Charity, like the notions of volunteerism and philanthropy, provides real social bonding and contributes to the creation of inclusive and more resilient societies. Charity can alleviate the worst effects of humanitarian crises, supplement public services in health care, education, housing and child protection. It assists the advancement of culture, science, sports, and the protection of cultural and natural heritage. It also promotes the rights of the marginalized and underprivileged and spreads the message of humanity in conflict situations.
The International Day of Charity was established with the objective of sensitizing and mobilizing people, NGOs, and stakeholders all around the world to to help others through volunteer and philanthropic activities.
The date of 5 September was chosen in order to commemorate the anniversary of the passing away of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to peace.”
Mother Teresa, the renowned nun and missionary, was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in 1910. In 1928 she went to India, where she devoted herself to helping the destitute. In 1948 she became an Indian citizen and founded the order of Missionaries of Charity in Kolkota (Calcutta) in 1950, which became noted for its work among the poor and the dying in that city.
For over 45 years she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion, first in India and then in other countries, including hospices and homes for the poorest and homeless. Mother Teresa’s work has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa died on September 5th 1997, at 87 years of age.
Charity plays an important role in upholding the values and advancing the work of the United Nations. Donations of time or money; volunteer engagement in one’s own community or on the other side of the world; acts of caring and kindness with no thought of recompense; these and other expressions of global solidarity help us in our shared quest to live together in harmony and build a peaceful future for all.
I welcome this first observance of the International Day of Charity, which was proclaimed last year by the United Nations General Assembly and which coincides with the anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa, whose life and good works for some of the human family’s poorest and most vulnerable members inspired emulation across the world.
Strangely, charity sometimes gets dismissed, as if it is ineffective, inappropriate or even somehow demeaning to the recipient. “This isn’t charity”, some donors take pains to claim, “this is an investment”. Let us recognize charity for what it is at heart: a noble enterprise aimed at bettering the human condition.
At a time when we aim to accelerate our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and define a bold agenda for the period beyond 2015, the role of charity can and should grow.
UN bodies such as the UN Volunteers Programme and UNICEF offer venues for people across the world to get involved. In establishing the Day, the General Assembly asked that charity be encouraged through education and awareness-raising activities; initiatives such as the United Nations Academic Impact’s ASPIRE — Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education — have encouraged young women and men to take on the responsibility of ensuring that their less fortunate peers have the financial opportunity to go to school. The UN’s humanitarian agencies rely on charitable donations from the public as well as the generosity of governments to continue their lifesaving work in response to natural disasters, armed conflicts and other emergencies.
On this new International Day, I call on people everywhere, of all ages, to act on the charitable impulse that resides in every human being.