After ushering more than 37 million visitors through the United Nations, the Organization's guided tour operation will mark its 50th anniversary later this week, demonstrating an ongoing commitment to keeping UN Headquarters open to the peoples of the world.
Commemoration of the milestone should serve to galvanize the valuable network of former guides and to encourage them to continue serving as UN ambassadors to the public, Shashi Tharoor, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said today.
Many former guides have gone on to achieve prominence in government, academia, media and the arts, such as former United States Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole, who was a guide in 1963. Other former guides include Princess Wiwan Wariwan of Thailand and best-selling Israeli author Yael Hedaya.
Speaking at a press briefing in New York, Mr. Tharoor noted that in the past 50 years, an average of 30,000 visitors a month have taken the tour, although the numbers were down about 30 per cent this year because of the security restrictions that followed last year's terrorist attacks.
Today's guide corps includes over 50 young people from 30 different countries offering tours in 20 languages, in both national dress and uniforms designed by the fashion house Mondrian, he added. On the job, the guides play a pivotal role in the public's perception of the work of the Organization, conveying a sense of the collective nature of the UN.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan has emphasized the need to ensure that the UN remain open to the peoples of the world, Mr. Tharoor said, recalling that last year, the General Assembly had endorsed a proposal for a new visitors' pavilion featuring interactive exhibits dramatizing the UN story.
Joining Mr. Tharoor at the briefing were Madhur Jaffrey, a former guide from India who later gained fame as an actress and author, Kevin Kennedy, of the Secretary-General's Executive Office, another former guide, and current guides Marian Aggrey of Ghana and Daniela Lima of Brazil.
"We were exposed to the world, through the best minds that you can ever hope to find, and I think that was a very, very rare privilege," Ms. Jaffrey said of her experience as a guide. "Also, I think we educated the people who came to visit the UN in the most remarkable way."
The other guides also emphasized the importance of personal contact for visitors to the UN, the lasting impression the tour made on children, and the impact, on their own lives, of working with a group of bright, young colleagues from around the world.