Working Abroad for UN-Habitat in the Vibrant City of Nairobi

Author: Stephanie Ortiz


I had the pleasure of interviewing Doug Lau over the phone as I overlooked Vancouver’s smoky skyline following the BC Day long weekend. We chatted about his recent experience in Nairobi working as a Junior Professional Consultant (JPC) through the United Nations Association of Canada. Doug was hired as a JPC by UN-Habitat, an agency that promotes sustainable urban and human development as well as adequate shelter for all. Doug expressed that the opportunities felt endless in this lively East African city as he made his way to work every day. Something that struck Doug about Nairobi was the city’s vibrancy and the optimism that people had about the future. We discussed what it was like working at the UN office in Nairobi, his responsibilities as a JPC with UN-Habitat, and the challenges of working abroad.

During his six-month contract term, Doug discovered that the UN office in Nairobi -which has roughly 5,000 employees from all over the world- was “quite an exciting place to work.” Doug’s office was located in a zero emissions building on campus and the UN Nairobi campus was recounted as being a forward thinking place, with an open-space concept, and indoor gardens –features that align with the UN-habitat mandate. The overall campus was illustrated as having preserved gardens, lined with elegant trees, and manicured grass and described as an incredible and lively place.”You could feel that people around you were very capable and motivated,” Doug recalled.

As a JPC, Doug carried two major responsibilities. The first being monitoring and evaluating programs. He developed systems to track performance, assessed the progress of those involved, gave feedback, and then provided and guided the necessary adaptations. His second responsibility comprised of reporting essential information to stakeholders and donors. “One of the coolest parts of working with the UN is working with diverse partners.” This experience gave Doug the opportunity to collaborate with other different units and external agencies based in Nairobi. This allowed him to work with other local governments, delegations from foreign diplomatic missions, community groups, women’s groups, youth groups, and more.

However, relocating and working somewhere unfamiliar often brings along a string of challenges. Doug confessed, “it’s always difficult to adjust to working in a new city. Not only do you need to learn the new office, practices, and procedures,” you inevitably have to combine it with figuring out the transportation system, where to get groceries, and so on. Doug added, “but it becomes very rewarding as the months go on.”

When asked whether he would recommend this type of work experience to others, he responded, “Absolutely. This has been an incredibly formative experience, not just in my professional career but for my personal development. It’s an incredible opportunity and privilege to work in this field. Development work hasn’t been around long enough but it’s a great field to work in and very rewarding. It’s Important to understand how competitive this field is and how important the work you’re doing is. You’re competing from a pool of candidates from all corners of the world and it should be approached as such. It’s tough, something that needs to be taken seriously. Work hard and don’t be discouraged if you don’t get in right away. It can take time. And just remember that not all citizens of all countries have the same opportunities.”

If you’re considering a career in development, the  2017 Hiring Trends Report: The Jobseeker’s Guide to Development Recruiting is well worth a read. If you’d like to participate in the UNA Canada’s International Development and Diplomacy Internship Program, you can visit the Facebook page for more information. The deadline to apply is September 5th, 2017.


New Team on the Block! Rio’s Medal-Winning Olympic Refugee Team Makes History [Guest Editorial]

Brazil. Refugee Olympic Team appears at the 129th session of the International Olympic Committee
The team of refugee athletes at a press conference after the session. ; For the first time, the International Olympic Committee has created a team comprised of refugees. They will compete as the Refugee Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro in August 2016. The team includes two Syrian swimmers, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a marathon runner from Ethiopia and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan. All of them have escaped violence or persecution in their own countries and cannot compete under their own national flags.

This guest editorial was written by Susanne Beilmann, Social Media Community Manager,

UNHCR Latin America.

The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro closed last week with fireworks, flag-waving and cheering. Athletes and their fans finally found the time to think about two weeks of incredible performances. World records fell and medals were won as many athletes demonstrated superhuman feats of strength. But amid all the cheering, one important event took place which will put these Rio Olympics straight into the history books: for the first time since the inception of the Games, a team of refugee athletes competed.

The idea of a team of refugee athletes came about in October 2014, when International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach presented a novel idea to the United Nations General Assembly – that a team composed entirely of refugees who were also athletes should compete in the next Olympics. This team would show the world that refugees are people just like all of us, except that they have been forced into extraordinary situations by events beyond their control. The goal of the proposal was to raise worldwide awareness of and increase solidarity for refugees and displaced persons as the world’s migrant crisis was already starting to hit the headlines.

With the support of the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR, ten athletes were chosen based on athletic ability, verified refugee status and personal circumstances. Two swimmers from Syria, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of Congo, one marathoner from Ethiopia, and five middle-distance runners from South Sudan made up the 2016 Refugee Olympic Team that competed in Rio. For these 10 men and women, this was an opportunity to represent those who – like them – had been forcibly displaced throughout the world. They would inspire and motivate refugees to keep working to better their own circumstances. As Yiech Pur Biel, a 21-year-old runner from South Sudan, said: “I can show to my fellow refugees that they have a chance and a hope in life. Through education, but also in running, you can change the world.”

This initiative came at a crucial moment, as earlier this year 65.3 million people throughout the world – the highest number since World War II – have been forced to flee their homes due to persecution and conflict. “Their participation in the Olympics is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees in overcoming adversity and building a better future for themselves and their families,” says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

Brazil. South Sudanese refugee, Yiech Pur Biel, runs the 800-metres for the Refugee Olympic Team in Rio
Olympic history in the making, as Yiech Pur Biel, 21, runs heat four of the 800-metres competition in the Olympic stadium in Rio. ; For the first time in Olympic history, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has created a team comprised of refugees who will compete as the Refugee Olympic Team in Rio de Janeiro in August 2016. Yiech Pur Biel was forced to flee the fighting in Sudan in 2005, he ended up on his own growing up in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. He started playing football there, but grew frustrated at having to rely so much on his teammates. With running he felt greater control over his own destiny. He competes for the Refugee Olympic Team in the 800m in Rio.

During the Rio competitions, the refugee athletes showed the world their prowess and resilience. Their participation in the Olympics helped raise awareness about the plight of forcibly displaced people, and changed the public’s opinion about refugees. As IOC President Thomas Bach said during the closing ceremony, “You have inspired us with your talent and human spirit. You are a symbol of hope to the millions of refugees around the world.”

Still, the need to find lasting political solutions to the world’s conflicts and humanitarian crises remains. On September 19, the United Nations will host a high-level summit with the objective of finding a more coordinated and humane approach to addressing large movements of refugees and migrants. The following day, US President Barack Obama will host a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis, which will seek to increase funding for humanitarian appeals, increase the rate of resettlement of refugees, as well as support increased labour and educational opportunities for refugees wherever they are. These two events will focus on long-term solutions for refugees, hopefully resulting in real policy changes and shared responsibility for refugees among all nations and governments.


Support refugees by signing the UNHCR petition that will be delivered to UN headquarters during the UN General Assembly high-level summit on September 19. The petition will ask governments to ensure that refugee children get an education, ensure refugee families have somewhere safe to live, and ensure refugees can work.

Click here to sign:

International Migrants Day

unacto11.jpgOn International Migrants Day, let us reaffirm our commitment to shape diverse and open societies that provide opportunities and lives of dignity for all migrants.”      Ban Ki-moon message for International Migrants Day 18 December 2014

Migrant worker : a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national (Convention).

We live in a world of unprecedented mobility; the globalization of people, culture, and capital is a characteristic of the modern world. Working and living abroad has become a luxury enjoyed by many. At the same time, working outside one’s country has become increasingly necessary for citizens of the developing world. This coincides with extraordinary control over mobility; restrictions on where one can work, how long one can travel a given country, and where one can establish permanently is a feature of the Westphalian model of the nation-state, of which humanity’s existence is organized. Today, no country in the world allows open access to immigrants (Moses 54).  Yet despite the web of laws regulating immigration, labor and citizenship, movement flourishes.

In response to this phenomenon in order to protect those outside of the protection of their home country, The International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families was adopted on December 18th, 1990, 24 years ago. Since then, economic, social and political inequalities, curiosity and ambition continually lead over 232 million people to emigrate (double the number in 1990); most of which is pursued in order to secure an income through improved employment opportunities abroad.

Today every region hosts migrant workers; Europe (France and Germany) and Asia (Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia) and the United Arab Emirates host voluminous numbers. International migrants are both men and women respectively, often between the working ages of 20 and 64 (UN). Remittances sent home from workers abroad totaled $440 billion in 2010, of which $325 billion was sent to the developing world (World Bank 2011). It has been regarded that remittances can help decrease poverty, providing a “dependable, short-term economic lifeline for many” (Moses 129). For a long time, high fees were charged per transaction, a large economic burden however, after concentrated efforts transaction costs have decreased this year, now sitting at an average of 7.98%. This decline occurred in almost all regions of the World, with the exception of Latin America and the Caribbean (World Bank Sept 2014). Despite the benefits afforded by working abroad, the drawbacks can be much more severe than high banking fees.

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The greatest issues concerning migrant workers include: wages, social security and workplace safety. A recently example of job insecurity is evident in the Middle East, where deportation of illegal workers is common. Over 7,000 were deported from Bahrain in 2013 (Migrant Rights). Beyond the risk of working illegally, is the lack of oversight that can occur in an international private setting. For instance, in Saudi Arabia domestic workers clock an average of 63.7 hours per week (Migrant Rights).

At the same time in the West, migration has been met with growing securitization and a rise in domestic hostility to foreign immigrants and workers. This fact is evident everywhere: In the harsh criticism by Republicans against Obama’s efforts to seek legal status for millions of Mexican and Central Americans living in the country (the United States/Mexico route is the most populated in the world – witnessing an increase of 23 million migrants in the 24 years since the Convention’s establishment) and in the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric in Europe, where right-wing parties have recently gained influence.

Both the Middle Easter and European examples demonstrate the need for an international body monitoring the increasingly large number of migrants around the globe. Join us in raising awareness on this day of observance.

For more information on migration issues, see:

Moses, Jonathon Wayne. International Migration Globalization’s Last Frontier. Bangkok, Thailand: White Lotus ; 2006. Print.

Post written by UNAC-Vancouver website writer Brittney Potvin.

Universal Children’s Day – November 20th, 2014

unacto11.jpgPost written by UNAC-Vancouver Past President, Patsy George.

Today is a special day for all of us who are active in promoting the rights of children across the globe. This year we are also celebrating the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. When I heard the great news that the Nobel Prize committee decided to focus on the Rights of Children by awarding the Peace Prize to children’s advocates, I was thrilled.

The 17 year old Malala Yousofzai of Pakistan fighting for education for girls and Kailash Satyarthi, of India, a college teacher of engineering turned child advocate to end child labour were chosen to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This in turn highlights this year’s focus on children’s rights and the need for the global community to pay attention to miserable conditions in which majority of children currently live even after the 25 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Those of us who live in North America came to know of Malala after a masked Taliban gunman shot her in the head in 2012. She was airlifted to a hospital in Burmingham, England. With the help of her father, who ran a school for girls, she continued to speak out from the hospital. Under the leadership of Gordon Brown, UN speScreen Shot 2014-11-19 at 5.53.21 PMcial envoy on Global Education, more than 2 million people signed a petition that led to the ratification of Pakistan’s Right to Education Bill. Malala continued to show her courage by speaking up including at the UN Youth Assembly “ Let us pick up our books and pens, they are the most powerful weapons” she said at that gathering in 2013.

Today, I want to share with you what I know of the work done by Kailash Satyarthi of India where despite many laws, thousands of activists and increased awareness, child labour continues to be a serious problem.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 5.54.26 PMThe campaign against child labour has been a long one in India heading back to the 1970’s Kailash started his work in the mid 90’s to free the 300,000 children working in the carpet factories. Through his efforts, many Canadians were taught not to buy a carpet without the Rugmark Logo which certified that a carpet had not exploited child labour in its manufacturing. Thanks to his work, many children escaped, otherwise from their stolen childhood. There are many sectors, which continue to exploit children. Cigarette industries, construction, domestic work, spinning and weaving and brick makers are some such groups

India is the second largest brick producers in the world after China. 41% of the kilns workers in India are children between the ages of 6 and 14. Most brick kilns in India are in the suburbs of the cities, away from the glare of the law enforcement officers and child welfare authorities. Children are employed in every stage of brick making, from mixing clay to firing dried bricks, walk over vast stretches of semi dried bricks, flipping each brick twice a day. Since brick making is done between November and June, they work under hot sun for hours and none of them ever see a school.

Due to constant monitoring and international pressure, the number of child labourers has declined, thanks to Kailash and his group of volunteers. Even the trafficking of children from Nepal and Northern India has come down but we cannot rest reading those statistics as long as children are exploited any where in the world.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 5.58.15 PMGlobal March Against Child Labour, an N.G.O headed by Kailash says the rates of prosecution in cases of child labour are only 10% in spite of the provisions in the Indian Constitution safeguarding children from labour and provide access to education. Child Labour Act came into being in 1986 prohibiting child labour in hazardous conditions.

Accurate information on the extent of child labour is missing. Indian census reported 4.3 million child labourers in 2011 whereas UNICEF figure for the same year was 25 million and the ILO figure was 40 million. His NGO was instrumental in getting the International Labour Organization to draft a convention against child labour. 172 countries, including Canada have signed on to it.

There are creative reasons used by various industries for hiring children. Just as children were made to sweep the chimneys and enter narrow mines in England and elsewhere in Europe during the Industrial Revolution, the Carpet makers insist children’s nimble fingers tie the best knots. Beedi makers reason that children are the best for rolling the tobacco leaves. The kiln owners say they are the best for flipping semi-dried bricks. What none of them tell you is that a child can be made to work for 12 hours at one 6th of the wages demanded by adult workers. Even though, the Child Labour Act has a list of occupations in which children should not be employed, the Activists say that the list is not comprehensive and implementation is to be desired. So Kailash’s Nobel Peace Prize has put a spotlight in India where they are fighting to change the law seeking complete ban on child labour.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 6.00.17 PMA bit more about Kailash, the person. After quitting his job in 1980, he set up the South Asian Coalition on Child servitude, which now consists of over 750 civil society groups. He launched the Global March Against Child Labour with participation of 103 countries and millions of people. He set up what is known as “ Child Friendly Villages” for the elimination of child labour and universalization of education. In some of the villages, his group started an operation-rescuing girls sold into abusive, forced marriages and help them into rehabilitation centres to teach trades to abused teenagers. He launched the Rugmark, now known as GoodWeave, a consortium of independent bodies for major carpet exporting and importing countries which are part of the self certification process to ensure that carpets are free of child labour. Kailash has survived several attacks on his life during his crusade to rescue children from factories, most recent in March of 2011.

Kailash has been honoured by the Wallenberg Medal, Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award. Defenders of Democracy Award and now the Nobel Peace Prize. He is described by family and friends as a humble man, preferring to wear cheap cotton clothes, cook vegetarian meals for his family and write poetry.

So, November 20th marks the day in which the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1989 in which we promised the children of the world that we will do every thing in our power to protect and promote them. We know that millions of children live in poverty including in our own communities in Canada whose voices are not heard and who have been denied opportunities to reach their full potentials. So we have a challenge to commit ourselves on this day. Let us mark this Universal Children’s Day, with the spirit in which the General Assembly voted 25 years ago today.

Post written by UNAC – Vancouver Past President Patsy George

Nov 20, 2014

Happy UN Day 2014

unacto11.jpgOctober 24th is United Nations Day, a global observance that marks the 69th anniversary of the entry into force in 1945 of the UN Charter.

The day has been celebrated since 1948, and, in 1971, the United Nations General Assembly recommended that it was observed by Member States as a public holiday.

The UN Day provides a unique opportunity to remember and to make people aware of the goals and the achievements of the United Nations Organization with meetings, discussions and exhibits throughout the world.

We want to celebrate and to embrace the work of the UN to make a difference and to positively impact the lives of the people around the globe, with the achievement of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and working towards the post-2015 development agenda.

“The UN has 4 main purposes:

  • to keep peace throughout the world
  • to develop friendly relations among nations
  • to help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms
  • to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals.”

The theme of the 2014 UN Day is ‘Global Citizenship and Youth‘, to highlight the essential relevance of educating the younger generations to build and enhance a more peaceful and respectful global society.
Education is the key to provide the understanding that we are tied together as citizens of the global community, and that our challenges are interconnected.

“The United Nations is needed more than ever at this time of multiple crises. […] At this critical moment, let us reaffirm our commitment to empowering the marginalized and vulnerable. On United Nations Day, I call on Governments and individuals to work in common cause for the common good. “

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Please join us in celebrating the spirit of United Nations Day on Sunday Oct 26 at 11:00 am with the presentation of the John Gibbard Memorial Award to Ta’Kaiya Blaney at the Unitarian Church of Vancouver.


UN Day:
The Charter of the United Nations:

Post submitted by UNAC-Vancouver website writer Sabrina Miso.

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