UN Day 2002 Speech
President, Rotary International 2002-2003
Rotary International Day at The United Nations, New York City
9 November 2002
My Fellow Rotarians, and all of our dear friends and family members:
This is indeed a wonderful occasion – we have gathered here today to reflect upon Rotary’s relationship with The United Nations – a relationship for which we are most grateful.
In the lives of most people, there are moments when words seem quite indignant to express the feeling of the heart. To me, this is just such a moment. Not only to be back at the United Nations after a lapse of many years, not as a politician who normally thinks in terms of the next election, but as a Rotarian who likes you all to think in terms of the next generations. We have such a large number of Rotarians attending this annual event so ably organized by the Rotarians in this area under the leadership of Past Director Bob Coultas.
Rotary International Day at The United Nations always has a feeling of celebration – but I think it is important that we also remember that we have much work to do. It is my hope that this day will strengthen our resolve to Sow the Seeds of Love throughout our troubled world by working with the various agencies of the United Nations. Together, we will accomplish much more than either of us could hope to accomplish alone.
Rotary has been a part of the UN from the very beginning. We sent 49 delegates to the UN Charter Conference in 1945 and, along with other non-governmental organizations, helped to write an important chapter of history with the UN charter – especially on economic, social and humanitarian issues. The very first President of the General Assembly was a Rotarian – Carlos P. Romulo of the Philippines, who also served as vice president of Rotary International.
Long before the UN Charter Conference met in 1945, Rotarians had been thinking long and hard on issues of international relations. In the words of Paul Harris: “Rotary is an integrating force in a world where forces of disintegration are all too prevalent; Rotary is a microcosm of a world at peace, a model which nations would do well to follow.”
I think it is interesting to note that in 1942, three years prior to the UN Charter Conference, Rotarians had met in London, England to discuss how Rotary might promote international exchanges. Their meeting planted a few seeds of love – seeds that grew into some of Rotary’s most familiar programs – Ambassadorial Scholarships, Group Study Exchanges, Youth Exchanges and the Rotary Centers for International Studies in peace and conflict resolution. But this meeting planted another seed – a seed that eventually grew into UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, established four years later in 1946.
Today, Rotary International holds the UN’s highest non-governmental consultative status. Rotary International appoints representatives to UNESCO, the UN Environment Program, the UN Center for Human Settlement and other UN agencies.
Perhaps most importantly, Rotarians work with the UN from the bottom up. With our network of more than 30,000 community-based clubs, we are able to quickly and effectively put the UN’s resources into action. Throughout the world, Rotary clubs carry out service projects in partnership with UN agencies – such as:
– UNAIDS, to increase AIDS awareness and prevention
– The UN Food and Agricultural Organization – to alleviate hunger and
– UNCHS – to improve living conditions with shelter and sanitation in the developing world.
Of course, the most outstanding, high profile example of what we can achieve when we work together is the successful partnership to eradicate polio worldwide. Rotary International and UNICEF, along with the World Health Organization and other organizations, have immunized over one billion children against the crippling disease.
We are proud of all we have achieved through PolioPlus, but the fact is we have not finished the job. It is no coincidence that the poliovirus persists in the poorest parts of the world – countries with high rates of poverty, illiteracy, and hunger. We are trying to immunize children in places torn apart by armed conflict, places where fragile governments cannot assist us and health infrastructure is nonexistent. And although we have reduced polio cases worldwide by an impressive 99 percent, that final one percent eludes us. The problems that stand in the way of polio eradication are the same problems that stand in the way of peace.
We know that peace means much more than the absence of armed conflict. Peace means freedom from fear – the fear that comes from poverty and not having food, water, shelter, education and health care.
As Rotarians, we know better than anyone that it is simply not enough to dream of a better, wiser world. Indeed, if a dream could do it, we would have that world, because who among us does not have that dream?
No, a better world has to be built. Therefore the cause of peace and all of the vital work that supports it – work in health care, vocational training, conflict resolution, hunger alleviation – these things are an immediate concern and they have a direct impact on us. The absence of peace in our troubled world affects our lives and the lives of those we hold dear each every day
Peace has to start from the base. From where we stand. It has to be a pyramid building and never from the top. It has to be built brick by brick, stone by stone and timber-by-timber. The monument of peace and for peace has to start from us.
I have spent the hours of my life in a variety of roles, including as a politician, and also as a delegate to the United Nations. And I can say with total conviction that I believe organizations like Rotary make a vital and necessary contribution to world peace. As our world struggles to find peaceful solutions to global tensions, Rotary service nurtures international goodwill. Rotary service relieves human want and suffering. Rotary service that answers hate with love, fear with hope and distrust with cooperation.
So therefore, let me remind you that you are not here to merely visit. You are here to find ways to get involved. You are here to find ways to use the resources of the United Nations to express your love for the world in service.
All it takes is one simple action – a beginning – a seed. J.P. Vaswani, a philosopher and teacher said, “What the world needs today, more than anything else, is love-in-action. Love-in-action is sympathy, service, sacrifice.” By sharing our love through fellowship and service, by performing our service with love, sincerity and dignity – we Sow the Seeds of Love.
The seeds of love will not grow unless they are scattered throughout the land. It is only when you share your love that will you be blessed with joy and even more love to give.
The seeds of love are the seeds of life.
I say, go forth, then and Sow The Seeds of Love.
Bhichai Rattakul, President of Rotary International in 2002 belonged to the Rotary Club of Dhonburi in Bangkok, Thailand. A Member of Parliament for nine terms since 1969 and Leader of the Democrat Party, he has served his country as Foreign Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Speaker of the House of Representatives and President of the Parliament. He has also led many Thai delegations to the United Nations.