Speech on the International Volunteer Day

Dec 4, 2012

Speaker: Ms. Patricia Barandun, Head of Governance, UNDP
Date:      4 December 2012
Event:    International Volunteer Day,
Venue:   Thong Nhat Park, Ha Noi

Mr. Duong Van An, Secretary of the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth Union;
Ms. Simone Corrigan, Second Secretary, Australian Aid Programme;
Mr. Kumagai Hiroshi, Senior Advisor, Japan International Cooperation Agency;
Ms. Ruby Banez, United Nations Volunteer Programme Manager;
Representatives from volunteer-involving organizations;
Ladies and gentlemen;
Dear volunteers;

It is a real pleasure for me to be with you today to celebrate the 2012 International Volunteer Day. Choosing the biggest park in Ha Noi to mark this occasion is very symbolic. Parks are often cited as a good example of public goods.
As you might know, public goods such as public spaces, clean air and information and knowledge, are goods that are equally accessible to everyone and where the use of them by one person does not reduce the availability of it to others.

Volunteerism is based on the exact same principles. Volunteers share a desire to enhance the overall wellbeing of society – out of free will, in a spirit of solidarity, humanity and peace, and without an expectation of material reward. The contributions volunteers make towards the common good are remarkable, and I would like to thank all the volunteers here today for your enormous efforts to building more inclusive societies.

A report published last year by the United Nations Volunteer Programme on the ‘Status of the World’s Volunteerism’ recognizes that there are strong links between volunteerism and its contribution to the global common goods of peace, security, human rights and development. But the report also says that this link is still not adequately recognized. Volunteerism, it says, is “one of the missing components of a development paradigm which still has economic growth at its core”. It is thus very important for all of us to continue to find ways to include volunteers’ voices and efforts in the conversation around the kind of societies we want to build.

I have also been a volunteer and learned many useful things from my experience. Let me share with you just one example. In 1991, just as I had finished high school in my home country Switzerland, I had the opportunity to take part in a three-month youth exchange programme to Poland. Coming from a capitalist Western European country, it was very exciting for me to visit a country about which I hardly knew anything, except that it had belonged to communist Eastern Europe for many years. I was sent to a small Polish town as a German conversation teacher. There, I got to know many of the local people and became friends with them. Some of them told me their stories about the Cold War, and many of them also talked to me about what happened to them and their loved ones during World War Two.
As I listened to them, I quickly came to understand that this town had been hugely impacted by the War, and the nearby concentration camp, which I also visited, was a living memory of this part of Europe’s dark history.

This exchange experience had a profound impact on me and it helped me to understand what types of values are worth fighting for. It also later influenced my choice to study civilian peace building at university. One important take-away lesson from being a volunteer in Poland was that it takes a much bigger effort to restore the global common goods of peace, humanity and solidarity in a conflict-affected society, than it takes to wage a war between countries, societies and communities.
The UN – both globally and in Viet Nam – highly values volunteerism and its contribution to peace and development. As you might know, International Volunteer Day was established by the UN General Assembly in 1985, and has been celebrated every year since then. This year’s theme is “Celebrate volunteering!” – and that is exactly what today’s event is all about.

The UN Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that is charged with advocating for and promoting volunteerism worldwide. The UNV programme has a mandate to work with Governments around the world to promote national volunteer programmes and volunteer centers.
In Viet Nam, more than twenty UN volunteers work on a wide range of development issues, such as disaster risk management, urban planning, rural development, education and youth issues. At the UN Development Programme, where I work, we have two UNVs who work on climate change issues and on strengthening monitoring and evaluation capacity. All of them are making an important contribution to promoting equitable and sustainable development.

This year’s International Volunteer Day is taking place during a time when the UN is conducting national consultations in more than 50 countries, including Viet Nam, to gather citizens’ views on what world they want in 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals expire.
Since they were adopted in 2000, the MDGs have helped to set global and national development priorities and drive action on the ground. With only three years to go before they expire, work has started to define what kind of global development framework should be put in place after 2015.

As part of this, the UN in Viet Nam is asking many different groups of people – including young people and volunteers – what future they would like to see. In order to get your inputs and views on this new development agenda, UNV has developed a short questionnaire, which I would encourage all of you to complete before you leave today. At the UNV booth there are copies available – so stop by the booth and make your voice heard.

Let me end here with a quote from Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, who in his message for International Volunteer Day also expressed his appreciation for the important work done by volunteers. He said: “I applaud all people who volunteer each year for the benefit of their communities. I am especially grateful to the 7,700 UNVs who support efforts to prevent conflicts, help societies recover from fighting, promote sustainable development, assist in crisis situations and carry out numerous other projects for the greater good. Their work has advanced the Millennium Development Goals, and I am confident they will also contribute to the progress on the post-2015 development agenda.”

Once again, thank you for inviting me to address you today. I wish you an enjoyable celebration today. Happy International Volunteer Day!