With the number of visitors to United Nations Headquarters in New York rising by 14 per cent last year to more than 412,000, a new group of multilingual guides, including one in sign language, is set to join a select band that has shown over 38 million people around the landmark building on the East River since 1952.
“United Nations tour guides are, in many ways, the human face of UN Headquarters,” Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor said of the 26 newcomers who will be coming on board next week, filling vacancies and bringing the total number of guides to 67 from about 60.
“They have the daunting task of explaining new challenges confronting the world and the United Nations in the twenty-first century, from terrorism to bird flu, and also reminding our visitors of the many accomplishments of our first 60 years,” he added.
The Guided Tours Unit, part of the Department of Public Information (DPI), now offers tours in 16 languages, more than any other tour operation in New York. The guides have long been considered the UN’s “Ambassadors to the Public” and their linguistic skills and geographic diversity add a valuable dimension to the operation.
To become a guide, applicants must be fluent in English and at least one other language. College education and public speaking skills are also required. During a two-and-a-half week intensive training programme, the new guides are immersed in the history and mandate of the UN, as well as the current activities of the entire UN system.
This year’s intake reflects the pattern of visitors to New York. The increase in visitors speaking French, Russian and Mandarin has required additional guides fluent in these languages and a guide skilled in American Sign Language has also been added.
Guided tours are conducted every day, with a few exceptions. During the hour-long lecture tour, guides present the UN’s history and structure, explain its role in current events, describe the unique collection of artworks on display along the tour route and answer visitors’ questions.
The full complement of guides comes from the following 38 countries: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belarus, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Denmark, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Gabon, Ghana, India, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malaysia, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Peru, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Senegal, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States, Ukraine, Zambia and Zimbabwe.