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.
My Heart Was Crying - Sara Beysolow Nyanti - Former Resident & Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan
Growing up in Liberia, Sara Beysolow Nyanti is no stranger to the lasting pain of a country ravaged by recurring violence. As Former Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan, she often encountered the anguish of those bearing the psychological scars of war.
“This woman [told me] we have nightmares … And she talked about losing her four children and she said it without crying. My heart was crying while she was speaking … I couldn't bear it.”
Reeling from decades of conflict, South Sudan is now suffering the devastating impacts of climate change. Floods have hit many areas, forcing locals to share dry land with deadly snakes. In this episode, Sara Beysolow Nyanti reflects on the mounting climate threat, prospects for peace, and retaining hope in one of the world’s most dangerous places.
“How can I not have sleepless nights when you have to choose between whether you fund the services for gender-based violence, or whether you fund the services for food, because for some children, it's only that one meal in school that they have all day.”
The Last Best Hope Humanity Has - Ramiz Alakbarov - former UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan
“It's not just food and assistance, you need to give these children a life, a life of full opportunities… So, I think we're so far from where we need to go, to make the difference.”
When thousands fled the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov, fearing the loss of millions of lives, stayed on. Every day since, the former UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in the country has fought to ease the acute suffering of its people.
“I believe we are the last, best hope that humanity has. And we have to stand for it. For [many] we represent this larger world of justice, the moral compass. We must keep that.”
More than 9 in 10 Afghans now live in poverty, with 24.4 million reliant on humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, mounting restrictions on freedoms have excluded millions of women from work and study. In this episode, Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov reflects on three painful years of Taliban rule, on the desperate need for long-term prospects, and on finding hope amid the darkness.
“Imagine someone sitting under plastic sheeting and munching on a high energy biscuit and waiting - now for 20 years. That provisional shelter and biscuit will save your life today. But without education, health services, jobs, or income … you will run, you will join a radical group, you will eventually end up selling children, and organs.”
The Africa the World Needs - Cristina Duarte - UN Under-Secretary-General & Special Adviser on Africa
Cristina Duarte always brings great passion to any task she takes on. Now Under-Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Africa, she works tirelessly to help the continent imagine a better tomorrow, one which not only meets its people’s needs, but also fulfills their dreams.
“The Africa we want is the Africa the world needs … [one that gives Africans] the social space to fully exercise all the entitlements of a human being.”
Born to an activist father who was integral to independence movements across Lusophone Africa, Cristina Duarte grew up instilled with Pan-African values. In this episode, the former finance minister reflects on her role in reforming Cabo Verde’s economy, on bringing power to remote villages, and how one chance encounter changed her mind about marriage.
The Light in Their Eyes - Najat Maalla M'jid - UN Special Representative on Violence against Children
A pediatrician by training, Najat Maalla M'jid has always been dedicated to rescuing children from suffering. Now United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, she works tirelessly to protect young people around the world.
“What I learned in my life, it's the eyes. […] When you are speaking with children, when you have light in their eyes, it's still possible. When the light switches off, it’s too late.”
Half of the world’s children are exposed to violence every year, often leaving devastating, lasting impacts on their mental health. In this episode, Najat Maalla M'jid reflects on the importance of rapid intervention in cases of violence against children and the extraordinary courage and resilience of youth.
"You hear some policymakers telling us our children are our future. They are not your future. You are the past; they are the present and they are their own future.”
Bringing Health to the World - Dr. David Nabarro - Special Envoy of the WHO Director-General on COVID-19
Dr. David Nabarro has dedicated his life to global health. After a long career that’s taken him from the horrors of war torn Iraq, to the devastating aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami, he is still spurred to action by the tremendous inequalities in global access to medical care.
“The thing that keeps me awake most at night is the rampant inequities in our world…We see an awful lot of needless suffering.”
A passionate advocate for sustainable development, David Nabarro has seen in his own family how medicine can transform lives. In this episode, he reflects on his lifelong struggle against inequality, the lessons of misfortune, and why communication is always at the heart of healing.
“We're not doing this work to make ourselves feel better … [but] because we are totally convinced that it's not necessary in today's wealthy world … for so many people to be experiencing hardship [and] have their lives and their livelihoods imperiled.”
The Missiles Don’t Stop Us - Denise Brown - UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine
Denise Brown knows what it takes to work under the shadow of war. As UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, she and her team must brave considerable risks as they strive to meet the colossal humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people in the midst of a brutal war.
“The missiles slow us down, but they don’t stop us. That's testament to the courage, determination, and experience of the people we have there.”
Close to 18 million Ukrainians are now in need of humanitarian aid and protection. Millions have been forced from their homes by intense fighting that has killed and injured thousands. In this episode, Denise Brown reflects on life under bombardment, on the dangers of trips to the front line, and on making a difference in the most difficult of circumstances.
“We're in [some] places where very few others are. And we have the means, the experience, the capacity, that determination to be there. We are very strong when we want to be. And that inspires me.”
Inspiring and Enlightening
Melissa I just came across to this podcast few months ago, and I can’t tell enough how inspiring it is!
Learning about how it really is like to be a UN worker, serving in field missions as peacekeepers, aid workers, medical practitioners and ... has greatly and of course in a positive way changed my opinion about the UN which is frequently blamed for not being helpful enough!
Listening to the stories of these UN workers, who literally many times put their own lives, comfort, families and health at the greatest risks, I now know the UN is doing as much as possible to make it easier for many people in poverty, war-torn countries, disease-stricken areas and ... live a better life, though there’s still much to do!
and just to put an end to this long comment 😁, I just want to mention one of my favorite episodes, the interview with Agnes Kalibata.
This quote by Agnes from that episode has since stuck with me: “We don't have a plan B. We only have one plan. Our planet can take care of itself. It will eject us and move on. But is that where we want to be?”
While governments & big corporations are talking about building cities on other planets in the future and stuff, she simply drags our attention to the present reality!
Thanks for sharing these inspiring stories with us!
I listen to this before I sleep...
And I lie awake as well, in awe and inspired by the stories shared on this podcast. Thank you for bringing this unique podcast to the airwaves, it’s really important and humbling to hear the work of the people of the UN.
Not the whole truth
There is a block known as Block 13 in Kakuma Kenya where they aren't being taken care of and they aren't safe. Block 13 is full of LGBTQ+ refugees that came to that camp for safety from their country of Uganda. But how can they be safe in a refugee camp where all the other refugees and workers are homophobes who don't care about the lives of the LGBTQ+ Ugandan refugees. With the terrible things they do to these innocent souls I am surprised they are able to sleep well at night. The people who work for UNHCR needs better workers who listen to the NEEDS of everyone instead of the workers' homophobic ways.