July 20 marks the 100th birthday of legendary New Zealander, and VSA’s founding president, Sir Edmund Hillary. Sir Ed was president of VSA for 13 years, from 1963 until 1976.
Sir Ed’s role in supporting and growing VSA, and in defining the organisation, cannot be understated. In his own words in the Foreword of VSA’s 40th anniversary publication, New Zealand Abroad, Sir Ed described VSA’s ideals as “New Zealanders crossing cultural boundaries to share experiences and skills in another country and being enriched in turn by new knowledge, experience and understanding.”
These words are as true now as when he wrote them. And our work is still very much guided by Sir Ed’s straightforward approach to aid - ask if we can help, and if the answer is “yes” then ask how and do it.
The key to doing this well is to do it with Sir Ed’s profound and immutable sense of egalitarianism. It’s why we always work with respect for our counterparts, and it’s why the work we do is always led by local communities and their needs. We make the most far-reaching difference when we develop our partners’ capacity and resilience to carry on the work themselves.
That fundamental spirit of equality and partnership is carried by our volunteers throughout the Pacific and beyond, whether they are helping to deliver safe water infrastructure in the Cook Islands, passing on sewing and business skills to young women in Bouganiville, or assisting with developing export business in Timor-Leste.
Describing VSA’s work, Sir Ed once wrote “Without the positive benefit this brings the world would be a far more brutal place.” On the 100th anniversary of his birth it is worth us all taking a moment to appreciate the enormous positive benefit Sir Ed brought to the world and the work being done by VSA volunteers, donors, supporters, members, Council and staff to help continue that legacy.