Bring together a group of people who give their time, without pay, to help others, and they can accomplish great things.
This is the idea behind the American Red Cross and other organizations that depend on the generosity of volunteers. Disaster relief workers, nurses, blood donors, youth program leaders ù more than 1.2 million people volunteer for the American Red Cross. With a 36-to-1 ratio of unpaid to paid staff, volunteers are the foundation of the organization.
The critical role of Red Cross volunteers reflects the
importance of all
kinds of volunteers, all over the world. The United Nations has declared
2001 to be the International Year of Volunteers (IYV2001) to recognize and
encourage the worldwide volunteering movement.
"Everyone likes to make a difference in life," said Astrid Heiberg,
president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
Societies, on Tuesday (Nov. 28) at the opening ceremony of IYV2001 at
United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan. "Today we are launching a year
to celebrate and promote the hundreds of millions of unselfish women and
men, young and old, who give their time and energy to make a difference to
the lives of others."
Heiberg was among more than a dozen organization leaders,
dignitaries and honored volunteers who spoke at the opening ceremony. In
the audience sat several hundred representatives of volunteer
organizations around the world. Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General,
delivered the keynote address.
"The true measure of success is not what we gain,
but what we give back,"
Annan said. The gift of volunteerism improves the lives of those who are
helped, to be sure, but it also affects those who are helping, he said.
"Invariably, volunteers will tell you they have received as much as they
Annan noted the importance of measuring the effect of volunteers'
contributions on national economies. In countries that have done so, he
said, it is estimated that volunteers contribute an average of 8 to 14
percent of gross national product. "In the United States, for instance,
volunteers do the equivalent of 9 million employees, at a value of $225
The year-long project "is not only about celebration,"
Capeling-Alakija, host of the ceremony and executive coordinator of United
Nations Volunteers, the UN's international volunteer arm. "It is also
Astrid Heiberg spoke of the importance of volunteerism
in the history of
the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement. Henry Dunant, founder of the Red
Cross almost 150 years ago in Switzerland, was devastated by the sight of
wounded and dying soldiers, suffering unattended on a battlefield. He
envisioned a relief society of volunteers who would care for the injured
"Volunteer action has always been at the very center
of the Red Cross and
Red Crescent idea," Heiberg said. "Today we have national societies in 176
countries à [with] 100 million members and volunteers."
"One national society which has developed advanced
ways of managing
volunteers, and from which we all have a lot to learn, is represented at
the ceremony today," she said. "I gladly recognize the American Red Cross
for its work in this field."
Mary DeKuyper, national chair of volunteers for the American
and Gregory Smith, Vice President of Youth, Volunteers and Nursing,
represented the U.S. society at the ceremony. Also in attendance were
representatives from local New York Red Cross chapters.
Other honored speakers at the opening ceremony included
parliamentary vice minister from Japan; Anita Roddick, CEO of the Body
Shop; Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker, co-chair of the U.S. IYV national
committee; UN volunteers Amy Stafford, Olufemi Olugbemi and Monette Rana;
Ruth Cardoso, first lady of Brazil and honorary president, IYV National
Committee of Brazil; Nadia Comaneci, Olympic gold medallist; Don Felipe de
Borbon, Prince of Asturias, Spain; and Janat Balunzi Mukwaya, Uganda's
minister for gender, labor and social development.
The official launch of IYV2001 will be Dec. 5, 2000, with
scheduled all over the world on that day. In addition, dozens of events
are scheduled throughout the coming year to further the IYV mission.
As part of the opening ceremony Tuesday, an exhibit spotlighting IYV2001
was unveiled by Capeling-Alakija and Nane Annan, wife of UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in the lobby of the UN Headquarters.
Featuring country-specific displays and individual volunteer
UN Volunteers, the exhibit will remain in the lobby for public viewing
until March 1, 2001, when it will begin a tour around the world.
The close of the ceremony marked the start of a yearlong,
to empower and salute the world's volunteers. Capeling-Alakija left the
crowd with a quote from Margaret Mead:
"Never underestimate the power of a small, dedicated
group of people to
change the world; indeed, that is the only thing that ever has."
For more information, visit the UN's IYV2001 Web site.
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