The Words of the Winings Family

Values and Public Service

Kathy Winings
Vice President, International Relief Friendship Foundation
October, 2000

I would like you to close your eyes for a moment and finish this sentence in your mind: "I have a dream that . . ." If we were to survey the room, I imagine that most of our responses would have something to do with freedom, equality, tolerance, respect for nature, solidarity or shared responsibility. In other words, our hopes and dreams are intimately connected to and embodied in the six values affirmed by Secretary General Annan.

But, is this any surprise? As representatives of civil society and NGOs, our work involves this moral and ethical dimension. Most, if not all of us, would agree that the time for talking about these dreams is long over. Yet, if we share these values, how can we more effectively emphasize them as partners?

Second, I would like you to look around this room -- notice the diversity. We have racial, cultural, national, religious, age, and gender diversity. But again, should we be surprised? If we have learned anything in our work as NGOs, we have learned that for sustainable change and development to occur, it requires the efforts of more than one generation and more than one sector of society. And I would also say that most of us are feeling that now is the time for us to go beyond the confines of our own particular spheres of responsibility if we are to not only fulfill the Millennium Declaration but begin the culture of peace.

We also need a final component to bring this all together. That is education. By this I mean not only education for literacy and intellectual development, but also the knowledge that we gain through learning from our past and from the wisdom of our cultural and religious heritage. This is education in the six values in the Millennium Declaration. This last factor is probably the one that is least heard today when it comes to forming a culture of peace. Yet, this is the one factor that not only provides the vision, motivation and direction toward which we must go, as a global society, but it is most needed by the coming generations who will shape the future substantially.

The question becomes: how do we develop an educational program that affirms these universal values and challenges us, and at the same time, puts them into practice on a daily basis in a global and collaborative effort? How do we bring to the forefront of our society those values that shape one’s true character, freedom, equality, tolerance, so that we can create a culture of peace?

One response to the challenge of a dynamic educational program in which NGOs can come together to experience this collective wisdom meaningfully, is through service. In the development work and service-learning projects that are conducted by International Relief Friendship Foundation and similar NGOs, we have experienced this powerful combination.

Let me share with you one striking example of the power of this combination. It involved a project sponsored by the Religious Youth Service and IRFF in the Dominican Republic two years ago with the volunteers coming from both the project country and Haiti. The historical tension between the two groups could be felt from the first night.

Throughout the project, it was a continual process of learning to go beyond one’s learned bigotries and inherited resentments in order to learn to trust, respect and work together for the sake of others. By the end of the project, Haitian and Dominican had set aside their resentments and anger and had embraced each other with a newfound sense of love and respect.

How did this happen? Through the creative educational process that focused on these universal values reflecting on what these values actually meant for one’s life, working in solidarity and with a shared responsibility in the restoration of a much-needed school -- the participants were changed in the most profound way possible. In other words, each person there lived true freedom, equality, respect, tolerance, and experienced solidarity and shared responsibility. This became the foundation for further development.

This has been the case in projects involving Haitian and white American teens, Palestinian and Israeli young adults, and Ugandan rebels and the wider society. To this day, the American and Haitian youth who worked with me in Haiti continue to live the values that were taught in the project and are actively engaged in their communities sharing this collected wisdom and making a lasting contribution to the real social problems they see.

The values presented here by Kofi Annan may seem simple and obvious. Yet, it is often the most obvious things that we overlook in our efforts to solve our global problems. The beauty of responding to these values is that it challenges our tendencies toward isolated disciplines and provides an arena in which intercultural, interreligious, and interdisciplinary cooperation can occur naturally and harmoniously. As Cicero said: "In no way do we more nearly resemble the gods than when we serve."

We can spend long hours discussing how to take advantage of modern communication technologies and global prosperity in our fight against poverty as we advance human development and still not make headway. Why? Because we are not reaching to the heart of the matter -- why can we not eradicate poverty and illiteracy, why can we not deal with the recruitment of child soldiers, why can we not solve vital human rights issues? These problems exist because we have forgotten those essential values that allow our society to thrive and prosper as well as how to live them when it is not convenient or easy.

In service, each person -- young and old, black or white, male or female -- comes face to face with what it means to be human. We must wrestle with our selfishness, greed, inability to love, and our lack of desire to work together. This is the role of service as a partner with these essential values.

It is clear that we are faced today with a unique task. That task is to both design an educational program which can affirm the essential values that are at the base of all of our cultures and to implement these critical moral and ethical values on a global scale. For the first time, we are faced with the possibility of actually bringing together, expanding and integrating the noble ideals and values as expressed in the Declaration for a harmonious and peaceful future. Wouldn’t you agree that nothing can be more important than this task?

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