UNV Executive Coordinator Toily Kurbanov addressing International Volunteer Day celebrations in Sana'a, Yemen, on 5 December 2022.
UNV Executive Coordinator Toily Kurbanov addressing International Volunteer Day celebrations in Sana'a, Yemen, on 5 December 2022.

Speech of UNV Executive Coordinator in Yemen on the occasion of International Volunteer Day

I have come to you today with an open mind, an open heart and open hands.

I have come with an open mind, because this is the first visit of the head of UNV to Yemen since 1982.

Forty years is a long time.

There is a lot to reconnect, to absorb and to adjust.

Last week, my father called me from Moscow and asked where I was going. I said, I am going to Yemen.

He was happy to hear that and asked me if I knew that Yemen is one of only ten countries mentioned in the Holy Q’uran.

I didn’t know and this is also why I came with an open mind: to discover and appreciate the deep history and culture of Yemen.

So far, I learned three things about Yemen and the Yemeni people.

First, if there are three top peoples in the world based on their warmth and kindness, Yemeni will be in the top 3.

Second, if there are three top nations for their hospitality and generosity, Yemeni will be one of them.

And finally, if there are three top peoples in terms of their stubbornness, Yemeni will be #1.

There will be no #2 or #3. Only Yemeni as #1.

I have come to Yemen with an open heart, because before visiting I read an old book, from 1953, written by the World Bank and UN experts.

In that book, the authors predicted the future development of two countries.

The first country, they wrote, has a bright future. It is peaceful, has resources, an educated population and enlightened leaders. This country will develop fast.

The second country, they predicted, is a tragedy. It lives at war with itself, has little resources, corrupt leaders, people are uneducated and so religious. This country will always remain poor.

The first country with a bright future was Ghana.

The second tragic country they wrote about was South Korea.

And look at South Korea now. The most advanced, rich and technologically advanced nation.

What they write about Yemen today is what those experts wrote about South Korea 70 years ago.

No one believed in South Korea then, but South Koreans believed in themselves.

Yemeni people don’t have an easy life today, but they believe in themselves.

With my mind, I don’t know when Yemen will become the new shining star in the world.

But my heart tells me this will happen, inshallah.

And, finally, I said I visit Yemen with open arms.

Because I brought to you the greetings of all colleagues at UNV headquarters and all UN Volunteers around the world.

Christian1 brought greetings from the UNV regional office and all UN Volunteers in Arab countries.

On their behalf we say to you: As-salamu aleykum wa-rahmatullahi wa-barakatuh!

Two months ago, we had a global conference of all UNV country coordinators.

Abdullah2 was one of the most popular country coordinators.

He didn’t say much, but when he spoke, all listened.

Because we know: when COVID started and all UN clinics around the world struggled with workload, UN Volunteers in Yemen came to help.

When OHCHR needed fresh talent — again UNV delivered.

And so also with UNDP, WHO, UN-Habitat, OCHA, UNFPA and UNICEF.

We thank you for that.

The theme of this International Volunteer Day is solidarity.

Today, all UNV is in solidarity with you.

But we are also in solidarity with all UN Volunteers in other countries with great challenges: in Sudan and Somalia, in Myanmar and Mauritania, in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

For them, today will be another difficult day.

As all UN Volunteers are in solidarity with you, I trust you will be also in solidarity with them.

Because we stand together.

We act together.

And together, we will bring hope to our communities.

Peace Be Upon Yemen.

Peace Be Upon the World.

As-salamu alaykum.

1Christian Hainzl is the Manager of UNV's Regional Office in the Arab States.

2Abdullah Al Duraibi is the Country Coordinator of UNV in Yemen.