19 October 2011

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Volunteers, as They Carry Out Daily, Quiet Work Needed to Pursue Peace, Have

Power ‘to Change the World’, Says Secretary General, in New York Remarks


Following are Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the opening of a photo exhibition celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps and the twentieth anniversary of the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), delivered by Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, in New York, 18 October:

I feel a deep connection to these photographs.  You even have an image of my hometown of Eumseong.  It brings back vivid memories.

These pictures tell a tale of friendship and solidarity across borders.

But there is an even bigger story here.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Peace Corps is a wonderful milestone.  But the twentieth anniversary of KOICA adds greater meaning to our celebration.  Because it shows that when you help people who are suffering, they can someday help others.

Many of you served in the Republic of Korea at a time of great poverty.  You helped the country to develop.  Now young Koreans follow your example, volunteering through KOICA in Africa and Asia.

The United Nations appreciates the power of volunteerism to change the world.  Through our UN Volunteers programme, 8,000 individuals are currently helping people in 130 countries achieve peace and development.

I am very proud of our UNVs.

I have a special place in my heart for volunteers thanks to one volunteer who helped me when I was a teenager.

This was back in 1962, when I won an essay contest.  The prize was a dream come true for a poor boy from the countryside:  my first trip abroad — to the United States.

It was a life-changing experience.  I had the honour to meet President Kennedy, who established the Peace Corps.  He inspired me — like he inspired so many of you — to embark on a life of public service.

I could never have survived that first trip to America without the help of a volunteer named Florence Tupper.  She invited me into her home.  She looked after me.  She helped me understand America.

We never lost touch after that.  Two years ago this month, I celebrated Mrs. Tupper’s 100th birthday with her and her family.

It happened to be 24 October, which is United Nations Day; a day when I am normally very busy.  But I would not have missed her party for anything!

Mrs. Tupper passed away the next year.  I was sad but I knew she still lives on in my heart and in the hearts of the many other people she touched with her volunteer work.

Around the world, volunteers carry out projects that have enormous concrete value.  But the value of their intangible contribution is much greater.  These heart-to-heart connections help people understand that we may come from different countries, but we share the same humanity.  And we have to work together for our common future.

In 1963, two years after I met him, President Kennedy gave a speech at the United Nations that still rings true today.

He said, “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process [of] gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.  And however undramatic the pursuit of peace, that pursuit must go on.”

Volunteers in the Peace Corps, KOICA, the United Nations and other organizations are carrying on this work.

Let us take inspiration from the powerful images in this exhibition, and from the legacy of President Kennedy, to continue this essential pursuit of peace.

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For information media • not an official record