Marleen Van Asch
Lane Xang Hotel
5 December 2000

His excellency Mr Phongsavat Boupha, Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs,

Chairman of the National Committee for IVY 2001;

Distinguished guests, friends;

My name is Marleen Van Asch, and I have the privilege of serving as the Coordinator of the United Nations Volunteers Lao PDR. And I can assure you that I am immensely proud of the work of UN Volunteers here in Laos.

The UNV "culture", as I think of it, supports my belief in integrity and truth in hard work, partnership, and trying to help others. Within the UN system, UNV gives an opportunity to people who might not make a career out of international service to contribute their talents globally. Yes, UNVs are "specialists" Ė but we also tend to operate from a place of optimism, a sense of shared humanity and a sincere belief in service. In this way, I think that UNV is a clear reflection of the ideals on which the United Nations was founded.

The UNV Programme in Laos has currently 66 volunteers, serving in many different areas : from the National Assembly down to the districts Kalum and Dakchung. Our history assisting the Lao government in its development process dates from long back. Over more than 900 People coming from nearly 40 different countries served in this countries since 1986. Trying to put a figure on how many lifes they changed would be impossible. I am often asked: why have so many come this way? What made them decide to serve as volunteers? I can assure you they have come for many reasons, but the most important one is that they have come here because they have open hearts, and they want to lend a helping hand where there is need.

I could describe the seminars and workshops in which they try to help communities achieve their goals, but I prefer the way UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan refers to us most of the time, as "the human face of the UN."

Most of the speakers already mentioned that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 2001 the International Year of Volunteers, and designated UNV as the focal point for the Year. Today, December 5 2000, International Volunteer Day, IYV will be launched around the world.

As local head of the organization which is the focal point for IYV 2001, I must add that this year is not about celebrating international volunteers but about all volunteers, of all kind. To make this year more meaningful, a Lao National Committee has been established like in 88 different countries. Over the year several special volunteer initiatives will take place to make everyone aware of the contribution of volunteers in creating and enhancing economic and social capital. It seems that it is the best kept secret of the modern world. Volunteerism remains largely undervalued and overlooked as a positive force for social development.

IYV 2001 also encourages organizations, including those within the United Nations family, to tap the potential of all types of volunteers. It calls upon public and private enterprises to make a "time-out" for volunteer contributions by all employees.

But most of all, we hope that next year, at the exact same time, during the closing ceremony of the International Year of Volunteers, we donít have to explain any longer "what is exactly volunteerism", but that people will be standing in line to help, and care.

If the year 2000 is Y2K, then for us, the year 2001 is Y2Care, the year to care.

His Excellency, Mr. Phongsavat Boupha, Chairman of the National Committee of IYV, I can assure you that you have our full support for the coming year. And I am confident that I am not only speaking in the name of our UNV family, but in the name of all the Volunteer Sending agencies in Laos.

Lastly, I would like to thank the Government of Japan for taking the initiative to proclaim the year, and also for their support over the past years, for without their support this year might not have been possible.

Thank you very much.