Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

UN has strengths and flaws

UN in Need?

On the Sunday in the middle of the two weeks of the Commission on the Status of Women, I read an op-ed about the UN written by someone from Westport, CT where I live. Anthony Banbury, the author, worked for the UN for nearly three decades, most recently leading the Ebola mission in West Africa.

Banbury, UN critic

Tony Banbury, UN photo

He says, “The United Nations is uniquely placed to meet [the world’s] challenges, and it is doing invaluable work, like protecting civilians and delivering humanitarian aid in South Sudan and elsewhere. But in terms of its overall mission, thanks to colossal mismanagement, the United Nations is failing.”

I thought about his words as I looked through the publications I was given by UN Women when I met in their office last week. I was with about twenty-five other women from national committees, like our U.S. National Committee. We are all charged with supporting UN Women by fundraising, education, and advocacy.

There are so many separate programs, funds, and divisions at the UN that is hard to keep them all straight. The UN overall has multiple overlapping programs dealing with the developing world, peace-keeping, climate, children, health, to name just a few.

Ugochi Daniels, panelist

Ugochi Daniels, Panelist at UN Women Metro-NY Chapter panel, from UN Fund for Population Activities

Banbury says, “If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.”

He details experiences that illustrate the problems. One was the length of time it took to get a health care expert, already in Africa, to his office in Ghana during the Ebola crisis because of the UN bureaucratic requirements.

He recommends critical steps that would begin to heal the difficulties. The first is to reform the personnel system, he says, and the final is, “rigorous performance audits of all parts of headquarters operations.”

UN Women Metro-NY board, private home reception

UN Women Metro-NY board, at reception, with Dan Seymour of UN Women in back row. They weren’t quite ready for the photo!

Still, he ended with praise for Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the many staff who perform exceedingly well.

When I was in New York again on Tuesday this week I asked several people who work at the UN if they had seen his article. They all had. And they all said he is basically correct.

At the reception held by UN Women Metro-NY Chapter of the U.S. National Committee, I met a woman from Paris who works in counter-terrorism at the UN. She too said he made valid points, but “he shouldn’t have aired his concerns so publicly.”

Advantages of Multilingual Children

I enjoyed reading about children who are bilingual in a recent New York Times piece, “Bilinguals’ Superior Social Skills.”

“Babies in multilingual environments, including those who were exposed to a second language only minimally, already understood the importance of adopting another’s perspective for communication.”

Isn’t that fascinating? Babies!

I wonder about multicultural upbringing, even if not multilingual. Does it make for even stronger ability in children to see others’ points of view? I think of our children, and I think so, but I don’t know if there is research.

Have you seen anything about the strengths of bicultural children?

Jollof Rice Adventure

I took this straight from Ainehi Edoro’s blog – thank you, Ainehi! It was such fun to read.

Americanah Inspires This Woman To Go on A Jollof-Rice-Making Adventure

How Wealthy is Nigeria?

Professor Vinnie Ferraro says, “By any metric, Nigeria should be the wealthiest country in Africa.  It is blessed in a number of ways, not the least of which is a robust, dynamic culture.  But often some blessings are actually curses, and that certainly seems to be the case with Nigeria’s oil wealth.  Its oil revenues have not been used well, and much of those revenues are unaccounted for.  The wealth of the country is also an opportunity for corruption on a vast scale, even with an oil company ostensibly controlled by the state.”

True and harsh! He was writing about the recent news that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation had withheld significant amounts of money from the government, despite the requirement that all money be turned over.

Actually, it’s not recent news. It’s been in the news for years, but is still unsettled. A recent report from the auditor-general led to an article in The Atlantic online that Ferraro quotes.

The author said, “Like previous presidential candidates, Muhammadu Buhari ran in last year’s election on an anti-corruption platform. But Buhari, who is now president, has taken significant steps to crack down on corruption in Nigeria.”

Even with his actions, the author says, “the problems Buhari faces are entrenched.” Yet he praises the president who is not exhibiting the lavish life-style of so many other politicians in Nigeria. There’s hope!

Being Human

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Gawande’s book Being Mortal

My book club read Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the EndWe were unanimously glad that we had read it and hope that everyone who is involved in the medical and healthcare fields will also read it!

Fay, a doctor in our group, said, “We were taught in medical school to diagnose the disease, nothing about caring for the person.” This is Gawande’s point. As we approach the end of life, we don’t want to give up everything, but rather hope to maintain our dignity and our own personality even as our disease progresses and our health deteriorates.

One key point – children of aging parents worry most about safety. But aging parents worry about being unable to live as they like.

In my Amazon and Goodreads review which I titled “Being Human,” I said, “Note to self: Re-read this book as the years go on; you’ll need it!”

Have you read it? Will you?



Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Thank you Catherine, for another fine post. I was particularly captured by the childhood benefits of multilingual exposure. I was fortunate (and somewhat unusual) in getting taught Spanish in elementary school. Later revisitations of it (also French, German, and a little Russian in college) have kept me conversant — useful in my librarian’s work, but also in some of my travels.

    I have always maintained that getting exposure to the different ways of thinking required by learning more than one language was exceedingly important, and too rare among Americans. I even had a Spanish teacher fiercely assert that children couldn’t really understand both languages in a multilingual household, and that their abilities in both were damaged by not focusing on just one at a time. I knew in my heart this was wrong but lacked the citations to show she was wrong. I wish I could send this article to her!

    I know you and yours must have enjoyed far more benefits than my exposure to other Indo-European languages (and Russian was more difficult for me than Spanish, French, or German — and the latter two are very weak from dis-use now). I am slightly envious of your opportunity, cause, and ability to be fluent in a non-IE tongue. More reason to admire you as much as I do! Brava!

    • Thank you, Liz! I love your insights into issues I write about. I have never doubted that children can easily absorb more than one language at a time. They can also readily understand how to act with different adults in their lives.

  2. For me the beginning dragged on and on and on, finding it not interesting but moving on to the article about rice and about the wealth of Nigeria that has been a controversy as long as you all been married…. now I ramble, on the bilingual children, was also interesting…overall enjoy reading, after all it’s my sister!!

  3. I met my first wife, an Argentine immigrant, during our Peace Corps training in 1962, when we were billeted in the Hotel Paris on New York City’s West Side. Spanish was her native tongue, and I made a little effort to learn Spanish so that I could converse with her and her sisters, who lived in Buenos Aires. However, my wife and sisters-in-law was more eager to learn English than I was to learn Spanish.
    My daughter Melissa learned Spanish in high school and became fluent in the language. She spent her junior year with School Year Abroad in Barcelona, where she lived with a surrogate mother and sister. Her fluent Spanish came to great value when her aunties died and she had to serve as executive of their wills in Buenos Aires, which transferred about $100,00 to her mother. A second language can be of great help!

  4. Thank you, Catherine! Atul Gawande’s book will be medicine for me, along with your nourishment and wisdom this evening. Many thanks!