Helen Clark: Speech at the Renaming of Minsk School #130 in honor of Ruth Waller

Apr 25, 2016

It is a great pleasure to join you today to dedicate this school to Ruth Waller, an American citizen who worked for the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) mission in Belarus, and who lost her life here seventy years ago.

When Ruth Waller came to Belarus in 1946, Europe was struggling to recover from the devastation of World War II. Many people were without proper shelter, fuel, clothing, or food. The UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) was created to respond to the many humanitarian challenges which Europe was facing at that time. UNRRA played a critical role in Belarus, by delivering more than US$ 60 million worth of aid to the country in about a year and a half. The agency was created at a 44-nation conference in 1943, and was a precursor of the United Nations itself and the huge volume of humanitarian work it does around the world to this day.

The United States was the major donor to UNRRA, carrying on a tradition of humanitarian relief here from the 1920s when the American Relief Administration provided tens of thousands of tonnes of food for Belarus and vaccinated more than a million people against typhus. After the Chernobyl accident, the United States, along with other partners, also helped here in Belarus in many ways.

During her time at UNRRA in Belarus, Ruth Waller became an inspiring example of the United Nations at its best – working in the spirit of international solidarity to help people, wherever they are, to build a better life. She dedicated her life to serving Belarusians suffering from devastation and hunger. Sadly, after heroically saving the life a drowning Belarusian boy, Ruth contracted meningitis and passed away. She was laid to rest here in Minsk.

We honour Ruth’s service today by naming a school in her memory. Her legacy also lives on in the good work, which the United Nations agencies continue to do in Belarus and around the world. The generous support of Member States, including those represented here today, help make this work possible.

The humanitarian crisis which brought Ruth Waller to Belarus is long past, but sadly that is not so for many people around our world. Close to sixty million people around the world are forcibly displaced from their homes and lives are lost and communities destroyed by ongoing deadly conflict.

Last year the UN’s Member States agreed to a new global agenda for sustainable development. World leaders have committed to building peaceful and inclusive societies and eradicating poverty. This is an agenda for today’s young people – they must drive the peaceful and sustainable world for which people around our world yearn.

Ruth Waller, whose memory we honour today was a courageous and dedicated woman. I hope her life and the United Nations for which she worked will continue to inspire young people to strive to build a better world for all.

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