This year is filled with historical anniversaries it seems, and today is both the 145th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union, and the 50th World Post Day. Unbeknownst to us, while we were busy setting up the big exhibition, the Little Mail Carriers decided to wander the halls of UPU and see what they could find… Here they are to tell you about their adventure!
Hi everyone! We hitched a ride and snuck out while Paulo and Ana were distracted. 😇 Want to tour the UPU headquarters with us? Come along!
So, first things first, the UPU is composed of 4 bodies: the Congress, the Council of Administration, the Postal Operations Council and the International Bureau (IB), which is where we are and also where 250 or so people from 50 different countries work. They’re all busy connecting the world’s post offices, working on their development in different areas or monitoring the quality of mail service worldwide. In a way, being inside the UPU is like being inside a “big machine” that makes mail work… just with more offices, and less levers and cogwheels.
Policies are made mostly by people talking to each other and finding compromises and common strategies to solve problems, and the conference center is one of the places where those important conversations happen. It’s a huge room, where delegates from each country sit down to hear each other and debate. We hopped on to the podium to address the crowd… but they had all left already.
There is an upper level balcony on the sides of the room, where observers and translators sit. French, English, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Spanish are the official languages of the UPU, though sometimes simultaneous interpretation is other languages is also provided. The meeting attendants just need to tune in on the channel to hear speeches and discussions in their preferred language. And when it’s time for a coffee break, someone rings this bell!
Speaking of languages, here’s something cool: the stairs between floors feature the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, translated in different languages. If you’ve never heard of the SDGs before, these are a group of 17 resolutions adopted by all UN members in 2015 as a universal call to action to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030”. All UN countries and partnering institutions keep these in mind, so that they can work together towards the same goals.
One thing that surprised us was how much art was their headquarters had on display. On all floors, there was barely a wall that didn’t feature something stunning, like this huge tapestry gifted by China in 1974 on the occasion of the UPU’s centenary. Every country wants to contribute with something and after 145 years, you can imagine just how much beauty there is all around.
We were particularly impressed by this modernist mural by Tunisian artist Abdelaziz Gorgi, on display in the building’s cafeteria. It shows two musicians floating in a boat in a fantastical garden, surrounded by flying and swimming creatures… It’s so beautiful!
There was also this collection of miniature postal vehicles, on loan from a retired UPU employee… we wish we could ride on all these cars and trucks. What a cool idea for a postal collection!
But it’s not all art and fun — a lot of work goes on in this building! This is the office of Mrs. Olfa Mokaddem, manager of the UPU philately and IRC programs. She let us take a peek inside and also showed us the mail room, where everyone that works here can receive their mail.
They also have a huge library here, with a beautiful detail: the bricks that cover the walls feature these colorful crystal structures, like little geodes. They were a gift from Japan.
Before we left, there was still time to marvel at the view of the Alps from the rooftop, and say hello to Mr. Bishar Hussein, the current UPU director-general. He wanted us to let everyone know about the role of the posts not just in delivering mail, but also in delivering development and progress. Every year on World Post Day, he shares his thoughts about the evolving role of the post, and this year’s message can be found here.
On our way back to the backpack, we stumbled on a framed excerpt of the Treaty of Bern — the treaty that officially launched the UPU, signed on this day 145 years ago.
We felt a bit emotional looking at these two sheets of paper. This is where it all started: with an ambitious idea and these 22 signatures. Since then, the world has evolved and changed, and 192 countries are now part of this global network of postal cooperations, that continues to adapt, grow and connect us all.
Congratulations UPU, and happy World Post Day everyone!