Interview with Regina Castillo, UNICEF Representative in Croatia

Supporting children, young people and families in times of pandemic

UNICEF
Predstojnica Regina M. Castillo
UNICEF/Ilej
09 April 2020

UNICEF just launched a campaign “Together Against the Corona Virus” to mobilize support for its work in Croatia. Why is UNICEF concerned?

Our work has never been more critical, in Croatia and around the World. The unprecedent emergency that affects families around the world has significantly influenced the lives of children.

Almost half-a-million children in Croatia, together with their families have to adapt quickly to the new reality of distant learning; some children are witnessing the distress of their parents over losing their jobs and the situation is especially dire for the most vulnerable: children living in poverty, children who are the victims of violence and abuse in their own homes, children living in institutions, children with disabilities and ethnic minorities. We still cannot be sure what will be the short-term and long-term consequences of this crisis on children’s health, development and wellbeing. 

In these challenging times, there is a great need to remain united and take decisive actions to protect lives and communities. UNICEF Office for Croatia is working with the Croatian Government, the World Health Organization and other partners to help prevent the spread of the virus in Croatia and keep children and their families safe. With the campaign, we invited companies and citizens of Croatia to donate to UNICEF. No amount is too small - no effort is too little. We need everyone at this time.

I invite citizens and companies who are in a position to join us and donate via our website - https://www.unicef.hr/zajedno-protiv-koronavirusa

 

What is UNICEF’s response to the crisis? What are the specific activities and interventions in Croatia?

Adapting to the new situation, our work also changed over the last few weeks: in agreement with our partners, some activities had to be postponed and some adapted to the new circumstances. In the meantime, we initiated our rapid response for the emergency by procuring protective personal equipment from the UNICEF Supply Division for healthcare professionals and experts in the field as well disinfectant solutions and hygiene supplies for the most vulnerable groups. The first batch of 4 tons of the protective personal equipment reached Croatia on Monday, March 30th and was donated to the Government for its proper distribution. We expect another batch of protective personal equipment as well as medical equipment within the next few weeks.

We are currently mobilizing additional support to be able to provide additional health-related supply, as well as to support distant learning and for the provision of psychosocial support to the most vulnerable children and their families, support to the establishment of early intervention services provided online and education of professionals about the provision of services through digital online platforms.
Apart from the procurement of the equipment, UNICEF provides children, parents, schools and healthcare professionals with accurate information and expert instructions in order to help preventing the spread of the virus. UNICEF also facilitates active inclusion of young people in discovering solutions for the challenges brought by the pandemic via online workshops, development of IT and communication skills and tools with the aim of alleviating the negative effects of the isolation.   In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, UNICEF is working to tailor distance education through an online platform and television for children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups.

In collaboration with the Ministry of Demography, Family, Youth and Social Policy, UNICEF is working to support the continuation of key social protection services and the introduction of additional support activities for the most vulnerable children and families in emerging circumstances.

 

Many parents and families are struggling to adapt to the new reality comprising of work from home and distant schooling for their children. How is UNICEF supporting them?

Most of us working in UNICEF are parents working from home and we are well aware of the challenges. From the very beginning, we started compiling resources, ideas, guidance, recommendations from the global experts. From the wealth of UNICEF’s knowledge and international experience we selected the contents most appropriate and applicable for this crisis and made them available and user-friendly through our digital and social media channels. 

In collaboration with our partners, we will continue developing, adapting and systematizing resources to allow parents to make the best use of precious time and situation allowing constant and direct involvement at home. At the same time, we are aware of all dangers and risks related to stressful situations. Our work in the child protection field continues and this crisis forces us to focus more on the psychosocial support to the most vulnerable families as well.   

With our partners, we are finding the ways to improve the accessibility of distant schooling and to contribute with previously produced contents – on media literacy and child rights education, in particular.  
UNICEF Office for Croatia is also actively engaging young people in finding solutions to the challenges of the pandemic, which includes social entrepreneurship, IT prototyping and creating communication tools and content to reduce the negative impact on mental health, stigmatization and discrimination.

What is the amount of funds needed and what are the other ways to support UNICEF’s work? 

The evolution of the outbreak requires our joint efforts to prevent further spread of COVID-19 and its impact to the lives of children and families.  Our estimate for the immediate needs over the next three months amounts around 10 million HRK. For the recovery phase and other regular activities we will be needing additional xx million HRK., but what is important to stress is that we appreciate all support that we receive and that we do our best to get the greatest possible results for children with it. 

 

It is already clear that COVID-19 is changing the future and that this crisis will cause a permanent change. How will that affect UNICEF’s future work?

UNICEF’s mandate and core commitments remain the same regardless of the circumstances and the country context. While responding to a pandemic or any other challenge, UNICEF will always advocate for child rights, and mobilize support for Croatia until we jointly with the Government and other partners fulfill all rights for every child. The children of Croatia deserve no less.

 

You came to Croatia nearly a year ago after working with the United Nations for nearly twenty years in different countries. What are your impressions so far about Croatia? What have you learned so far building on your experience around the world?

I was born in Nicaragua from Spanish parents and have lived and worked in many countries. In my lifetime, I have gone through a civil war, a life in exile and numerous natural disasters from earthquakes to floods and now a pandemic that is ravaging the world. In every country I have worked—and now Croatia as well—I have seen how when given a chance to do good, people step forward in surprising ways. 

Right now, people say that we are in a “war” against COVID-19, and, coming from a war-torn country, I have seen first-hand how people band together to survive, as well as looking after their family and neighbors. In Croatia, I have been utterly impressed with the resilience, solidarity, professionalism, and generosity that people from all walks of life have demonstrated at this difficult time, a testament to this beautiful country.

To cite just one dramatic example, I was moved by the efficiency and solidarity with which new mothers and newborn babies were evacuated from the Petrova Hospital  after the earthquake and how the Milk Bank established in partnership with UNICEF Croatia kept providing breast milk to  premature babies in the most dire circumstances.  

And for a more common example, Croatians are doing their part well in staying at home, which, though extremely difficult, is no doubt saving lives (especially those of precious grandparents). I am happy to be here, and I look forward at continuing my work to help the country overcome this crisis and continue to thrive.

How you can join us in protecting children, young people and families from coronaviruses - https://www.unicef.hr/zajedno-protiv-koronavirusa