Tuesday, July 21, 2020

On the occasion of the United Nations Nelson Mandela Prize 2020, Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nikos Dendias,  organized a special event in honour of Mrs Marianna V. Vardinoyannis at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to congratulate her on this great honor, on Tuesday, July 21st 2020.

During his welcome speech he said: “Your award is a real recognition by the largest international organization in the world for your efforts to protect human rights, especially the rights of children, for your struggle for their survival, the improvement of their living conditions, the struggle against their abuse, against their exploitation. For your support for children suffering from the most serious diseases and fighting and hoping for their lives. This award honours not only you but our country. Through your actions, but also your Foundation, the universal values ​​that are in the core of our existence are served “.

During his speech, Mr. Dendias stated that he officially suggested to the H.E. the President of the Hellenic Republic to “honour Mrs. Vardinoyannis with the Grand Cross of the Order of Beneficence in recognition of her work”. In fact, Mr. Dendias added that “the President has accepted this suggestion”.

Mrs. Vardinoyannis warmly thanked Mr. Dendias and dedicated the award to Greece and the Greek people.

Mrs. Vardinoyannis’ speech:

“Honorable Minister, I am really touched! Thank you for your kind words and for the joy you gave me with all this wonderful news you announced a while ago.

I am really deeply moved because the United Nations has awarded me this international distinction. As I told you before and I say this to all of you who are here, I could not have imagined even in the wildest dreams of my life that I could receive this great international distinction, which truly represents the ideals and the struggle of a great humanist, Nelson Mandela.

I’m so moved right now that I may not be able to speak to you from the bottom of my heart. Nelson Mandela was really a very important person in my life. I was inspired by him and I followed his steps in order to implement the difficult work of the ELPIDA Association.

ELPIDA, through his words that the impossible can become possible, became the motto of my life. Because I thought that when you fight for the life of a child, this is the most valuable thing and that I did. I never looked back.

I did my best to fulfill this promise that I made to the Greek people and to save the children who were in need and were so seriously ill suffering from cancer.

As you may know, my decision to be involved with the children’s struggles was when, many years ago, in 1990, we were desperately looking for money for a child to get well, for which 500.000 dollars were needed. This amount is still needed nowadays for a child to go abroad for treatment.

Parents were desperately looking for help. So I thought that we must do something for our children. The ELPIDA Association was founded and through ELPIDA we started our big struggle. Until now, 1200 children were healed through transplantations, children from the Balkans, from countries of the Mediterranean and all over the world.

We have made connections with the biggest hospitals in the world, we have given access to the hospital to at least 150.000 children.  That was the motto of my life,  that even if one child can be saved, it is worth fighting for. So this award and this distinction were very important to me.

Because it is my belief that Nelson Mandela was not just a visionary and a humanist, he was and will always remain for me the universal symbol of humanity.

I could not hide my emotions when the President of the General Assembly said yesterday that he entrusts this award to me and to Dr. Kouyate, who has also dedicated his life to fight for children, especially for girls. He touched me deeply, because being a follower of this great humanist is a great honor for me and I feel very humble for this great mission entrusted to me now for five years.

This is breathtaking, because Nelson Mandela was and will remain a symbol of human rights, freedom, equality, solidarity.

But in this endeavor I was never alone. I had many others who supported me: doctors, nursing staff, volunteers, parents, donors, ordinary people. When you consider that school children brought the money they had for their school trips to give it for the children in need, or many retirees who gave their pension for it, you realize that all Greek people became as one to help the sick children to get well.

That was our motto and that was our decision. Until now, three out of four children are doing well. From now on, with the new medical equipment and the new breakthroughs that we have in the medical field, four out of four of our children will be doing well.

And of course I cannot forget the great support I have received from my family, from my children, from my husband, from my grandchildren, everyone is by my side.

But I would like to tell you something else. This Prize really does not belong to me, this Prize belongs to our beloved country and the Greek people. Because through this Prize, I was not honored personally, Greece was honored, my country, by all the countries represented in the United Nations.

Thank you very much. Excuse me, I am so moved and I really feel special honor to be here today and I receive this great honor from the Honorable Minister, my dear Nikos, and from all those who gave me this joy and honor to nominate me for this distinction. As I explained to the Minister before, when they asked for my CV I was so indifferent and I said “okay send the CV; will they choose me from all these candidates from so many countries?” and there was a big competition between several candidates and as the Minister told me we had one file and we sent it. We had nothing else. The other countries are very important countries and big countries, but we have achieved something very important for Greece and it is worth dedicating the Prize to it. As  John F. Kennedy  quoted: Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

Thank you very much!”