FEATURE: Inspired by Nelson Mandela, UN staff volunteer in their communities

18 July 2013

From New York to Darfur, United Nations workers honoured Nelson Mandela’s dedication to public service by volunteering at least 67 minutes of their day – one minute for each year of the iconic South African political leader’s service - to help make a difference in their communities.

In the spirit of International Nelson Mandela Day, which celebrates the anti-apartheid leader’s devotion to public service and human rights and this year coincides with his 95th birthday, the UN joined a call by the Foundation named for Mr. Mandela to “Take Action, Inspire Change” by volunteering 67 minutes to helping others in a hospital, tutoring a child, providing food for the homeless, or any other community service.

In New York, volunteers helped to rebuild houses destroyed by last year’s Hurricane Sandy in Long Beach and Far Rockaway, areas that took the brunt of the storm.

Among them, Grece Kaneiya from UN Radio, alongside colleagues and staff of the South African Mission to the United Nations, sanded the ceiling and walls of a residential home flooded by Hurricane Sandy, prepping it for painting.

“I feel like I was really motivated to go by the message behind the Nelson Mandela International Day - to mark Mr. Mandela’s 67 years of public service with 67 minutes of helping another person,” Ms. Kaneiya said.

“Sometimes we think we can only help in terms of money but sometimes just giving out your time is more important,” she said adding: “I’m African. This is not Africa, but I feel like anyone anywhere can help another person in need; it doesn’t matter where you’re from.”

In Darfur, Sudan, some staff members from the joint United Nations-African Union Peacekeeping Mission (UNAMID) devoted their time to cleaning El-Fasher Maternity and Gynecological Hospital. The hospital treats more than six hundred patients a month. The Day was also marked with parades, cultural performances, songs and poetry.

Speaking from Kabul, Afghanistan, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Nicholas “Fink” Haysom said Mr. Mandela’s work is an inspiration for countries across the world. Mr. Haysom had served as chief legal adviser throughout Mr. Mandela’s presidency.

“As Afghanistan prepares for its historic presidential election next year, I hope the acts and words of Madiba can be of some inspiration to people here, that they realize from South Africa’s experience just how important it is for leaders and potential leaders – at whatever level, whether it be at the national or the village level – to be bigger than the divisions that can tear communities apart,” he said.

The UN Information Service in Vienna opened an exhibition entitled “Intimate Moments with Nelson Mandela” and also offered the opportunity for its staff to sign up with volunteer organizations.

At the UN Headquarters in New York, the General Assembly held a special meeting to mark Day. Speakers included former United States President Bill Clinton, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Andrew Mlangeni, a close friend of Mr. Mandela who was imprisoned with him.

“This year's commemoration comes at a moment of deep reflection on the life and work of Madiba, as the universally revered leader remains in the hospital,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the Day. He added that his thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Mandela, his family and all the people of South Africa.

“The heart of Nelson Mandela International Day is good works for people and the planet. Its theme...is meant to mobilize the human family to do more to build a peaceful, sustainable and equitable world,” he continued in his message. “This is the best tribute we can pay to an extraordinary man who embodies the highest values of humanity.”


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