Remarks by Mr. Douglas Griffiths, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i., Permanent Mission of the United States to The United Nations in Geneva

by Allison Wilbur on September 16, 2009

Douglas M. Griffiths, Charge d'Affaires a.i., Permanent Mission of the United States to The United Nations in Geneva.

Douglas M. Griffiths, Charge d'Affaires a.i., Permanent Mission of the United States to The United Nations in Geneva. (Photo by Eric Bridiers, U.S. Mission)

Director General Ordzhonikidze, Professor Kazatchkine, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank you all for attending this marvelous event tonight. I congratulate the United Nations Organization in Geneva for giving space and support to cultural programming and it is my distinct pleasure to help inaugurate our latest effort which celebrates a treasured aspect of American culture – and supports such an important cause, the fight against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

I have to say I was intrigued when I heard that our Mission wanted to marry quilting with public health. I would like to take a moment to explain the concept, but in all honesty, the quilts and posters on display tonight speak for themselves with eloquence and poignancy.

The Global Fund is one of our most important partners in Geneva. Combating AIDS, TB and Malaria is a central tenet of U.S. foreign policy; the Obama Administration’s Global Health Initiative has made these diseases a priority, focusing on maternal and child health as a key part of an integrated strategy to break the destructive nature of these diseases in society. We have backed up this priority with a significant investment in the Global Fund. Since its creation in 2001, we have donated approximately $3.5 billion to the Fund, and we have pledged another $1 billion this year.

(We are pleased to have with us tonight a very special guest Congresswoman Barbara Lee from California, who was a sponsor of the landmark legislation that created PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which provides US funding to the Global Fund. Congresswoman Lee, thank you for joining us tonight and for your leadership on these issues.)

So, we see the importance of the global fund. Where does quilting come in? If you’ll excuse the pun, quilting is very much a part of the fabric of American life. Pay attention when you watch the next Hollywood film. At the emotional apex of the film, you’ll often see a quilt as part of the set piece. Quilts evoke for us a sense of nostalgia, of home, of comfort, giving and sharing. Quilts are handed down from generation to generation with veneration. The hands of your ancestors crafted this beautiful yet functional treasure.

There are 27 million Americans who call themselves quilters. They organize themselves in local groups known as quilt guilds. Guild members get together regularly to work on quilts, but more importantly to share their lives and provide each other with support through good times and bad – just as quilters have done for centuries. Quilt guilds regularly take on social causes. This banner to my left features a moving photograph of the national AIDS quilt on display on the Mall in Washington. And this brings us to today’s event.

Earlier I said that we wanted to marry quilting with public health. Well that too was a bad pun, because our public affairs officer, Dick Wilbur, is married to a quilter, Allison Wilbur, who happens to work at the global fund. They’re too modest to take credit, but they were the inspiration and the driving force behind this effort. They reached out to quilt guilds through the Internet, and we are humbled by the generous response from guilds in the U.S., Canada and Bosnia. Be sure to check out the whimsical group quilt made by a class of fourth graders from British Columbia.

When this exhibition finishes here in Geneva it will travel to the United States to appear in a number of regional quilt shows in order to educate, Americans about AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the important work of the Global Fund in combating these diseases.

I would like to end by thanking the quilters who have so generously donated their talents and time to this exhibition and this cause. Seven of the quilters are here with us tonight, including Dawn Piasta, who has traveled all the way from Manitoba, Canada, along with her husband, Tom Piasta. We also have four members of the American International Women’s Group of Geneva – Valerie Fanger, Laurel Adamsen, Dorothy Stockell and Penny Swann; and two quilters from the U.S. Mission community, Corinne Beque and Allison Wilbur. Thank you all for sharing your talents and generosity with us.

Thank you for coming and enjoy the exhibition.

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