Дами и господа
I was on Geneva yesterday. I went south from there and turned to Moscow. Then I turned to London and soon ended up in Helsinki. I was walking the streets of Skopje that carry the legacy of the global response to the 1963 earthquake. There I saw the United Nations.
If you ask me, the UN headquarters should be in a city where streets carry the names of Damascus and Hague, Paris and Tashkent. Not that other city where our street references are First Avenue, between Forty Second Street and Forty Eighth.
Skopje’s streets carry the legacy of the global response — and remind of the role of the volunteers who were the first to react. Today I will speak about three lessons that the volunteers have taught us in 1963 — and continue to give today.
First, volunteers can’t offer full, immediate and everlasting solutions. But they do bring hope to people who had lost everything. And that offer of hope is where solidarity starts.
Local volunteers responded from the first tremors in Skopje. In the words of one of them, “there was not a single person who didn’t want to help”. Soon more help started coming from afar and the epic of local solidarity turned into a global one.
Earlier this year earthquake hit Northern Syria, but no international actor could help on the ground. And yet, through UNV, many global citizens were able to help as online volunteers. They provided remote psycho counseling support to children. They showed the meaning of international solidarity in the digital era.
Volunteers are Solidarity in Action.
Second, as necessity is a mother of invention, any crisis response often leads to innovation. An example of institutional innovation after the 1963 earthquake is the Skopje Institute of Seismic Studies. But no innovation will sustain without a strong social capital and volunteers play key role in the social capital formation.
Online psycho-counseling support to children of Syria is one example of volunteer-led innovation. There are many others. Nepal in 2015. Ecuador in 2016. Haiti in 2021. Time and again volunteers contributed to innovation through social capital formation. Last week I was in Nepal and heard some of these stories first-hand.
Volunteers are Innovation in Action.
And, the third lesson. No ChatGPT will ever replace volunteers. Because they work with their hands, their head and, above all, their heart. The heartbeat of volunteers is not only irreplaceable — it will carry for their lives and continue to make impact throughout.
When earthquake hit Armenia in 1988, a group of university students went to the disaster area before anyone else. They spent three days and two nights there. In freezing cold and dark they did what they could before the professional rescue teams arrived. One of those former university volunteers is Armen Grigoryan (Resident Representative of UNDP in North Macedonia). For Armen urban resilience have become a lifelong passion and profession.
Volunteers are Solidarity in Action, Innovation in Action and, above all, Inspiration in Action.
Thank you, благодарам, faleminderit