The experience that brought me here
I grew up in a family that was passionate about poverty alleviation. From my earliest memories, I can recall my parents telling us about their experiences volunteering in India and Nepal, working in the slums and other underprivileged communities. They always emphasized how we must endeavor to live a life dedicated to helping our fellow man.
In 2002, my family moved back to India to pursue this passion and I decided to join a local grass-roots organization that was working with street children in one of the slums of Delhi. I got involved in planning teaching lessons, organizing educational outings and raising awareness of their needs within the local community and in Italy. The three years I spent there made me appreciate the value of the Chinese proverb that states, “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.” I discovered the difference that knowledge and skills can make in someone’s life and how it can transform their ability to earn an income. Nelson Mandela believed that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” and this has been my motto ever since my first volunteering experiences.
In 2006, I moved to South Africa, a country with the most unequal schooling system in the world, and the lowest ranking country in the world in Math and Science Education (World Economic Forum). Closely linked to such alarming numbers, is the high level of youth unemployment (38,2%) and crime. In the first quarter of 2018, more than one in every three young people in the labor force did not have a job. Violent crime has declined since the end of Apartheid in 1994. However, South Africa has one of the highest crime and murder rates in the world, with the impact of violence increasing in the last year. There are many socio-economic and psychological factors we can attribute this to, but a critical point of the issue is that high social inequality, widespread poverty, high unemployment rate, and a lack of quality education and learning are triggers for protracted and acute violence.
Upon arrival in South Africa, my goal was to empower youth and transform society, through bringing the economic factor into play and addressing it through skills development and educational programs. After piloting a variety of projects, the vision of providing tangible skills to youth that could readily increase their employability was born. Although inundated with unemployment, the South African job market is actually facing a severe skills shortage and actively searching for talent, particularly in the IT sector. In 2009, I co-founded and launched a nonprofit organization that sets up and provides free IT training to unemployed youth and high school students, enabling them to gain the skills that are in demand in the job market. To date, the organization has been reaching over 4500 youth per year.
The Peace Fellowship and its contribution to my personal and academic growth
Development work in emerging countries is complex and when engaging in educational and skill development programs, it is important to understand:
• What programs can have the most effective and long lasting impact;
• How to best implement such programs;
• How to make them context and country specific.
The Peace Fellowship at the Duke-UNC Peace Center is a unique opportunity to gain such insights and develop the skills that will assist me in achieving a larger impact. In my Master in International Development Policy, I am learning techniques to create and evaluate programs to ensure their effectiveness and quality, reaching those most in need. I am learning from past programs and policies, failures and successes and adding them to my knowledge bank. I have also been researching innovative solutions for pressing needs and how effect changes at a policy level.
My vision is to be part of a larger organization that can mobilize resources for increased scale and impact. With this in mind, I joined UN Women in May as an Intern in their Crisis Prevention, Preparedness and Response.
My Applied Field Experience: Educational and Livelihood Solutions for Women in Humanitarian Crisis
UN Women works for the elimination of discrimination against women and girls; the empowerment of women; and the achievement of equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security.
The team I have joined is currently working on developing and expanding a flagship programme called Women’s Leadership, Empowerment, Access and Protection (LEAP) in Crisis Response aimed at achieving transformative results through gender equality and women’s empowerment in humanitarian action. My role is to support the LEAP programme development in areas of crisis prevention, preparedness and response, through research and assistance in concept ideation and expansion of program services.
Additionally, within the LEAP program there is a component called Second Chance Education (SCE) that seeks to develop context specific, affordable and scalable learning and employment pathways for empowering the world’s most disadvantaged women and young women. This program goes hand in hand with my past working experience and builds on my passion for facilitating learning opportunities for youth, in particular girls and young women. The program offers second chance educational and vocational learning for marginalized women and girls who have missed out on education, offering pathways either back into formal education or for employment or entrepreneurship.
The fourth goal of the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDG), aims “to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning”. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) data, however, about 263 million children and youth are out of school. This includes 61 million children of primary school age. The education gap is particularly acute for girls from disadvantaged and marginalized groups, who may suffer multiple forms of intersecting discrimination. Twice as many girls as boys never start school and are excluded from educational opportunities.
Academic research shows that educated women are more likely to be healthier, have higher earnings and exercise greater decision-making power within the household. This was corroborated during my twelve years’ experience in the field. The power of education on national economic growth is undeniable: a one percentage point increase in female education raises the average gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.3 percentage points and raises annual GDP growth rates by 0.2 percentage points.
Through this internship, I am hoping to increase my ability to make an impact in the lives of disadvantaged young women and girls, by:
- learning about improved processes that make larger organizations like UN Women and the UN system effective and successful;
- learning how training and educational interventions can break the cycle of poverty and which types are most effective;
- learning about the work in gender and humanitarian action in an international environment;
- enhancing my skills and knowledge as an international development practitioner, and
- understanding the behind the scenes work that goes into policy change and high-level discussions for change and peace.
Thus far, it has been a month since I started my internship and I am learning and growing each day. I have been involved in researching new solutions for refugee women to earn an income through digital microwork, assisting with organizing a high-level discussion on women, peace and the Syrian conflict, and developing and improving materials for the LEAP program.
My mission in life is to create programs that improve access to human rights, sustainable development and women empowerment. I believe in taking courageous steps towards exploring new solutions and facilitating development through excellence in my work, authenticity and focused service.
I hope my work at UN Women in Geneva will assist in their endeavors to empower women by promoting resilience, restoring dignity and providing durable solutions to refugees and displaced women, their families and communities.
I am very thankful for the opportunity Dr. Gisela Duetting from UN Women is giving me and I extend a big thank you from the bottom of my heart to the generous Rotarians whose support has made this possible. The assistance provided for this working experience is invaluable and I am profoundly thankful for such amazing support and generosity.
I am extremely thankful to the people who have shown faith in me, encouraged and supported me through this program so far:
- To Jim and Jan Heinrich and their beautiful daughter Sharon for generously sponsoring my entire scholarship and Master’s degree program.
- To Bart and Cindy Cleary, my amazing Rotary host family in North Carolina, who have taken me into their home and gone above and beyond in ensuring this experience is one of the best of my life. They have become family and I am incredibly blessed to have them in my life.
- To Susan Carroll and Amy Cole – our Duke-UNC Peace Center team – you have given me so much advice, mentorship and literally made this internship happen.
- To Faith Bam, Rotary in Pretoria, South Africa – for showing faith in me during the application process for this Scholarship and believing that I have what it takes.
Pictures of the UN Women LEAP Program Around the World
 https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg4  http://uis.unesco.org/  http://www.lse.ac.uk/gender/assets/documents/research/choice-constraints-and-the-gender-dynamics-of-lab/Women’s-economic-empowerment-and-inclusive-growth.pdf  https://www.globalpartnership.org/blog/why-educating-girls-makes-economic-sense  http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/humanitarian-action