Event celebrating the winner of the 47th UPU International Letter-Writing Competition

Statement of the Deputy Director General at the event celebrating the winner of the International Letter Writing Competition, Berne, Switzerland, 9 October 2018


Ms. Phoka,


Honoured Guests,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Today is World Post Day:  A day on which to celebrate our sector and to acknowledge the hard work and the dedication of millions of women and men globally who provide an invaluable postal service to everyone on this planet.

World Post Day is celebrated each year on 9 October. The official day was agreed at the 1969 Universal Postal Congress in Tokyo to celebrate the anniversary of UPU’s creation in 1874.

The purpose of World Post Day is to raise awareness of the Post’s role in the everyday lives of people and businesses, as well as its contribution to global social and economic development.

With a global network of over 677,000 post offices, 5.3 million staff, physical infrastructure covering 192 countries, and billions of letters and parcels sent in hundreds of languages, the postal sector contributes to infrastructure everywhere.

And what better way to celebrate this day than to recognize the winner of UPU’s 47th International Letter Writing Competition. Young writers, aged nine to 15, have been encouraged to write letters since the very first competition was held in 1971.

The competition, which involves more than 1 million young participants annually, is an excellent opportunity for young people to learn about the postal service, to improve their literacy standards and to foster their composition skills.

By entering the competition young writers, are also extending the hand of peace, friendship and fraternity around the world.

When seen together, these letters represent an enduring beacon of hope and inspiration in a world beset by numerous challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am proud to tell you that this year’s winner continues in this fine tradition. 

Chara Phoka from Larnaca, Cyprus has written a moving and compelling letter on this year’s theme: “Imagine you are a letter travelling through time. What message do you wish to convey to your readers?”

Her letter—the letter of an invisible life—tells a harrowing story that speaks to this painful period in the 21st Century; a powerful modern allegory that informs as much as it distresses—a story of conflict, of migrant smuggling, of loss and finally of hope.

It tells of the journey of a letter from Afghanistan, through Syria, Turkey, across the Mediterranean to Cyprus and finally to Sweden.

Throughout the story, adults are called “big hands”, while children are described as “little hands.”  

During the journey, the letter changes hands several times: from its author to a courageous young refugee who dies in a harsh sea crossing and finally to a relative living abroad.

At the end of the letter’s journey, having witnessed so much suffering and loss, the letter says it was an honour to have felt the pain and strength of the “little hands.”

Allow me to read a section from Chara’s letter:

“I was given the unique opportunity to appreciate the greatness of human life, through innocent and unaccompanied Little Hands which had to face the hard reality, at a time when they should've been laughing, carefree; Little Hands with Big moral Stature…”

It is hard not to read this story as a worrying statement about our world.

Conflict, human trafficking and human smuggling are the experiences of many millions of people, and the heartbreaking events described in her letter are most likely happening somewhere as we speak.  

But what makes Chara’s letter stand out among the millions of other letters is that it reaches beyond the anguish and adversity.

Chara’s letter ends with the line:

“I only wish people would write on every piece of inanimate paper, feelings of joy, hope and love! I only wish!”

The message is therefore not only a letter of our times, but also a lesson for our times: We must not give up on the “greatness of human life”, we must not give up our humanity, and we must not give up our hope that tomorrow will be better than today.   

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I cannot help but see this letter as an expression of the very finest traditions for which the United Nations was founded and for which it continues to work towards today.

The four pillars of peace and security, development, the rule of law and human rights.

Chara, I want to thank you for your letter it has travelled to us at an important time and its story has moved me, as I am sure it has touched our audience today.

You have shown exactly why the letter, and the power of the written word continue to have such a tremendous impact on us all.  

I wish you every success with your future, and on behalf of UPU, I would like to honour you with this prize.  

Thank you.