What does it take to be a United Nations worker in some of the world’s most difficult and dangerous locations? How are health workers, humanitarians and peacekeepers racing to protect the most vulnerable populations from the threat of the COVID-19 virus? Stationed in remote locations and far from family, how are they coping themselves? To find out, Melissa Fleming, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, meets them. Here you will discover extraordinary personal stories from people who devote their lives to helping others.
So Much More that We Can Do to Save Lives Right Now
43:49What is a day like in the life of the epidemiologist heading the global response to COVID-19? For the past 21 months, WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove has been working around the clock with thousands of scientists to try to keep all of us safe. In this personal and insightful episode, Maria shares her memories of the first moment she became aware of COVID-19 – before most of the world knew it existed – and then she takes us behind the scenes of WHO’s early steps to tackle the crisis. Maria also talks about what, throughout the entire pandemic, motivates her every day to get out of bed and care for others, at the expense of her family life. “When I went to China in February 2020… he [my child] was really scared. So, he thought I wasn't coming home and I think everything changed for him. You know, it was this mysterious new virus. Everything was shutting down. People were scared, there was an ominous nature about it and he thought I wasn't coming home. So, for him, that was really scary,” she says.
They want me to tell their story
36:40“I've seen horrible things. I've seen massacres. Human suffering. These are not easy sights to see. The best way I found to deal with that is just to be determined to fix it in some fashion.” UN Humanitarian Coordinator and Resident Coordinator for Yemen David Gressly has seen some of the worst of man's inhumanity to man during a career of more than 40 years in peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and development. In this episode, he talks with podcast host Melissa Fleming about what has driven him to devote his life to helping the most vulnerable in some of the most fragile places on earth. With more than 20 million people in need of assistance and a seven-year ongoing war, Yemen is among the world's worst humanitarian crises. But it’s not just conflict that threatens the Yemeni people. As David explains, every three days someone is injured or even killed by landmines or unexploded ordnance. During this eye-opening conversation, David shares his concerns about the dire situation in Yemen and the likelihood of being able to sustain the humanitarian response in the year ahead.
Every trafficking story is a story that can shake you to your core
35:14"Every trafficking story is a story that can shake you to your core. We're talking about children sometimes, about babies… We're talking about women at very vulnerable ages. We're also talking about men that desperately seek employment and find their hands into criminal gangs that would exploit them for sexual purposes to any other purposes." Ilias Chatzis heads the team fighting human trafficking and migrant smuggling at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In this episode, he joins podcast host Melissa Fleming to talk about how a man who grew up on a Greek island came to have a burning sense of justice and a crime-fighting career of more than 25 years. In this conversation, Ilias describes how reports about online abuse of children and sexual predation of women have surged during the COVID-19 pandemic and how criminals are always adapting to new technologies to exploit their victims. Ilias also shares his concerns over the lack of resources worldwide to fight trafficking and smuggling and why we must learn from history if we are to ever overcome these scourges.
Keep going for the children of Afghanistan
41:57“We took around seven children back to the UNICEF compound here in Kabul… there was a little boy called Mudares who was just three and he came in and he kept saying, ‘Where's my mother? You know, ‘why is my mother not here?’ … We put him on the seesaw, he'd never been on the seesaw before, so I was on one end of the seesaw, and he was on the other… And at one point as he went up high, he shot his hands, both his arms right up high in the air and I said, ‘Hold on, you need to hold on’ and my child protection colleague said to him, ‘Why did you let go, you know, he must hold on?’ And he said, because when I go up high, I feel I can reach the stars and I want one from my mother.’ It was a reminder for us all just to keep going for the children of Afghanistan -- because if Mudares can look to the stars, we can all look to the stars and do better.” In this episode, UNICEF’s Chief of Communications in Afghanistan Sam Mort speaks to Melissa from Kabul shortly after the Taliban’s takeover. Sam, along with other UN colleagues, has remained in Afghanistan to help the country’s people as they face a worsening humanitarian situation. She tells stirring stories of loss, reunification and reaching to the stars for hope. “I see a bravery in Afghanistan's girls and women that I haven't seen anywhere else, because the fears and the threats are real and they acknowledge it. And they move forward,” she says.
Build Trust and Build a Future
36:56“We know that whenever you have these sort of atrocity crimes that happened here [Bosnia and Herzegovina], they're often preceded by hate. They're often preceded by individuals and responsibility, whether they're political leaders, whether they're religious leaders, whether they're average population, putting out hate or putting out ‘the other’ so that religious community is evil, or they're responsible for XYZ.” Ingrid Macdonald is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She is tasked with spearheading the UN’s efforts to support development in a country still deeply scarred by ethnic divisions and the legacy of war and the 1995 genocide at Srebrenica. Ingrid, who was raised in a small New Zealand mining town, joined the UN in 2016. But she has a long record of working in humanitarian, development and human rights jobs around the world, from Darfur to the Philippines and from Peru to Ukraine. In this insightful episode, she talks about the challenges she faced in many of those roles and her vivid memories of trying to advocate for the vulnerable, including her time helping women in Afghanistan. Since relocating to Sarajevo in early 2020, just as COVID-19 was taking hold across the world, Ingrid has been focused on finding ways to bring divided communities together as well as tackle hate speech and genocide denial, just 26 years after Bosnian Serb forces massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica.
A Barrier-free Life
41:59“When I could no longer pursue the dream of being an artist because my hands became too weak to hold a pencil, I needed to dream, a new dream, and I realized that that is, in itself, a gift to be able to sort of pivot and change direction and ask yourself, what else? That I still have my spirit. I still have my mind and I still have a deep desire and yearning for an extraordinary life. And I still want to be of service to humanity and the world.” Eddie Ndopu is an award-winning disability activist from South Africa and one of 17 United Nations advocates for the Sustainable Development Goals. Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, a rare degenerative condition, and given only five years to live, he is now 30 and has dedicated his life to ensure that the voices of those at greatest risk of being left behind are being amplified and heard worldwide. During this inspiring episode, Eddie recounts the difficult daily challenges he has faced throughout his life, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how his mother, “the wind beneath his sails”, sacrificed so much to make his life possible. He also talks about his big dream: to be the first physically disabled person in outer space and to address the United Nations from there. Eddie’s heartwarming story and courageous spirit are proof of his belief that everybody should be afforded the opportunity to dream and become everything that their imagination desires.
Need to be heard
46:31“The women and the girls of Afghanistan have earned the right to be heard, to take their place in society openly, as they have done behind the scenes for decades, if not centuries." Nada Al-Nashif is Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights and has been serving the United Nations for almost 30 years. Born in Kuwait to Palestinian parents, her life was turned upside down with the Iraqi invasion of 1990, when her family was forced to flee and leave everything behind to rebuild their lives in Jordan. Following her uprooting, Nada took her first UN job in Libya during Gaddafi's rule, and then served across other conflict zones, including Lebanon and Iraq. In the late 1990s she travelled to Afghanistan as part of a UNDP team negotiating with the Taliban to open girls’ schools. Nada also experienced one of the darkest days in the UN’s history. On 19 August 2003, a truck packed with a tonne of explosives blew up the UN’s headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22 colleagues, including the UN’s Special Representative for Iraq Sergio Vieira de Mello. “It's hard to accept but you need to because you cannot keep asking ‘Why was I there? Why me? Why not me?’” she says. Nada explains how her own injuries act as a constant reminder of human vulnerability and the blessing of having survived to tell the story.
41:23“Going to space will become like taking a plane today; working in space, living in space, having a one-week holiday in space.” Simonetta Di Pippo is the Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs. Trained as an Astrophysicist in her native Italy, Di Pippo was the first female director of the European Space Agency. Since then, her work has been integral in using space for our common wellbeing here on Earth - from monitoring soil and water through meteorological data so farmers can grow healthier crops to tracking climate change using satellites. Simonetta shares her passion for space being preserved as a global common benefiting all humanity and on the importance of ensuring peace in outer space.
Empower Your Women!
39:29“If anything works for women, in any country, it is most likely to work for most people. If you want to address the majority of the people who really need you, target women.” A voice of deep authority on this subject, with a lifetime of activism and service, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the Executive Director of UN Women. She was born and raised in South Africa, and as a young teacher, joined the struggle to end apartheid and to reshape her country. She served in parliament, in ministerial roles and as Deputy President when Nelson Mandela took over the Presidency. She used her positions to bring new perspectives to the country’s priorities, combat poverty and bring the advantages of a growing economy to the poor, with a particular focus on women. Phumzile shares anecdotes about her friendship with Mandela and describes the formative issues behind her leadership of women’s rights and drive for investment in gender equality that culminate in the Generation Equality Forum. These insights inform the combination of innovative alliances across generations, feminist and youth movements, civil society, philanthropy, governments and the private sector that promise accelerated change for the women and girls who need it most.
Prisoner of Hope
41:19"I understand the people I speak to in my current job, because I've been in their shoes: I've been arbitrarily detained. I've experienced enforced disappearance.” Michelle Bachelet was the first female President of Chile for the Socialist Party of Chile (2006–10; 2014–18). She is now the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Michelle’s father served in the Air Force and, in 1973 after being taken prisoner during a coup that overthrew the government, he died in jail at just 50 years old. Michelle shares the harrowing stories of how she and her mother were later taken to a clandestine detention centre, her exile in Australia and East Germany, her motivations to study medicine and return to Chile and why, despite everything, she remains a prisoner of hope. As she herself believes: “We may not be all responsible for the past, but we are responsible for the future.”