UNESCO NDL Building in New Delhi

Dispatch from UNESCO India: Saya Soma’s first blog from the field

Photo credit: Saya Soma

By Saya Soma, MAGG

As I write this blog at my flat in New Delhi, snacking on kalakand (Indian milk cake) and listening to the sound of infamously busy streets, I feel grateful for how much the world has progressed in managing the COVID-19 pandemic and privileged to be able to conduct this volunteering in person.

I received an official confirmation letter from UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office on my volunteer agreement in the last week of December 2022, applied for my visa and arranged my travels in under a week, received my visa the day before my flight, and finally flew to New Delhi in the second week of January 2023. It had been a hectic journey, but now that I have somewhat settled into my life in New Delhi, I feel very lucky to be a member of the very first cohort returning to the field since the COVID-19 pandemic started. And sometimes, I still pinch myself in disbelief that I am actually here.

I am volunteering as a Junior Professional Consultant in the Education Sector of the UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office. The office is mandated to cover six countries in South Asia – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Under the motto, Education transforms lives, UNESCO works to strengthen inclusive and quality education for all and mobilize support for education that catalyzes peace and sustainable development. My role is to act as a Programme Support, particularly focusing on gender analysis. It entails editing drafted publications, crafting communication materials, and coordinating commemorative international days-related events while ensuring that gender-mainstreaming language is used in all our team’s work.

It has been only two weeks since I started this position, but there have been plenty of work and learning opportunities. At the moment, I am primarily involved in three ongoing projects.

First is UNESCO New Delhi’s week-long campaign celebrating the International Day of Education 2023. The UN General Assembly proclaimed January 24th as the day to celebrate education and reinvigorate political and resource mobilization towards its improvement every year. This year’s celebration builds on the momentum generated by the Transforming Education Summit (TES) held in New York last September. And our campaign demands the translation of the commitments made at the summit into action. As I prepared some of the communication materials and assisted coordination of a panel discussion, I got to familiarize myself with the global summit’s outcomes, India’s national education policies, and UNESCO’s headquarter-field communication structures. Moreover, I was able to connect with some of the local NGOs, working on initiatives such as gender equality in education, improved access for students with disabilities, and giving platforms for youth activists, and learn from them.

Second is the #KeepGirlsInSchool programme. In partnership with Procter & Gamble, UNESCO is developing student and teacher training modules to improve Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management (MHHM) education. Studies show that 71% of adolescent female students remain unaware of menstruation until they get their first period. And an estimated 23 million menstruating students drop out of school in India due to the inaccessibility of proper menstrual hygiene products, lack of appropriate MHHM facilities in schools, and social taboos and misconceptions around menstruation among peers. This programme aims to raise awareness of MHHM by improving puberty education for students of all genders and reduce drop-out rates. Currently, I am providing technical support in formatting the modules and editing the drafted modules to ensure gender and disability inclusivity. Since I worked on a policy brief for Global Affairs Canada regarding Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and the inclusivity of persons with disabilities in Canada’s international assistance as part of Balsillie School’s Graduate Fellowship program last year, this project brings me a great opportunity to leverage the knowledge I gained in the fellowship project and wave it into a practical experience in gender and disability-centred analysis, while learning further from my expert colleagues at UNESCO.

And third is the preparation for this year’s Group of 20 summits (G20) through UNESCO New Delhi’s contribution to its Education Working Group. India holds the presidency of this year’s G20. UNESCO New Delhi will be assisting the Government of India in conducting preliminary data-gathering and agenda preparation for the education track of the summit. By a lucky coincidence that India is this year’s host, I get to see how multilateral forums such as G20 are conducted as I work on some administrative and research support for UNESCO’s contribution.

Overall, it has been an exciting and humbling two weeks so far. And my colleagues here have been very kind and supportive in my joining the team’s workflow and settling into New Delhi as a foreign expat. I look forward to learning more from them on this internship journey!

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