Garine Palandjian

December, 2010 to June, 2011

One week of training involved meeting numerous people, locating offices, knowing who to talk to and where to go, as I was being prepared for the next seven months.  Debi-Ou Yang, the former Intern, also a Lehigh student, showed me around and gave me all the need-to-know’s about the internship.  “You’ll get use to it!” are the words of hope that I continue to hold onto when I am in my moments of misery.  The staff understands and provides support which is critical when working on this level.  A calendar for the winter/spring season was prepared with current and critical topics which the UN has been involved in such as the first Briefing topic, “Disaster Preparedness and Relief: Haiti, A Year Later”.  This internship opportunity gives me the opportunity to understand how the inside perspective of how the UN is organized and how NGOs work collaboratively work on global issues.

The first task was to consider building the panel of speakers.  Priority quality was someone who understands what the current state of affairs is in Haiti, either of Haitian background or has been there will help the NGO community garner an understanding of the current situation.   The first person of contact was of course the UN Permanent Mission to Haiti requesting the presence of the Ambassador.  For this Briefing however, they were not able to attend but we did attempt to reach out to the country officials first.  Next, we searched within the UN to learn who has been on grounds and I learned about Gerard Gomez, the Head of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  He had been in Haiti after the earthquake and was concerned over the lack of coordinated efforts in helping to rebuild Haiti.  Though he was in Panama, we attempted to have his participation via telecast for that day.  Later his we weren’t able to coordinate with his schedule therefore, we were still in need of the UN presence on this panel.  My colleague suggested looking into the UN’s programme World Food Programme (WFP).  She mentioned the work of Denise Brown, Senior Donor Relations Officer of WFP, who had recently been to Haiti and could provide some insight of her work.

Gradually the panel started to come together.  It was through these tasks that I understood that UN takes action on a multiple range of concerns.  One of the most comical moments during this preparation period was my attempt of inviting Sean Penn, an American actor, screenwriter, and film director.  The idea came from our Chief, Maria Luisa-Chavez, who sent an email with information about how the actor had been involved in Haiti.  Later we discussed how exciting it would be to have him participate in the Briefing.  To me, this was a lofty idea - ironically working at the UN was also another lofty idea so I thought I’d dive into this idea too!  Sure enough I found contact information for Sean Penn’s publicity agent and was on the phone discussing the possibility of his participation.  Although we were not able to coordinate with Mr. Penn’s schedule, I was once again amazed by the ability to take out on big ideas.  

While the panel was being finalized, and simultaneously we were also arranging for little details such as having the Briefing webcasted.  This is done to allow NGO’s who do not have representatives at the UN Headquarters to still be actively involved.  Other details included, preparing the program, writing the Talking Points, inviting the NGOs, and finalizing the technical aspects.  On the day of the Briefing, I don’t get to sit back and watch the show.  I kept my eye on our Chief in case she needed any assistance while the speakers were talking.  All of the hard work paid off when I had the honor of hearing about their experiences in Haiti.  Mrs. Denise Brown’s message was truly impacting.  She explained how there were over 300 lessons learned from Haiti.  The challenges WFP faced including how to collaborate with NGOs both internationally and locally.  Unlike many usual speakers, she pointed out some of the flaws that people who criticize the WFP but explained how at the time they had to deal with it since timing was of essence in helping to provide relief to Haiti.  I sat back and tried to imagine, how could one NGO try to organize over 1,000 NGOs that arrived in Haiti, all for the same cause, in a short amount of time?  Unimaginable!  She said the WFP chose 76 Haitian NGOs and 29 international NGOs.  Aside from the WFP, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also did their part.  Mr. Bruno Lemarquis, UNDP’s Director for Haiti, who stressed the importance of supporting efforts to rebuilding national capacity and help Haiti stand back on her feet.  One other UN official, David Carden, spoke from OCHA.  He provided information to allow for the NGO community to portray an image of Haiti since the earthquake.  Some of his facts included increased violence, trafficking, cholera outbreak, and large number of people still living in settlements.   Finally, Carden called upon the need for accelerated relief efforts. 

One voice on the panel who didn’t speak from the UN perspective, expressed the growing concern over the issue of violence against women and children.  Taina Bien-Aime, Executive Director for Equality Now and from Haitian roots, shared her memories of Haiti before the earthquake compared to her visit after the earthquake.  Her concern of the growing number of violence against women had been exacerbated by the earthquake.  Finally, one of the points that I was inspired by was when she acknowledged the NGOs in Haiti, especially women’s groups, who are knowledgeable but do not have the resources or funding to handle the situations.   I also admired her concluding remark that Haiti cannot be rebuilt by international projects – they must include Haiti. 

These are only some highlights of the work I have done.  Every day I find myself meeting new people, learning new perspectives, and gaining new skills which challenges me daily.  Most importantly, I have been growing closer friendships with my colleagues.  Throughout this experience, I’m most grateful to have Ms. Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte as my mentor throughout this experience.  Her wealth of knowledge, talents, and personality are admirable.  I am also impressed by her patience in dealing with me as her intern but truly feel honored of working under her leadership. 

I look forward to sharing my progress a week later from the next Briefing, which is on “After Cancun: Where Do We Stand on Climate Change?” (A Follow-Up to Cancun Conference 29 November – 10 December 2010)