Inspired by Mandela, UN staff volunteer in communities

From America to Africa, UN workers honoured Nelson Mandela`s dedication to public service by volunteering at least 67 minutes of their day.

New York: From America to Africa, UN workers honoured Nelson Mandela`s dedication to public service by volunteering at least 67 minutes of their day - one minute for each year of the iconic South African political leader`s service - to help make a difference in their communities.

In the spirit of International Nelson Mandela Day to mark the anti-apartheid icon`s devotion to public service and human rights, the UN joined a call by the Foundation named for Mandela on his 95th birthday to `Take Action, Inspire Change` by volunteering 67 minutes to helping others.

In New York, volunteers helped to rebuild houses destroyed in last year`s Hurricane Sandy in Long Beach and Far Rockaway, areas that took the brunt of the storm.

Among them, Grece Kaneiya from UN Radio, alongside colleagues and staff of the South African Mission to the UN, sanded the ceiling and walls of a residential home flooded by Hurricane Sandy, prepping it for painting.

"I feel like I was really motivated to go by the message behind the Nelson Mandela International Day - to mark Mandela`s 67 years of public service with 67 minutes of helping another person," Kaneiya said.

"Sometimes we think we can only help in terms of money but sometimes just giving out your time is more important," she said, adding: "I`m African. This is not Africa, but I feel like anyone anywhere can help another person in need; it doesn`t matter where you`re from."

India also joined UN member states, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saying the Mandela day also holds special significance for his country.

"These values of peace, pluralism, justice, equality and dignity are also embodied in the United Nations Charter. In proclaiming July 18 as the Nelson Mandela International Day, the United Nations paid tribute to a great citizen of the world," Singh said in a message.

In Darfur, Sudan, some staff members from the joint UN-African Union Peacekeeping Mission devoted their time to cleaning El-Fasher Maternity and Gynaecological Hospital.

The hospital treats more than six hundred patients a month. The Day was also marked with parades, cultural performances, songs and poetry.

"This year`s commemoration comes at a moment of deep reflection on the life and work of Madiba, as the universally revered leader remains in the hospital," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the Day.

"The heart of Nelson Mandela International Day is good works for people and the planet. Its theme... Is meant to mobilise the human family to do more to build a peaceful, sustainable and equitable world," Ban said.

"This is the best tribute we can pay to an extraordinary man who embodies the highest values of humanity."

Ban added that his thoughts and prayers are with Mandela, his family and all the people of South Africa.

Speaking from Afghanistan capital Kabul, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Nicholas `Fink` Haysom, said Mandela`s work is an inspiration for countries across the world.

"As Afghanistan prepares for its historic presidential election next year, I hope the acts and words of Madiba can be of some inspiration to people here, that they realise from South Africa`s experience just how important it is for leaders and potential leaders, at whatever level, whether it be at the national or the village level, to be bigger than the divisions that can tear communities apart," said Haysom who had served as Mandela`s chief legal adviser during presidency.

The UN Information Service in Vienna opened an exhibition entitled `Intimate Moments with Nelson Mandela` and also offered the opportunity for its staff to sign up with volunteer organisations.

At the UN Headquarters in New York, the General Assembly held a special meeting to mark Day.

Speakers included former US president Bill Clinton, Reverend Jesse Jackson, singer, actor and social activist Harry Belafonte, and Andrew Mlangeni, a close friend of Mandela who was imprisoned with him.

"We are united in concern," Ban said at the special General Assembly meeting.

"We are also joined in admiration for a towering figure in the worldwide fight for equality and justice, a model of compassion and integrity, a man who took on and then gracefully relinquished the responsibility of power."

Clinton recalled his friendship with Mandela, saying that "his heart was so big, and his humanity so great, that we often had trouble keeping our official roles apart from our personal friendship. This speaks well of him."

He praised Mandela`s efforts to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa years after he left office.

Reverend Jackson praised Mandela`s commitment to achieving reconciliation and his emphasis on forgiveness and tolerance, as well as his determination to not give up and continue fighting for social justice.

"Social transformation is an intentional act," he said.

"It is because of Mandela`s sacrifice that South Africa is free today."