The United Nations today honoured the tens of thousands of volunteers from both developing and industrialized countries who over the past 35 years have supported the Organization’s peace, relief and development initiatives around the planet, as well as the millions of others who daily offer their humanitarian services.
“Their ethos makes volunteerism one of the most visible, and most welcome, attributes of global citizenship,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a message marking International Volunteer Day. “In ways both big and small, volunteers are transforming their communities and our world.
“And in this era of growing problems without passports, from HIV/AIDS to trafficking in people and contraband, they are providing grass-roots solutions to humanity’s most pressing needs.”
Mr. Annan stressed the importance of volunteers in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the targets set by the UN World Summit of 2000 to halve extreme poverty and hunger, ensure universal primary education, slash child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters and reverse the incidence of HIV/AIDS, as well as tackle a host of other social ills – all by 2015.
“Each day, millions of volunteers make a statement that despite everything – despite poverty and hatred, despite apathy and the seeming intractability of some of the challenges we face ¬– people can change the world for the better,” he said.
The UN’s own volunteer programme (UNV) was created by the General Assembly in 1970 to serve as an operational partner in development cooperation at the request of UN Member States. It is administered by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and works through UNDP country offices around the world.
In 2005, its eighth consecutive year of growth, UNV mobilized some 8,400 volunteers, representing 168 nationalities, who served in 144 countries. Since 1971, more than 30,000 UN Volunteers have supported humanitarian efforts.
Since its adoption by the General Assembly in 1985, International Volunteer Day has offered a unique opportunity for various volunteer-related organizations to work together to attain common goals. Every year on 5 December, millions of supporters of volunteerism engage in various initiatives at local, national and international levels.
Rallies, parades, community volunteering projects, environmental awareness campaigns, free medical care and advocacy campaigns are among the activities that mark the Day.
“Volunteering is an effective and an essential means to achieve the MDGs. These goals can only be achieved with the full involvement of people all over the world,” UNV Executive Coordinator Ad de Raad said in a message.
UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis cited last year’s earthquake in Pakistan as an example of the importance of volunteers. “Thousands of volunteers from all over the country as well as from different parts of the world participated in relief efforts urgently needed on the field,” he said in his message.
“The United Nations Volunteers programme gave its full support to the Government of Pakistan in helping to set up its National Volunteer Movement. Such accomplishments highlight UNV’s essential role within both UNDP and the UN system in supporting volunteerism for development.”
In another example, in the face of ongoing conflicts in Sri Lanka, peace promotion is a major focus of UNV activities. The programme for the Day, titled “Let’s Volunteer For Peace and the MDGs,” includes a peace concert, an ethnic fashion show, video presentations and the unveiling of a peace monument, all seeking to stimulate voluntary engagement towards peace and reconciliation and the MDGs.