United Nations celebrates 130 years of ORT


25 November 2009 Special bulletin United Nations celebrates 130 years of ORT Representatives of 28 countries joined leaders of major Jewish organisations at the United Nations to celebrate the 130th anniversary of ORT. The guest list had to be stretched from 100 to 150 to give well wishers the opportunity they wanted to raise their glasses to an organisation which has brought diverse, innovative and profoundly beneficial education and training programmes to millions of Jews and non-Jews since it was founded in St Petersburg in 1880 and which currently benefit more than 250,000 people annually. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent greetings, describing ORT as a valued partner in global efforts to achieve education for all. Stressing the importance of education as an essential factor in reducing poverty, promoting stability and stimulating progress in public health and gender equality, Mr Ban said: I welcome ORTs efforts to reach out to vulnerable people in more than 100 countries who have been denied education because of poverty and social exclusion. From left: Shaul Mofaz, Director of UNESCOs New York office Christine Alfsen-Norodom, and World ORT President Dr Jean de Gunzburg. In an era of multiple crises, people were increasingly looking towards the UN for solutions, he said. People want results. To deliver, we must be united in purpose and united in action. We must work with all partners including organisations such as ORT, which has done so much over so many decades to improve peoples prospects and well-being. Thank you for your contributions and please accept my best wishes on the occasion of your anniversary. The gathering also heard from three people whose lives testified to the diversity and impact of ORTs work Israeli Knesset member Shaul Mofaz, South African Paul Magula and Holocaust Survivor Robert Frimtzis. Mr Mofazs late father was Principal of an ORT school in Iran before the family made aliyah in 1957. That is why it is personally touching for me that ORT began its work in Iran in 1950, providing courses until it was made to leave by the Islamic regime in the early 1980s, he said. Mr Mofaz went on to describe some of the many arenas in which ORT has run in various countries at different times, negotiating discrimination, expulsion and wars from Czarist Russia to the Soviet Union and back to the CIS; in Poland before, during and after World War Two, and today in Israel where its Kadima Mada programme reaches some 40,000 schoolchildren in 33 municipalities. In a day and age when incitement is rife and an equal education for all is more of a slogan than a reality, education for peace is crucial, he said. Providing students with vocational skills equals giving them hope. Giving thousands of people a value-oriented education means allowing them the choice of being connected to a 5,000-year-old heritage. Doing all this while also embracing the statutes of peace is altogether a mitzvah. I would like to salute this important organisation and its dedicated workers throughout the world for promoting one of the more noble human needs: education. Mr Magula said he owed his life to ORT. Despite acquiring two degrees at Cape Town University, he was unable to find a job until he graduated from ORT South Africas Siyaphambili Work Readiness course. Now married with children, Mr Magula enjoys a successful career in banking. And Mr Frimtzis described his journey from a Displaced Persons camp in Italy, where he made up for years of lost schooling thanks to ORT courses, to life in the USA where he became a leading engineer on the historic Apollo mission which took Man to the Moon. They embodied ORTs vision to promote education and prosperity for the world, a vision which reminded Israels Ambassador to the UN, Professor Gabriela Shalev, of Anne Frank. As the world around that young woman was consumed by war, hatred and antisemitism, Professor Shalev said, young Anne wrote the following: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. Such words reflect the ethos that has defined the work of ORT. You have shown that we do not have to wait to make a positive difference in the lives of those who face challenges, hardship or suffering. To the entire community of ORT and its supporters: your work and leadership serve as an inspiration to us all. World ORT President Dr Jean de Gunzburg, a direct descendant of ORT co-founder Baron Horace de Gunzburg, reminded the gathering that in addition to this being World ORTs 130th anniversary year it was also the 50th anniversary of World ORTs International Cooperation department serving communities irrespective of colour, creed or any of the other artificial barriers that tend to divide us. With the support companies like Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard and organisations including the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the United States Agency for International Development, ORT IC has helped survivors of the 2004 tsunami rebuild their lives, provided training to communities in post-apartheid South Africa, trained women in handicraft manufacture in Mali, provided business and vocational training to Albanians emerging from decades of dictatorship and introduce thousands of farmers in Guinea to sustainable forestry techniques to name but a few. The ambassadors present knew about World ORTs work in their own countries but had no idea of our activities around the world, Dr de Gunzburg said after the event. They were grateful because World ORT had made a tremendous impact in their countries but they were all happy to discover the big picture of what we do. The Chair of World ORTs International Cooperation Advisory Committee, David Woolf, said the level of support evident at the event was very pleasing. It was very meaningful that so many ambassadors of countries in which we operate attended our celebration, Mr Woolf said. It highlights the importance of ORTs work among non-Jewish communities.