Statement of the Deputy Director General at the event celebrating the winner of the International Letter-Writing Competition 2019

Statement of the Deputy Director General Pascal Clivaz at the event celebrating the winner of the International Letter-Writing Competition for Young People, 9 October 2019, Berne, Switzerland.


Honoured Guests,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered here today to celebrate World Post Day, but also the winner of the Universal Postal Union’s 48th International Letter Writing Competition, Richemelle Francilia Somissou Koukoui from BĂ©nin.

Thanks to UPU, young writers aged nine to 15 have been writing letters since 1971.

The winner of that first competition was Sergio Roberto Fuchs da Silva with his letter to a friend in the 21st Century.

In that first message, Sergio wrote of the letter, “I served the Pharaohs of Egypt and the princes of Mesopotamia almost three thousand years ago.”

Sergio noted, “You who live in the era of cybernetics, of interplanetary voyages, with velocities diminishing distances and communications saturating a culture which dominates space and time.”

Well, we are not quite there yet; but we are on the cusp of a world of robotics, AI, drones and other inventions that are once again transforming the postal industry.

In a thousand years, we have gone from letters written on tree bark to blockchain and cryptocurrencies. 

Sergio’s letter also highlights the unremitting relevance of these letters.

Written on a range of subjects from a letter to my best friend the postman to a letter to a refugee child; and from why I am writing to my mother today to a letter on how to build a better future.  

These letters are imbued with love, with passion, with the energy of youth.

I must admit to feeling empowered by the voices of young people.

Their words invite me to see the world afresh and they encourage me to believe that we can do better, much better.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is the powerful message being delivered by young people the world over.

Greta Thunberg has inspired us all.

She is the voice of a generation speaking to us about environmentalism.

She is a warning to us all that, as adults, we must never be complacent about the world around us.

A voice that implores us all to strive together for a better world.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I like to believe that, over nearly 50 years, our letters have performed a similar service.

They are the confident, articulate voices of children, of youths, of young people from across the world.

Wherever they are from, each winner has found something that, instinctively, speaks to us all. 

Today’s winner—Richemelle Francilia Somissou Koukoui—is no different.

Richmelle has written a profound, intimate letter, one that speaks from the heart.

It has the power to move and to touch us.

This year, the theme of the International Letter Writing Competition was write a letter about your hero.

Richmelle chose to write about her Uncle.

“I hope that you stay as strong as Hercules, as feisty as Samson and, finally, as quick as Lucky Luke, my favourite heroes,” says Richmelle worried about her uncle’s health.

She goes on to say, “To grow up, humanity needs to take the values of past heroes to heart.”

I believe we all need heroes.

People to look up to, people who offer advice and support.

People with bravery and courage. People unbowed by the threat of criticism.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Letters may perhaps seem outdated, but as with all great communications, it is the message that really counts.

The Universal Postal Union always was, is, and will forever remain, a communications organization.

For 145 years, we have been delivering messages, often quite literally, but also in ways similar to the one delivered today by Richmelle.

Such work is in the finest traditions of the United Nations, and its efforts on the pillars of peace and security, development the rule of law and human rights.

Such aspirations can drive this planet forward, but everyone needs to understand what they mean.

I see Richmelle’s story and the International Letter Writing Competition as a way to humanise, to distil, not just the UN’s work, but our global efforts to improve the lives everyone.

Since the very earliest times, we have told stories around campfires, as we progressed we have sent stories to each other across vast distances of land and water.

Today, we do so electronically from computer to computer, and from mobile phone to mobile phone, but it is still the story that counts.

Richmelle, I thank you for your story and I would like to honour you with this prize. 

Thank you.