Dr. Brenda Gael McSweeney
Executive Co-ordinator of the UNV on

Interview on Friday, June 21 1996, Haus Carstanjen

Volunteers and Volunteerism

The most important aspect for me about United Nations Volunteers is the power and the impact of the fact that people give of their time. They contribute their time for causes such as peace and development. It is very compelling when people go to neighbouring villages, countries, other parts of the world and share expertise on a peer basis. In other words: tackle together problems at the invitation of the host governments or non-governmental organisations. They share the issues in looking from the vantage-point of the expertise of the nationals first of all, building on the local and indigenous technical knowledge, then adding to that some vantage-points from the outside. Very often new solutions are forged.

The Volunteers, because they are giving their time, have great credibility at the country-level. This is true for development work. It is equally true for humanitarian work, including human rights promotion and peace-building work. UN Volunteers who join communities at conflict, try together with them to find a way to de-fuse tensions and set up a new basis, a new foundation for peaceful coexistence that will be lasting.

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The International Year of Volunteers: 2001

In fact this concept of volunteering is so powerful that a number of volunteer and voluntary groups are very interested in having a UN International Year of Volunteers. They have chosen the year 2001 to make a statement about the first year of the new century.

The new millenium should be based on giving and sharing, and forging a new paradigm for development and peace. So we are very hopeful, after a Policy-Forum in Japan, the Center for European Volunteers based in Brussels, and the YWCA (Young Women's Christian Association) with 250 million members around the globe, made a call for the UN Year of Volunteers. The Peace-Corps recently hosted in the US a conference of international volunteer-sending-groups from the South: from Africa, Asia and Latin-America and from the North, and they too endorsed the idea of 2001 as the international UN Year of Volunteers.

picture of Dr. McSweeney

What the Executive Co-ordinator and UNV expect of Bonn and of Germany

From experience so far we have had 100 percent support both from the City and from the Federal authorities: the Mayoress herself first invited a team of over twenty selected representatives from UNV to come to Bonn in order to get a feel for what it might mean to be relocated and live in Bonn. She then came down to Geneva, to address all of the staff and to answer any questions they might have. The City is also partly financing up to 20 percent of the relocation-costs of the UNV-Programme.

The Federal Government took numerous steps to help UNV. First of all they doubled their contribution to our programme-work. We will be able to use Germany's funding for community-focused initiatives, participatory approaches, building on the priorities of the communities themselves in the developing countries, including communities in the urban slum-areas in accordance with the themes and the Plan of Action of HABITAT II.

The Government is also financing the entire cost of our relocation. They budgeted a sum of 19 million Deutschmark over a four-year-period to meet the actual cost of removal. In addition to that we have had very powerful political backing and support from the Government.

The very fact that Development and Economic Cooperations Minister Carl-Dieter Spranger along with Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel co-sponsered an introduction of UNV to the press with me at the Federal Press Conference is an expression of this support. At the same time we launched a volume that is called "Volunteers against conflict", a book written by the volunteers themselves about their experiences in elections in Cambodia, South Africa, and in Mozambique, where Volunteers also worked to help demobilize soldiers and then reintegrate them into their home communities or communities of their choice.

We have had contacts with Northrhine-Westphalia. Dr. Gerhard Konow, a representative of Düsseldorf here in Bonn, took early contact with us and was interested to explore potential sources of talent for our entrepreneurship-arm, UNISTAR.

As the first UN-organisation to be headquartered in Germany, we are hoping indeed that we can also have alliances with many of the organisations that are tackling environmental issues.

Interview of June 21, Schloß Carstanjen by Frank Fremerey, CEO, HOME;
Photography by Wolfgang Henrich, Senior Advisor, HOME;
UNV-Logo by the United Nations Volunteers

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