How did you become a UNICEF employee?
I always wanted to contribute in making this word a better place for children. I believe UNICEF is one of the few best organizations serving children in the world and as part of the UNICEF team, I would be able to bring my vision to reality. Prior to joining UNICEF, I worked in the education field in various types of organizations; international, governmental and non-governmental including UNICEF’s sister organization, Save the Children. My recent experiences focus on education in war-torn countries or in post-conflict recovery settings.
Any specific tips for getting noticed when applying for a similar job?
It is important to highlight your achievements as well as unique experiences in which you have overcome challenges, specific enough but to the point. It is important to demonstrate how those achievements and experiences can contribute to the assignments you are applying for. I highly recommend to seek advice from someone who is familiar to UNICEF or the UN system.
What’s the hardest project you’ve ever worked on?
The hardest experience I can possibly think of is my current assignment in Syria. This is a country going through active and brutal conflict entering its sixth year. Ensuring access to quality education opportunities for children is one of our hardest responsibilities. This has been challenged by the rapidly changing work environment including security situation and shifting front lines. The biggest challenge is how to reach approximately 2 million out of school children who are the most vulnerable. Many of them have been living in hard-to-reach areas including those besieged for a very long time now. We are soon scaling up self-learning program to reach out those children to help them continue learning wherever they are, even in hard-to-reach areas. Our challenge continues in the coming years.
Can you describe a moment when you felt that you changed a child’s life?
It is during field visits, when I enter classrooms or remedial education support centres where children are actively learning with smiles and sparkling eyes in a colourfully decorated room. The moment you enter a classroom, you see the quality of education provided to children in that school. Watching children learning in a safe and protected environment is our real pleasure and it is the very purpose that we are working for.
When do you feel most rewarded by doing what you do?
I always feel rewarded being based in the field office as I am directly in touch with children and people we serve at the front line of our programme. I directly feel their needs and reactions toward the support they receive. We cannot necessarily hear good words from them. Sometimes it is negative feedback that we have to accept humbly. Either way, it is a reward for me. Taking an advantage of being based in the field, and understanding more of the contexts after one year of working in Syria, I would really like to be a voice for children and be the one who can transmit their messages to the world.
What is the saddest moment working for UNICEF?
It is the moment that I come to directly know the difficulties children are facing at war-torn countries with all my five senses. Being in the field office, close to children and people we serve, I have become able to relate more to people and their surroundings. One day, an 8-year-old girl in a child friendly space in Syria told me when I asked her why she’s not going to school : “I want my sister to go to school. I can’t go to school because I do not have shoes to wear to go to school.” Of course, she is not the only one who experiences that. There are millions of children like her in Syria and in many places around the world. I was so saddened by her words. Simple they were, yet reflecting a big part of the reality. It purely touches my heart but in a sad way.
Also, where active conflict is taking place, there are some events that we cannot avoid. We have lost one of our colleagues, a dedicated humanitarian to serve children of Syria. He was working at the very front line in one of the most hard-to-reach areas. I thought he would be protected by any means, - unfortunately there was no mercy on him. It is a harsh reality that we have to face from time to time in this kind of situations.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing children today?
Unfortunately, we are living in a world where armed conflicts. The crisis is everywhere, particularly in the Middle East region now. The most affected by these conflicts are children who pay the price at the end. Not only they have difficulty to have education opportunities but also they are easily exposed to various types of violence such as recruitment of child soldiers, trafficking, early marriages etc. In Syria, Iraq or wherever there are protracted crisis, a whole generation is at risk.
Who do you look towards for inspiration?
Traditionally, it is my grandmother that I admire. She already passed away long time ago but I feel that she is always next to me. She was a teacher for her entire career life, so I feel that I have inherited passion for education from her. After I started an assignment in Syria, I have been also a lot inspired by the spirit and resilience that people of Syria have; including our colleagues and humanitarian partners. They work around the clock particularly at the onset of emergency even during Ramadan (fasting) time for the sake of children and people in need for support. I feel I am lucky to be a part of their team here.
If you have an extra day off, what would you do?
Definitely, I would travel. I enjoy discovering new places and new person in me through traveling. I travel a lot to the places so called off-roads where not so many people usually go. Sometimes with donkeys, camels and horses. I also go for trekking, putting myself in the midst of Mother Nature, deep inside mountains or deserts. It is really relaxing and refreshing. It is also the best way to freshly start again.
What do you miss the most about being a child?
Sitting beside my father in his car and chatting with him while he was driving for a long way between Tokyo and Yamaguchi, my father’s home town. It was a good chatting time when we were able to talk honestly everything. He passed away just when I started my assignment in Syria in 2015. I am sure he was reluctant to send me to Syria but he trusted me and supported me a lot. I believe he is always protecting me a lot from the heaven. I hope he is proud of me and what I am doing here in Syria.
My colleagues don’t know that …
I love photography. I always carry my camera (not a camera attached to a mobile) with me both at work, in private, and of course when traveling. Wherever I go, I try to capture the beauty of places, things, and people I met from children to the elderly. Good photography tells a story itself without words. I was told once by a photographer, “by clicking your camera, you are cutting out a moment from millions of years since the big bang. It is only you that could capture the moment, no one else” Isn’t it true?