2011 moments of inspiration (part 2 of 4)

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UNICEF education staff share their stories

NEW YORK, 4 January 2012 – We asked UNICEF education staff around the globe to tell us about their most inspiring moment they experienced in 2011. Something that they would not forget and reminded them why they chose this profession. Here are some of their stories.

Anyoli Sanabria López
Education Specialist
UNICEF Nicaragua

© UNICEF/2009/Sebastian Rich
Punta Arena, Nicaragua. 2009.

Every year, UNICEF Nicaragua supports a reading contest for young children aiming to help them develop good reading habits early on. The competition starts at the grade level and expands to school, municipal and national levels.

Every year I attend the biggest contest, where children from around the country gather to compete in reading stories from their favorite books.

This year, the first contestant was Irma. She is a 10-year old girl who is blind. Irma stood confidently in front of a large crowd and read a beautiful story that her teachers had written for her and other classmates in Braille.

For me it was a moment of realization, I understood instantly why she was there, why I work for UNICEF and why inclusive education is a must when it comes to equity. I thought, “This moment has been worth all the work this year.”

Children with equal opportunities, reading well and enjoying the magic of books – that is worth getting up for each morning and feeling happy to come to work.

Simone Vis
Chief of Education Section

© Photo courtesy of Ozge Hassan
Turkish children participating in International Inspiration, a programme that supports the development of children and young people through play, physical education and sport.

Within weeks of arriving in Suriname, I visited several remote villages deep in the Amazon, where I met committed teachers who themselves had not even completed secondary education. I also spoke to hard-working teachers at the most disadvantaged schools in the capital city, Paramaribo, who talked about how difficult it was to deal with their overcrowded classrooms.

Being passionate about the things I do is essential. For me, passion is about doing work that resonates with my core values and is aligned with my heart’s true desire. Would I be able to feel passionate about the upstream work I was responsible for?

After meeting the teachers I clearly recognized the challenges they were facing, but I also realized the strong need for disaggregated data to support evidence-based policy advocacy. Collaborating with the Ministry of Education, we conducted a mapping of all schools in Suriname, with a special focus on children in the interior.

I found my passion in making use of this data during meetings with the Minister of Education, and education stakeholders. What happened then is something I never could have imagined: the data fed directly into a multi-year strategy that had a direct and positive impact on the conditions of teachers in remote and disadvantaged areas.

When I left Suriname this summer to take up my current position in Turkey, it was not the policy, nor the personal farewell e-mail from the Minister that was my professional highlight: it was the handwritten letter from a teacher in one of the villages, thanking me in person for the first-ever government-supported teacher training. This will always remind me why I have chosen this profession. I no longer doubt my ability to work passionately on moving something forward at a higher level, no matter what the obstacles!

Cristina Brugiolo
Education Specialist
UNICEF Swaziland

© Cristina Brugiolo/2011
Swaziland, 2011. Stakeholders during the National Dialogue on Violence against Children.

After a lot of excitement, commotion, hectic preparations, long working weekends and last minute postponements, the day finally arrived. October 19 was the day for the National Dialogue on Violence against Children in and around Schools and the whole team was ready.

Violence in schools was one of the main issues discussed among colleagues since my arrival in Swaziland in January. Excessive corporal punishment, sexual violence and harassment on the way to school, and teacher-learner relationships make the news almost every day. Everyone felt the need to discuss the problem openly, making sure the voice of children was heard, but how? Then came the idea of a national dialogue to put the issue at the top of the government agenda, and the Ministry was enthusiastic about it.

With a hall full of enthusiastic and committed people as well as children ready to make their voices heard, the Minister gave his speech: “Away with teachers who beat children! Away with teachers who sleep with young students!”

With that, others felt encouraged and began to shout out loud that all forms of violence against children are unacceptable, intolerable and must be stopped. Stakeholders made commitments to stop violence in schools and we all really felt we were making a difference:

We looked at each other and said, “Well done colleague! We made it! We succeeded once again to put children on top of the agenda in the country.” It was great teamwork, not just among UNICEF, but also with colleagues in the Ministry.

Now the real work starts, to make sure those commitments are not in vain.

Jenieri B Sagnia
Education Specialist
UNICEF Banjul, the Gambia

© UNICEF/NYHQ2003-0536/Pirozzi
Gambia, 2003.

The most exciting moment for my work has been developing a concept paper on a new strategy for quality improvements in basic education.

Essentially I defined it as a package of services encompassing curriculum improvement, teacher training (focusing on child-centered and participatory approaches), school infrastructure improvements including water and sanitation, provision of teaching and learning materials, improvement in school management, health and nutrition, life skills, child protection, community participation and improvement in monitoring learning achievements. The strategy also underscores the principle of inclusiveness, thereby addressing the issue of access to and equity in basic education.

To date, the approach has been launched and sensitization activities have been conducted in all six educational regions of the country. I consider this a major contribution to basic education in the Gambia.

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