Mr.Gana Fofang, Deputy Resident Representative, UNDP

Launch Celebration for International Year of Volunteers - 5 December


His Excellency, Mr. Phongsavat Boupha, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chairman of the National Committee for IYV 2001;

Distinguished members of the National Committee;

His Excellency, Mr. Yoshinori Miyamoto, Ambassador of Japan;

(other ambassadors);

All our volunteers and guests,


It gives me great pleasure to be here today with you for the launch of International Year of Volunteers 2001.

Every year on the 5th of December, we celebrate International Volunteers Day. But today, this particular December 5th, is different. Today marks the beginning of what will be a full year dedicated to the recognition and celebration of volunteerism in all its forms. Across the world, volunteers are a valuable resource: their efforts not only improve the quality of life in their communities, but also assist the economy, and add to the stability of their countries. Today we are here to recognize these contributions.

IYV has been a long time in the making, and we have been anticipating this moment for several years now. The original inspiration for IYV came from a United Nations policy forum in Japan in 1996. You may recall the devastating earthquake that occurred in Kobe, Japan in January 1995, that left over 5000 people dead and over 300,000 homeless. In the days after the earthquake, however, thousands of citizens worked together in a joint effort to help rebuild their communities. It was this outpouring of care and effort that inspired the idea for IYV.

In February, 1997, the Government of Japan officially proposed the establishment of IYV, and this resolution was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 20, 1997 – a resolution that was passed by 123 countries.

Since that date, over three years ago, there has been a great deal of activity underway to see that IYV achieves its four main goals. These goals are to increase recognition of volunteer service; to encourage volunteer action; to network and share experiences about volunteering; and to promote volunteerism as part of a healthy and strong society.

Here in Laos, the National Committee for IYV has been established, and has plans for ongoing events throughout the year. IYV will provide an excellent opportunity for cooperative effort between the national committee, international volunteer sending agencies, and local Lao volunteer groups. As we look ahead together, what is that we can do together to make sure that IYV has a lasting impact in Laos? What will ensure that the spirit of today grows in the future?

First, we can support our volunteers. We can encourage them and help them in all that they do. Volunteers are people who make the choice to devote their time and energy to benefit others. The are not motivated by financial gain, but by the impact of their actions. To assist them, we can support and recognize the important contributions that they make.

Second, we can go out of our way and ask people to volunteer. All too often people are willing to help, if only they are asked to do so. While there are full time volunteers, there are also many who happily contribute an hour or two of their time per week. We can help to increase volunteerism by simply asking for volunteers.

Lastly, we can volunteer our own time. When each one of us goes home after this launch celebration, we can consider what time we can commit to volunteer activity, and we can make plans to get involved now.

Our theme today is "Open Hearts, Helping Hands." During International Year of Volunteers, we need to think about what motivates people to open their hearts, and to reach out and help others. In Lao, as well as in English, the heart is the key to volunteerism. The word for voluntary in Lao is ‘jai sa mak’ – a heart that will volunteer; a heart that is open. Remember that these volunteers – these open-hearted people - are everywhere. A volunteer might be a neighbour who helps you during hard times, they might be someone who speaks up for others who are less fortunate, or they might be someone who quietly improves the community day by day. Our theme in Lao is ‘hwam heng, hwam jai’ – we are strong together, with our hearts together. If we celebrate and increase this spirit over the course of the year 2001 – if we strengthen our hears, and reach out together - certainly the International Year of Volunteers will be a success.

Thank you very much.