Speech at the "For the Love of Life"

03 Dec 2006

Speaker: Mr. John Hendra, United Nations Resident Coordinator
Date:       Sunday December 3, 2006
Event:     “For the Love of Life”
Venue:     Hanoi

His Excellency Mr. Phan Luong Cu  
Deputy Head of National Assembly’s Social Affairs Committee
 
His Excellency Mr. Dam Huu Dac
Vice Minister of the MOLISA  
 
His Excellency Mr. Nghiem Xuan Tue, Director of National Coordination Committee for Disabled People  
 
His Excellency Michael Marine the US Ambassador to Viet Nam   
 
My Colleagues from UNV, UNAIDS and the whole UN System
 
Friends and Colleagues
 
 It is very much a privilege for me as UN Resident Coordinator to be here this morning to recognize with you these three distinct international days – days that remind us all that people can change the world for the better.  
 
 As the United Nations, we believe that we are all entitled to full and equal enjoyment of human rights and participation in society and many of you here have devoted significant parts of your lives – both professional and personal – to ensuring that these ideals are indeed enjoyed and respected by all.
 
 In that sense, we are here to honour and celebrate people’s abilities, to recognize the unique and essential contribution that all of us – and each of us -- have the right to make – whether disabled, living with HIV or working as volunteers -- we all have something of ourselves to give to change the world for the better.
 
 
Day of Disabled Persons  
 
 Today, the 3rd of December, is the International Day of Disabled Persons. The Day was initially established by the UN General Assembly to promote understanding about disability issues and to increase awareness of the great gains to be derived from integrating disabled persons into all aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life.
 
 More than half a billion people in the world are disabled as a result of mental, physical or sensory impairment -- and no matter which part of the world they are in, their lives are often limited by physical or social barriers.  
 
 Here in Viet Nam, there are more than six million people living with disabilities. The great majority of these still have limited access to education  and to meaningful jobs.  
 
 Clearly we have a long way to go – globally as well as in Viet Nam. When these rights are not fully realized – we all lose. We shut out voices. We impede participation. And yet if we are to confront still significant public misperceptions and stigma, we must also do better at presenting some of the real progress being made, of the important implementation of disability-sensitive policies globally join with the New Convention and in Viet Nam and continue to promote public awareness of the great contributions persons with disabilities make to all aspects of life – here in Viet Nam and all over the world.  
    
World AIDS Day
 
 We are also here to commemorate World AIDS Day, which was marked on December 1st under the theme “Keep The Promise”. All over the world, on World AIDS Day we remember those who have died of AIDS and their families, and re-commit ourselves together to preventing HIV, and to fighting stigma and discrimination wherever it exists.  
 
 As you may be aware, the United Nations has just released the new global figures on HIV.  In short, more than 39.5 million people are infected with HIV, and approximately 4 million became newly infected this year. In Viet Nam also, the situation is serious. As Vice Minister Dac indicate, the Ministry of Health estimates that over 280,000 were living with HIV in 2005. This means thousands of Vietnamese families are affected by HIV, and many thousands are grieving for their family members and loved ones.  
 
 Stigma and discrimination is still a serious impediment to people living with and affected by HIV to actively participate in this society – to play a role in decisions that affect their own lives.  
 
We need then this morning to also re-commit to all “Keep the Promise” – to learn more about HIV, to better support Viet Nam’s efforts in prevention, care and treatment and to fight stigma and discrimination wherever it exists – on World AIDS Day and on every single day of the year.  
 
 
Volunteerism and “For the Love of Life”
 
 In this context then it brings great hope and pride I believe for all of us here today to see so many of you here embracing the motto for this year’s celebration: “FOR THE LOVE OF LIFE.”   
 
 Finally, today we also mark International Volunteer Day. We all know that Viet Nam has a long tradition of volunteering -- Vietnamese people have an ingrained belief in working selflessly towards the common good. Every year, thousands of young people take part in activities that benefit the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the elderly.  
 
 Volunteerism is about harnessing an incredible resource – that of people who wish to selflessly contribute to making their world, and the world of others, a better place. This can be incredibly powerful and I would like to take this opportunity this morning to congratulate all those Volunteers here this morning that are making such a difference here in helping Viet Nam reach all the Millennium Development Goals – including MDG 6, that is halting, and then reversing, the spread of HIV by 2015.
 
 I believe strongly in volunteerism, not least because it has had a big effect on my life. One of my first work experiences was as a volunteer almost  25 years ago when I went to rural India with a Canadian Organization. I consider it to be one of the most rewarding life experiences I have had.  
 
My volunteerism experience in many ways, marks the moment I became a global citizen and began seeing the world – not only the challenges of severe poverty but also the power of international co-operation -- beyond my own backyard. Too often we see volunteerism only as a charitable, external act – which is of course important -- and fail to recognize the incredible benefits that volunteers themselves get from this service.  
 
 As our soon retiring UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has put it: “At the heart of volunteerism are the ideals of service and solidarity and the belief that together we can make the world a better place. In that sense, we can say that volunteerism is the ultimate expression of what the United Nations is all about.” I personally couldn’t agree more.
 
The UN and UNV  
 
 As the UN here in Viet Nam, we have pledged to support the Vietnamese people in their endeavours to reach the MDGs. In plain language, this means that the UN tries to help the Government of Viet Nam build a more inclusive and equitable society, where the rights of peoples with disabilities and those of people living with HIV are ensured.
 
 Through UNV -- the United Nations Volunteers Programme - the UN works at the grassroots level. UNV is proud of its direct support to disability groups like NCCD (National Coordination Committee for Disabled People) and the Disability Forum, and combating stigma and discrimination towards people living with HIV in the GIPA project, in collaboration with the Viet Nam Women’s Union. Many of our volunteers themselves are people living with HIV and people with disabilities.
 
 UNV will continue to expand its involvement in supporting disadvantaged groups, involving more national and international volunteers in new projects and in more remote provinces where  access to social and health services is even more difficult.  
 
Conclusion
 
 In conclusion, people living with HIV and with disabilities must have the opportunity to contribute their own remarkable talents to developing Vietnamese society, and we all must work to ensure that everyone can realize his or her potential.  
 
 This morning is a great opportunity for all of us then to celebrate our differences, our diversity for the “Love of Life.” Yet we must carry this message of the “Love of Life” away with us today and not just follow it today or tomorrow but every day of the year. What’s more, we must continue  to focus on turning this important message into action -- to ensure that we move closer to a world where all people have the opportunity to contribute to making the world a better place -- for all of us.
 
Thank you  very much for your invitation to be with you today