Are you a female leader interested in working for UNICEF in the field? Read this empowering interview with Deputy Representative UNICEF Libya. She is an experienced Emergency Specialist who shares rewarding and inspiring stories from the field. Don't miss her career tips, valuable to any humanitarian aid worker.
“For every child, equal opportunities to survive and thrive” -
Narine Aslanyan – Deputy Representative UNICEF Libya, (pictured, third from the left)
What is one of your memorable experience working for UNICEF?
– At the beginning of January 2014 I was travelling to Gambella region of Ethiopia for an emergency preparedness mission in my capacity of the Emergency Specialist of UNICEF Ethiopia country office. UNICEF’s emergency team has anticipated that the power struggle between President Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar would result into displacement of the South Sudanese refugees to Ethiopia. Therefore, I was tasked to review the contingency plan, including the situation of health centres, schools, and other local government institutions at the boarder entry points to Ethiopia.
On that particular day, I was on my way to Pagak village situated at the border between Ethiopia and South Sudan which was around two-hour drive from Gabmella city – capital of Gambella region. It was a beautiful sunny day. While buying sweet mangos on the road, after an interesting dialogue with colleagues, and while having this inspiring music at the background, it did not cross our minds what we might face and see later. As we approached Pagak, I was surprised to notice an unusual crowd of people. As we drove closer and closer, I could see thousands of women sitting on the ground along and off the road, while thousands of children were playing in the pullulated river stream under the trees and bushes, running along the road. It took me a while to realise and understand what had happened – as expected the war in South Sudan has displaced women and children to Ethiopia, while the men stayed behind fighting. The vulnerability of these displaced people was extreme – they did not have food or water, carrying a small bag with few personal items, children had hardly any cloths and only few of them had plastic flip-flops.
I remember, I got out of the car and worked along the road to get a reception on my cell phone while surrounded by children calling me “khavaja” and trying to hold my hand. I called our office to update my colleagues of the situation. I could not find words to express what I was looking at “Thousands”, I said, “thousands and thousands women and children are at Pagak border crossing point and they all need immediate assistance to survive”. Within the next two days UNICEF team with its partners had significantly strengthened the capacity of the health post at Pagak, started nutrition screening of the children, measles vaccination campaigns and established child friendly spaces.
What advice do you have for women currently in an emergency context?
– Be positive, pragmatic but always critical. The worst that can happen to any humanitarian aid worker is to accept the status quo as normality; accept the suboptimal quality of humanitarian programmes, delays in the delivery of assistance, apathy of service providers and conformity to the situation. Children affected by disaster have equal rights and higher needs to survive and thrive regardless all the challenges and circumstances. Humanitarian aid workers can only make a difference by not give up and demanding the highest attainable care and services, compassion and support for disaster affected children and their families.
What are the main benefits / challenges of working in an emergency context?
– There will be scenes that will follow you all your life – scenes of tragedy, extreme human suffering and destitute. But at the same time, you will have this incredibly rewarding feeling that makes you wake up every morning and get into spiral of never ending work. The commitment to deliver more and better will grow, after you see a child finally receiving her school bag delivered by UNICEF and entering the classroom made of coagulated iron sheets in the refugee camp that has only been finished the night before.
What does your typical work day look like?
– Currently, I am the Deputy Representative of UNICEF Libya. My job could seem like a regular office job – I arrive to the office in the morning, switch on my computer, answer my emails, review documents and meet people. However, there is something particular about my day and that is the “purpose’ to deliver care for vulnerable women and children. I need to ensure that we have resources to continue implementing the humanitarian programmes. I need to review the documents of UNICEF partners programme proposal and ensure that they have mobilized all the effort to start deliver service in the conflict affected cities of Libya. I have to review the data to ensure that UNICEF truly impacting lives of the displaced children and their families. I need to ensure that all the government stakeholders are aware about UNICEF programmes while UNICEF programme team remains focused on delivering programmes that takes into account the vulnerabilities and needs of the children. The scope and scale of my work is wide, though often demanding and challenging, it is always rewarding and inspiring.
What role does diversity play in working in an emergency country context?
– Diversity is a key in the context of the humanitarian crisis. The motivation of travel out of the comfort of our own family, town and country and try to understand a different culture of the host country – not just for the intellectual discourse – to make a difference in the lives of people in peril as a part of a multinational diverse team. After working with so many diverse teams, definitely I can saw that diversity allows to overcome problems, sometimes to think out of the box, creating innovative ways and solutions to complex situations.
Please complete this sentence: For every child ... equal opportunities to survive and thrive!
Photo: Narine Aslayan with UNICEF team (pictured, third from the left)