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Looking after the UNV family in Afghanistan

Georgeta Silaghi (centre) is UNV Programme Manager for the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan. (UNV)Georgeta Silaghi (centre) is UNV Programme Manager for the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan. (UNV)
01 March 2009

Kabul, Afghanistan: "My first meeting with all the UNV volunteers was one of the best moments in my life. I was nervous, but just by looking at them and starting to talk about their issues which are now our issues, I suddenly felt at home."

Georgeta Silaghi is UNV Programme Manager for one of the UN's toughest and most high-profile missions. She works with the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), overseeing the work of 42 UNV volunteers in a variety of assignments, from transport, engineering and Information Technology to medical professions and political affairs.

"Without their precious daily contribution," comments Ms. Silaghi, "I honestly believe that this extraordinary enterprise, UNAMA, would be lesser."

Ms. Silaghi sees the essence of her work for UNV as “taking care”. Since arriving in Kabul as UNV Programme Manager, she says, "I always thought that my first issue is to take care of the UNV volunteers - both professionally and personally. I am here to support, to reduce their assignment-related issues, but also to keep vivid the initial commitment in everybody’s minds, to remind everybody what the UNV family is.

"I am here to listen to their stories," she expands, "to encourage them in difficulties and to celebrate their successes: being away from families and surviving and making a difference in this country is what we acknowledge every day. We are human beings with feelings and we are professionals, growing through every experience. The volunteers are my family here and I love them all."

The Romanian national tells it straight: "I love my job!" However, she adds, "Afghanistan is one of those places where you cannot forget you are a woman. I never thought myself advantaged or disadvantaged by my gender, but in Afghanistan, I am permanently reminded that I have to work and live in a country still tied up in tradition."

Citing the statistic that 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate, Ms. Silaghi explains that many families still restrict "their own mothers, daughters, wives and sisters" from any kind of public life. "Access to education, instruction and universal culture is the key to changing this," she says.

Her role as the UNV Programme Manager means that she can play a part in tackling Afghanistan's wider issues. "We are going to have for the first time in our Training Unit UNV volunteers as English Teachers: 10 English teachers!" she says. The teachers will help Afghan colleagues to learn or improve their English language skills, helping them to better integrate into the UNAMA mission.

“Capacity building [like the teaching venture] is part of the UNAMA mandate – and it is a very brave project," she remarks. I am very proud that we are a 'premiere' in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations world "regarding this sort of venture."

Ms. Silaghi is also keen to pay tribute to her "sharp and intelligent" Afghan women colleagues in UNAMA. "They make you forget realities like 44 is the life expectancy for women in this country, and a woman dies in childbirth every 30 minutes," she says. "And they will make the difference in this country."

Committed to the volunteer sprit, Georgeta Silaghi takes every opportunity to lobby for UNV. "I have a great relationship with my colleagues on the 'other side' – with UNDP and the ELECT [Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow] project. I explain to everybody who will listen about 'inspiration in action' – and that we are the best because of what is guiding us, the volunteer motivation."

Read about Menchita Caramat's UNV colleague in Afghanistan, Georgeta Silaghi.

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)