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Interview with Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and CIS, after her visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina (27 – 30 March 2006).


§         During these three very busy days in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIH), you’ve seen the projects in the field, you traveled through the country; met various people - from children in schools, NGO representatives, government officials, to UNICEF staff. When you return home, what will you respond when someone ask you how was it?


M.C. It is difficult to summarize my impressions in just few words that could capture a real understanding of Bosnia and Herzegovina. For me, it’s been a humbling experience. I think that in this country we have one of the biggest programmatic challenges in UNICEF; at the same time, it is obvious that the role and job of UNICEF is so relevant. When you discuss it with people at different levels, you learn about the ongoing violations of children’s rights and you see the possibility that the reform process could bypass children if UNICEF is not at the door to advocate. Thus, I do believe that the role of UNICEF in BIH is a challenge, but it’s so, so relevant. Peace-building and state-building are happening, and must happen in a sustainable way. The way they will value children will be an important ingredient of how sustainable that peace process will be.


§         What would be your message to the politicians, to the parents, and to people in general – what they can do to participate and collaborate with UNICEF in advancing children’s rights?


M.C. The future lies in young generations and those who are growing in the next 10 of 15 years. In order to ensure that your children will get the best future, and that there will be a State built on peace and tolerance, it will start in how you invest in children. For politicians, whatever policy is being designed will have to be centered on the best interest of the child. In the reforms, in addition of all priorities they must tackle, will have to say “how will these affect children, and are the futures guarantee and taken into account”.  For the parents, it’s important that the parents become part of the process and we need to hear their voices in how to ensure their children will get a better future.


§         How do you see the future of UNICEF in this part of the world, especially in comparison to the regions where children have more urgent needs?


M.C. No doubt the world is changing and it’s becoming more differentiated. The human development indicators in Africa and Asia are much worse, compared to this region. However this region has the story that is equally important for the stability of the world. If I look at South East Europe, and than I zoom-in to BIH, the relevance of UNICEF’s work couldn’t be more visible. In my three - day visit, I saw what the work we do is a work, and must be a work, to be a partner in the reform process. It is a work to ensure that the issues of child poverty, exclusion and discrimination are highlighted and taken into account in the reform process.

It is UNICEF that has a voice, and a very strong voice in the issue of the education reform process. Two schools under one roof  does not work! I find it is a major violation of those children’s rights. It is not a policy that is working. I am glad that UNICEF plans to capture the opinions of teachers, of students, which I met during my trip, and parents, who are very eager to see the different type of school. Children are very eager for a different type of classrooms and playgrounds. Let’s factor this willingness of parents and children to look at the different type of the reform into the larger reform process.

I think UNICEF has played a magnificent role in helping NGOs develop their capacity and their skills in reaching communities and addressing violations – the violations that have been done against the women victims of war, against children born from rape victims, all the violations that are in place because of land mines still in the country. This is the work being done by the NGOs, and they are excelling it. However they couldn’t do it without investment in building their capacities. Not only that - UNICEF is helping the NGOs to bridge the link with government. I think that is also an incredible work.

I need also to mention the work we are doing in bringing the relevant data to the decision-making table. Surely, we are not the only ones collecting the data; the others are collecting very good data: OSCE, other UN agencies. Our value added is to bring the child perspective. In our reports, we show where children are bypassed. This is also a proof that our work provides an important contribution.

What impressed me during the trip is the work I’ve seen done at municipal level, in Bugojno for example. This is also a good example of joint program of work with UNDP. The UNDP helped prepare municipal plan of action, for rebuilding municipality, for ensuring youth employment, investments in areas with economic interest. At the same time, UNICEF assisted development of the plan of action for children protection, identifying the major issues affecting children and identifying local solutions to those problems. So, there you have a municipal development plan of action with an integrated child protection plan of action that has been costed. I was amazed to see the Mayor so happy, so pleased, and so proud to have such a comprehensive plan that involves two main axis – economic rebuilding and at the same time, how you strengthened the protection system for children. I thought it was an incredible plan that also reflects UNICEF’s valuable contribution. It is important to note, had we done it alone, without an economic plan that UNDP has done, our contribution wouldn’t be sufficient.  Together, we have both necessary and sufficient contribution.


§         Another challenge you mentioned during your visit is fundraising, getting the funding for all those necessities, especially in the situation when donor funds are decreasing year after year.


M.C. Although the funding is no longer available in the same amount that was available for the humanitarian work - the case in years the just after the war, the process of the State-building has to continue. I think the country will receive a substantial amount of funding from the EC and the WB. We are reaching a compact, an agreement, where we will add value to the work of the EC. But really it’s not that we will be discussing it with the EC and the WB - it will be with the government counterparts. They are the owners who will lead this process. I believe UNICEF can make a valuable contribution. I’ve learned it during my trip, after meeting and talking to various partners and different people. They were saying: We need UNICEF, not just for the money, but for the technical expertise you bring, for the multi-tasking role you bring. It’s not just one area, but the bridging work we do.


In the complex situation as BIH, with those multi-layers of administration, even more ministers, we are good at bridging by using the local expertise. We bring communities in touch with municipal authorities; we bring excluded groups in touch with the authorities that can decide on their future. We bring NGOs into situations where they can add value.

The most important contribution is getting the voice of children into the agenda.

I would like to see a greater role played by women. I don’t think there is sufficient number of women speaking out; even though there is a room for it.  At the same time, it is important to bring the views of children themselves. Young people have a great role to play.

Finally, one of the areas where I think UNICEF can make a major difference is definitely the reform of the education system. It’s the reform that can bring values of the State building, tolerance and inclusive, sustainable development that can only start with the curricula of the very young ones, and where all the children are under one roof. That can start a real State building. Here, again, UNICEF has a big role to play, with all the other players; but what we can do is a supportive role. It’s the government that has to be in the driving seat.




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