United Nations Children's Fund

Acceptance Speech

Acceptance by Henry R. Labouisse, Executive Director of UNICEF, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1965.

After receiving the prize from Mr. Jahn, Henry Richardson Labouisse (1904- ), American attorney and diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Greece, who, before becoming executive director of UNICEF in 1965, had held several United Nations posts, including that of director of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, responded in behalf of UNICEF with the following speech of acceptance1.

It is a great privilege to represent here today the United Nations Children’s Fund and, on its behalf, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for 1965. I speak for the entire staff of UNICEF and for our Executive Board in expressing our profound gratitude to the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting.

May I also say how very much we wish that my predecessor, Maurice Pate2, could be here with us. This great practical idealist was UNICEF’s architect and builder. To the work for children, Maurice Pate devoted much of his life and at that work he died last January, a few months before his scheduled retirement. We miss him poignantly in Oslo today.

Created in 1946 to provide urgent relief for the children of war-ravaged Europe, UNICEF was soon given the task of assisting the children of the developing countries who live in the shadow of disease, hunger, ignorance, and poverty.

We know from Alfred Nobel’s own childhood what care and tireless effort can mean in enabling a fragile, sickly boy to attain great heights in later life. Nobel’s parents succeeded in overcoming the ill fortune which beset their son; everything that could be done for him was done. He lived, and his name today is associated with mankind’s highest achievements. Had Alfred Nobel been born not in 1833 but even in 1965, in a steamy, isolated village of Asia, Africa, Latin America, what would be his chances of survival and of success?

The hard reality is that, in more than one hundred developing countries of the world, the odds that confront the average child today – not to say a sickly one – are still overwhelming. They are four to one against his receiving any medical attention, at birth or afterwards. Even if he survives until school age, the chances are two to one that he will get no education at all; if he does get into school, the chances are about four to one that he will not complete the elementary grades. Almost certainly he will have to work for a living by the time he is twelve. He will work to eat – to eat badly and not enough. And his life will, on the average, end in about forty years.

Such statistics make us face the staggering waste of human energy and talent which drains, year in, year out, the very nations which need them the most. The developing countries are making a courageous effort to catch up with the industrial ones. To them, to us, the word “development” is a symbol of hope: it brings to mind new roads, power plants, and steel mills, stepped up production in farming and industry. But development means, above all, people – not numbers of people but quality of people. One of the crucial factors in the progress of a country is the development of the child, the adult of tomorrow – tomorrow’s engineers, doctors, progressive farmers, teachers, scientists, social leaders. That is the great task in which UNICEF is taking a share.

Now, an underprivileged child may benefit from many different things: from a mass vaccination campaign, from improved nutrition, from a new well in his village providing clean water to drink, from a book, from a good teacher in a modernized school, from a small clinic serving his neighborhood. In its efforts to help meet these needs, UNICEF concentrates on helping governments establish or expand their own services for children. Assisted governments contribute, on the average, more than two and a half times as much as does UNICEF to each given project. Our agency’s contribution consists of such things as medicines and medical equipment, jeeps and bicycles for public health and community development workers, science kits, and other equipment for pilot schools, tools for vocational training, pipes and pumps for village sanitation, the stipends to pay for the training of teachers – or of teacher’s teachers.

UNICEF aid comes marvelously alive in the field when you see, for instance, a whole pilot region raising its standards simultaneously in education, nutrition, sanitation, and health, with everyone lending a hand, from the local teachers and doctors to the poorest families of the jungle villages – all this with the help of our supplies and of advice from United Nations experts. The “fraternity of nations” that Alfred Nobel, in his will, dreamt to see promoted is truly there in action. On our UNICEF staff we have men and women of seventy-one different nationalities and on our Board, thirty nations; 121 governments contribute on a purely voluntary basis to our budget, and 118 countries receive our assistance while, in turn, doing their share of the financing and of the work. Such worldwide cooperation contributes, in itself, to a better understanding within the family of Man.

But to me, the great, the most important meaning of this Nobel award is the solemn recognition that the welfare of today’s children is inseparably linked with the peace of tomorrow’s world. The sufferings and privations to which I have referred do not ennoble; they frustrate and embitter. The longer the world tolerates the slow war of attrition which poverty and ignorance now wage against 800 million children in the developing countries, the more likely it becomes that our hope for lasting peace will be the ultimate casualty.

It is not just in those countries, of course, but in all countries, rich and poor alike, that we adults should constantly ask ourselves: is our society doing, or failing to do, all that is possible to equip our children with the weapons for peace? When our children grow up, will they have trained and informed minds, liberated from the old prejudices and hatreds? Will they trust their own civilization? Will they be prepared to trust and understand others? This is an area way beyond the mandate of our agency – but not beyond the probing of our own conscience, as individuals.

We of UNICEF accept the Nobel Prize for Peace with humility, knowing how little we are able to do and how immense are the needs. We accept it with gratitude toward the governments who are the fountainheads of our financing, toward the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations that provide us with their advice, toward the national committees, nongovernmental organizations, and the very many individuals who give us invaluable support. The people and the government of Norway deserve our special thanks – for Norway, in 1964, gave us the highest contribution per capita of population of all our contributing governments. We are proud of your interest and your trust.

To all of us in UNICEF the prize will be a wonderful incentive to greater efforts in the name of peace. You have given us new strength. You have reinforced our profound belief that each time UNICEF contributes, however modestly, to giving today’s children a chance to grow into useful and happier citizens, it contributes to removing some of the seeds of world tension and future conflicts.

1. The text is taken from Les Prix Nobel en 1965.

2. Maurice Pate (1894-1965), the first executive director of UNICEF.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1951-1970, Editor Frederick W. Haberman, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1972

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1965

To cite this section
MLA style: United Nations Children’s Fund – Acceptance Speech. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2024. Fri. 21 Jun 2024. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/1965/unicef/acceptance-speech/>

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