By Russy Sumariwalla: What do you know about the United Nations?

What do you know about the United Nations? On Saturday, people all over the world will celebrate the 64th anniversary of the founding of the U.N. Media coverage of the activities of the world's hardest-working 64-year-old organization has failed to educate most Americans about the important work of the world's most important multinational organization.

Here's a peek at this collaborative system of programs within a family of organizations engaged in every human and planetary concern one can think of.

Protectors, peacekeepers

Currently there are 17 distinct peacekeeping operations under the U.N. command consisting of about 116,000 personnel on four continents. The cost of these operations is estimated at 0.5 percent of the global military budget, which is estimated at $1,232 trillion. Now which single country would take on this work? Can we, the U.S., act as the world's police? The costs involved in trying to protect innocent peoples are spread among the 192 members of the U.N.

Feeding the poor

The U.N.'s World Food Program provides food assistance, expertise and resources in the most impoverished areas of the world, where most of the planet's 854 million undernourished people live. Through its global school feeding campaign, the WFP supplies daily meals to about 20 million school children a year.

Health care for children

The indispensable work of the United Nations Children's Fund in just one small area of immunizations includes: diphtheria, measles, pertussis, polio, tetanus and tuberculosis — six killer diseases. The efforts of UNICEF have helped save more than 20 million lives over the past two decades through immunizations. In 2007, UNICEF reached more than 80 percent of children in 118 countries. This does not even touch the great work of the World Health Organization.

Environmental and nuclear concerns

Other priority issues for the U.N. are climate change and nuclear nonproliferation. Industrialized nations contribute tremendously to the damage being done to the environment, while the U.N. seeks to find a solution. U.N. efforts seek to educate the world about dangers to the environment, which impact all nations. Weaponizing the world with ever-increasing lethal methods is yet another contribution by the world's leading nations. Preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons is a huge task approached through the efforts of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency and its member nations.

Strengthening human and planetary well-being

The U.N. employs numerous experts in a broad spectrum of specialized agencies: International Labor Organization; The Food and Agricultural Organization of the U.N.; U.N. Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; United Nations Development Program; and United Nations Environment Program —— just some of the 25 autonomous bodies working in specified areas of expertise of human concern.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, along with the mayors of Medford and Ashland (and other communities around the nation) will proclaim Oct. 24 to be observed and honored as "U.N. Day."

The important work of the U.N. will be recognized in small gestures of goodwill in communities around the globe on U.N. Day. It is critical to understand that, in most cases, the U.N. works in our national interest. We need the U.N. as much as the U.N. needs the support and leadership of the U.S. and the American people.

So let's celebrate U.N. Day together on Saturday here in Ashland. We have organized a major event at Southern Oregon University in Stevenson Union's Rogue River Room beginning at 3:30 p.m. The event will start with a short dance recital and SOU President Mary Cullinan will welcome the attendees. The featured speaker is Dr. Peter Jackson, who has spent many years in senior positions in service to the U.N. in New York. Jackson will speak on "How 'united' is the United Nations?" The event is free. Please join us.

Russy D. Sumariwalla is president of the United Nations Association of the USA, Southern Oregon Chapter. He was president and CEO of United Way International (now part of United Way Worldwide), and is currently president of Global Philanthropy and Nonprofits. He lives with his wife Anita in Medford and is active with community organizations, including the Jackson County United Way.