver.

When her former husband was in the military in Germany, she taught enlisted personnel history and U.S. government in a high-school diploma program.  Eventually, she became a school counselor, decided to study counseling and earned a master’s in counseling and human services in 1976, switching from macro to micro relationships.

She headed a rural mental health center in Nebraska before coming to Spokane in 1980 to work with the then Lutheran Social Services.  For three years, she counseled child victims of sexual abuse and trained volunteers for the rape crisis line.  Then she entered private practice.

Poor eyesight led her to retire in 2000, when she was unable to pick up on body language of clients.

Volunteering at the YWCA led to connections with the UNA-Spokane.

Now a member of Unity Church, she finds its philosophy, in words opening Sunday worship, saying that “we honor all cultures and religions, and promote the oneness of all of us,” Jo said.

“Every two weeks, we see slides of different countries and peoples, whom we hold in our prayers,” she said. 

“Our church has a global view.  I believe national boundaries are artificial.  We cannot hide behind them.  We need to be concerned about the welfare of people all over the world,” she said.  “So my view of the world fits the United Nations’ concept.”

As a freshman at the University of Denver, she learned about the United Nations and joined the international house, doing activities with international students.

She said she saw people as people, relating with no cognizance of racial differences.  Later, one daughter married a man from India, so Jo has grandchildren who are part Indian.

Out of touch with the United Nations while rearing her family and counseling, she now believes it is “the only hope for the planet, the only global organization concerned with the welfare of people and with the means to help people emerge from poverty.”

She finds hope in the United Nations’ Millennium Goals for Development.

“I see Kofi Annan and UN leaders as sincere, honest people who want to bring a better life to the poorest billion people in the world,” Jo said. 

“The UN cares about issues.  It’s the only organization bringing together so many different countries, cultures and attitudes to cooperate,” she added.

Jo is concerned that press coverage about the UN focuses on criticisms, rather than publicizing the advances that have resulted from people working together, such as the eradication of smallpox and the near eradication of polio under the World Health Organization. 

The many successful peacekeeping missions are also not publicized, she said.

She believes the UN could do more, but can only do what the five permanent members on the Security Council—including the United States—and what the full Security Council and General Assembly approve.

Jo was disappointed that the 39-page draft prepared for the recent World Summit was nearly completed when the new U.S. ambassador came to the U.N. with more than 450 amendments.

“Other countries became angry and wanted to add amendments, too, so it turned into chaos,” Jo said.  “If we do not make the United Nations work, the world will turn to the law of the jungle with those who have the biggest weapons and most money ruling imperialistic empires, and poor people in all countries will suffer. 

“We need the United Nations if we are to build some semblance of a peaceful world with survival and a decent standard of living for all, rather than with one billion people dying of starvation and disease.

“If some do not consider they have a moral obligation to care, as I do, at least they should realize it is in our enlightened self interest to take care of people, rather than sending troops to one failed state after another,” she said.

“The 60th anniversary could have been a great milestone if the World Summit had handled matters in a different way.  Now it will be hard to meet the Millennium Development Goals, but at least we have them.  At the 60th, we can look back on all the UN has accomplished.”

Jo considers that it’s appropriate to make changes and reforms, because the world today is different from the world 60 years ago.  The UN now has 191 members, in contrast to just 51 founding members.

“We need to deal with changing realities of the world, looking to see what needs to be done in a globalized world, in which we can no longer hide behind national boundaries,” Jo concluded. 

For information, call 624-3608. Jo was former president serving in 2005-06

By Mary Stamp - Copyright © October 2005 - The Fig Tree