For over 30 years, a unique hospitality program here has informed and enriched thousands of women from the 154 member nations of the United Nations. It has introduced them to New York, its people, and its cultural, business, and educational institutions. And it has inspired many of them to share these experiences when they returned to their home countries.
This outreach program is sponsored by the International Hospitality Committee of the National Council of Women of the United States, whose chairman for the last decade has been Mrs. Betti Hellinger Salzman. A native New Yorker who is immensely knowledgeable about her city and proud to show off its vast resources, Mrs. Salzman has been described as "one of the best diplomats that the city has ever had."
To earn that accolade, Mrs. Salzman has also had to be imaginative, because in ten years she and her committee have not repeated a single program. they have, instead, continued to expand the scope of their efforts.
"We don't try shelter our women guests from what is ugly or undesirable," Mrs. Salzman explains. "We let them see for themselves both the good and the bad aspects of a great city. And we always ask experts to give explanation and guidance, whether the site is a cultural institution to be explored, or the occasion is a tour of Harlem and South Bronx where the social and housing problem are bleak and obvious."
On a recent autumn morning Mrs. Salzman and her committee were greeting and gently guiding 35 women from many lands onto a tour bus for a day of visiting the Salvation Army, its residences, and its Men's Correctional Service Center. The guests, many wearing silk saris or some aspect of African dress, were eager to discover how things work and what makes the wheels go round in a city like New York.
Many members of these tour group have probably visited more of the great cultural, historical, and business institutions of New York than most Americans see in a lifetime. Mrs. Annabel Anderson, wife of the Australian Ambassador, says, "thanks to Betti Salzman and her committee, I have been introduced to places and things and people that many Americans don't even know exist. My New York friends are always exclaiming, 'You know far more about our city than we do!'"
The International Hospitality Committee has been in existence continuously since 1949, when the United Nations moved to its permanent location on Manhattan's East Side. It has always directed its efforts toward diplomat's wives as well as wives of members of the United Nation's Secretariat, the consulate service, and fulbright scholars. Group sizes range from 35 to 200, depending on the event, and today a waiting list exists for the programs.
The committee has introduced women from abroad to such complex social problems as drug abuse, alcoholism, overpopulation, child welfare, and care of the aged. It has also given them perpectives on specific civic problems; one group attended a City Hall hearing about saving one of New york's historic landmarks.
On the brighter side, Mrs. Salzman and her committee provide these women with generous glimpses of New York's worlds of art, music, fashion, and entertainment. The guests are often given free admission to plays, concerts, art previews, films, and fashion shows.
Many of the programs are doveted to behind-the-scenes tours of such places as auction houses, television studios, factories, hotels, banks and schools. these trips have included the Walforf-Astoria Hotel, the New York Public Library, Chase Manhattan Bank headquarters, Saks Fifth Avenue store, Madison Square Garden, and the Urkrainian Museum. Sometimes a series of lectures on a subject such as American folk art is offered, or a minicourse like jewelry.
Each program offers an opportunity for the women to meet each other and to meet and talk with Americans in many walks of life.
"Fundamental to our purpose," explains Mrs. Salzman, "is making women feel welcome and at home, and to provide them with experiences that will give them insights and knowledge. Most of the things that we do together they could not do alone. By going as a group we can encourage the shy to come along, too, and provide companionship and language help should they need it."
For her involvement with the international community in New York and her "ongoing role as an ambassador of goodwill," Mrs. Salzaman was named a "Distinguished Woman for 1979" by Northwood Institute of Midland, Mich. And women from many of the countries she serves have themselves honored her with expression of gratitude.
Mrs. Indrani Yogasundram, wife of one of the UN Secretariat members from Sri Lanka, commented during a recent outing that she has been attending the committee's programs for ten years. She finds each is "an absolutely fantastic experience because we are always learning and learning. We are always invited to mingle and make friends with the new people we are meeting each week." And another woman thanked Mrs. Salzman for showing her "the soul of New York."