UNITED NATIONS IN THE REAL WORLD
by Misun Hong
Yonsei University Graduate school of International Studies
Currently interning at UNDP Timor-Leste
DO YOU FANCY WORKING FOR THE UNITED NATIONS?
For those of you who dream about working in United Nations or any international development organization (e.g. Development NGOs, Aid agencies, OECD/DAC etc.), attending a conference in the Headquarter in a formal attire and shaking hands with VIPs around the world might be all you fancy being an UN staff. But what the United Nations is like, especially in the field office, might not exactly live up to your expectation. But let me tell you a few reasons why you want to start your career in the field.
GOOD INTENTIONS ARE NOT ENOUGH
We don’t really know what we want to be when we grow up. We, I mean by, young Koreans in their tweenties, passionate and compassionate, ideal and yet naïve, dreaming about working for peace and human rights and wantïng to save the world”. But good intentions are not enough when it comes to actually working for the United Nations or development agencies. Many of us don’t know what it takes to work for UN and what UN work is really about. But when we stand in the forefornt of the UN and face the war-torn nation and the impoverished people, we are astounded and don’t know where to start.
[Photo 1] Desserted public park Dili, Timor-Leste
[Photo 2] Children playing valley ball in school in Farol, Dili, Timor-Leste
THE UNITED NATIONS FOREFRONT- UN MISSION/COUNTRY OFFICE IN TIMOR-LESTE
The UN Peacekeeping Mission starts when the country/government is in need of external help with restoring and consolidating stability (which is distrupted by civil war/military conflict, natural disaster, ethinic cleansing etc.). The UN Mission in Timor-Leste first started in 1999 to organize and conduct a popular consultation to ascertain whether the East Timorese people accepted a special autonomy within Indonesia or rejected the proposed special autonomy, leading to East Timor’s separation from Indonesia.
The third mission of UN in Timor-Leste (and also the second peacekeeping mission in Timor-Leste) was scheduled to end its mandate in May 2006. However, a series of major dimensions (which resulted in 150,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)) due to the 2006 election, prolonged UN presence in Timor. The current mission in Timor-Leste (United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste, UNMIT) is established with a far-reaching mandate to assist the country in overcoming 2006 crisis.
The UN Country Office in Timor-Leste is comprised of military and police component (e.g. Peacekeeping force, UN police) as well as civilian component (e.g. development agencies such as UNDP, FAO, ILO, UNFPA, UN Women, and UNICEF). There are 15 UN peacekeeping missions over four continents (Africa 8, Americas 1 , Asia 3, Europe 2, Middle East 3 ) and 128 UNDP country offices (Africa 46, Arab States 18, Asia and Pacific 24, Europe& CIS 24, Latin America and the Caribbean 26)
This means people are suffering from the military conflict or natural disaster in , at least, 15 countries and people are suffering from hunger, deseases and poverty in many more countries in the world. And this is the why UN exists and what UN work is about.
UNDP: HELP PEOPLE BUILD A BETTER LIFE
What UNDP does is, simply put: help people build a better life. But how UNDP does that? UNDP helps governmnet and help them build their capacity with UN’s global development network and resources, so that the government can do their job. As stated in the Millennium Development Goals, a guideline on of United Nations issued in 2000, UNDP projects have an emphasis on the marginalized people (e.g. rural population, disabled, women and children).
The UNDP Timor-Leste was established in December 1999, being one of the key partners in the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Timor-Leste and strengthening institutional capacity. It has 4 major pillars (Democratic Governance, Poverty Reduction, and MDGs, Environment and Energy, Crisis Prevention and Recovery) underwhich Timor-Leste Country Office has projects on
- Democratic Governance
FYI- UN jobs
unv.org UN Volunteer recruits young and passionate college graduates (like you) with minimum of 2-3 years of experience.
At times, the UN system seems very slow and bureaucratic. The government, aid agencies, and UN agencies have different ideas about what they want and you feel like you are stuck in the middle. And on top of that, the tropical weather does not make it any easier to do the job. At many time, frankly speaking, you get frustrated and feel like this project doesn’t really helping the poor people. But this frustration is good. This frustration can be harnessed into gold. And this you can never feel working at the HQ. This is why I sugget you to work in the field. To see the real world. And what UN does in the real world.
TIMOR LESTE: LEAST DEVELOPED, POST CONFLICT COUNTRY AND YET PROUD OF ITS HARD-WON INDEPENDENCE
Timor Leste is one of the youngest nations in the world, located in Southeast Asia. The country is ranked among the least developed countries in the world, having emerged only a decade ago.
[Photo 3] National Human Development Report 2011- UNDP
Timor-Leste Facts and Figures
Official Name Republica Democratica de Timor-Leste (RDTL)
Location The eastern half of the island of Timor, the enclave of Oe-cusse, Amebeno, Atauro island and Jaco Island
Area 14,609 square kilometers (the size of Connecticut)
Time GMT +9 (Tokyo Time)
Population 1,114,534 (2009)
Official Languages Tetun and Portugues
Working Languages English and Indonesian
Currency United States Dollar
Main export coffee, Oil and Gas
President Dr. Jose Manuel Ramos-Horta
Prime Minister Kay Raia Xanana Gusmao
Governing Parties Alanca Maioria Parlamentar
The facts and figures can tell you many things about the country but it took some time for me to realize that it is really hard to economic or social development when a country suffers from colonial legacies of languages and political divide.
COLONIAL PAST Over four centries of Portugues colonial rule left Timor-Leste with Catholic churches and the Portugues language. Having naver been the jewel of the crown of the Portuguese colonial empire, no investment in education or infrastructure was made. When the Portugues left, Timor-Leste became a province of Indonesia starting in 1976. Indonesian occupation lasted until 1999, when Indonesia relinquished its control as a response to the UN-sponsered ac of self-determination. Upon the withdrawal of Indonesian military, 70 percent of the country’s infrastructure was destroyed, including hoesm health facilities, irrigation system and water supplies. Ninety-five percent of sechools had been damaged, 100 percent of the national electrical grid demolished and there were virtually no institutions of state capacity
POLITICAL INSTABILITY Timor-Leste has been attempting to rebuild since 2002, but efforts were hit hard in the 2006 election when violence erupted. Timor-Leste only recently has begun recovering from the political instability and is now starting to consolidate security and peace. The return of the IDPs to their homes and communities was completed in 2009. By January 2010, the National Police Force had successfully taken over primary policing responsibility from the UN Police Force.
LANGUAGE DIVIDE The difficult history also left East Timorese with a great language divide. Approximately 91 percent of East Timorese speak Tetun, the local language. Among these people, 43.4 percent spack also Bahasa Indonesia. There are mostly the young generation, aged from fifteen to thrity, who were educated during the Indonesian occupation. Upone the independence in 2002, Portuguese and Tetun were chosen as official language but less than 14 percent of Timorese speak Portuguese. There are people fom the older generation who were educated during the Portugues colonial times and some young children due to the recent schooling. The lingustic diversity makes it more difficult to communicated and unify national goals.
PRIDE AND HOPE East Timorese are strong and, at times, stubborn. (And I assume this is because of the difficult history) Sometimes they are much like Koreans--hot-tempered and love football. They may be rank at the bottom of the Least Developed Countries list, but proud of their culture and heritage.
[Photo 4] Promotion of traditional crafts such as weaving tais or scarves is a way to improve the livelihoods of rural communities in Timor-Leste. Photo by Martine Perret/ UNMIT.
In the HQs they talk about billions of aid money makng little change for the Bottom Billlion population. In fact, some billion dollars have been spent on develoment of TimorLeste (collectively by international actors between 2001 and 2007, and acheving MDGs by 2015 remines to be a false promise. This is because they fail to recognize the difficult history and different development states of each country. And you can feel all this wih your heart when you work in the field office.
UN IN THE REAL WORLD
In the field office, you are like an solder in the battlefield. The fight against poverty, hunger, and deseases cannot be glamorous. The world you see is brutal and you feel helpless. But this is good thing.
As much as you get stressed and frustrated with the bureaucratic UN system and as much as you looking at the picture and don’t know where and what to start first, you are one step closer to saving the world”” And this frustration is why I encourage you to work in the field. Go out there and taste the real world. It is bittersweet and you will like it.
[To be continued]
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