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UNV volunteers praised for contribution to UNMEE

In 2005, UNV volunteers and military personnel alike spent time rehabilitating a local orphanage. (UNV)In 2005, UNV volunteers and military personnel alike spent time rehabilitating a local orphanage. (UNV)On International Volunteer Day 2007, UNV volunteers took the opportunity to interact with children at the orphanage they helped at. (UNV)On International Volunteer Day 2007, UNV volunteers took the opportunity to interact with children at the orphanage they helped at. (UNV)
27 February 2009

Asmara, Eritrea and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) is now at an end. UNV volunteers were an integral part of the mission from the outset, and a senior official says that without them UNMEE could not have functioned.

The Mission began in September 2000 with a mandate to monitor the cessation of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea and to observe the positions of each country's forces. It closes on 28 February 2009.

About 30 percent of the international civilian staff at UNMEE were UNV volunteers, assigned in a range of roles. More than 300 served during the course of the mission, and 28 UNV volunteers – of national backgrounds from Côte d'Ivoire to Timor-Leste – were still on duty at the end of the mission.

Chief of Mission Support (CMS) at UNMEE, Maurice Critchley, said that UNV volunteers had made "a conscientious and valuable contribution" to the mission since its inception. He cited the examples of the Medical Unit, where UNV volunteer Doctors and other medical professionals were key to the medical system; and the Transport Unit which also relied heavily on UNV volunteer expertise.

Times were sometimes tough, but the UNV volunteers maintained their professionalism. "During the height of the fuel embargo in 2007," said former UNV Programme Manager Lani Gamboa, "UNV volunteers were instrumental in ensuring the uninterrupted supply of fuel for air operations, road movements and a supply of cooking gas for troops until their repatriation, ensuring the availability of fuel until the very last day."

Someone with lengthy experience at UNMEE is Eritrean national staff Yonas Tesfamicael. As Administration and Finance Assistant, he dealt with every UNV volunteer involved with the mission "from check-in to repatriation", he says.

Mr. Tesfamicael said that he particularly remembered the active support that UNV volunteers gave to UN special events, not only International Volunteer Day. He also mentioned additional voluntary work that some of them took part in. Many gave lessons in computer skills at an orphanage outside Asmara, while UNV volunteer engineers and technicians helped the school with much-needed renovations.

"In December 2007, we celebrated International Volunteer Day at the orphanage," added Ms. Gamboa. "We provided basic amenities, like clean and warm water supplies, for 70 orphans. With this project, we hope to have improved their access to better hygiene."

Other staff who had worked at UNMEE mentioned a project to assist women living nearby with income generation via a small handicrafts business, while at the same time taking the opportunity to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.

"As a proportion of the workforce, UNV volunteers comprised a significant number," concluded the CMS, Maurice Critchley. "They weren't here as passengers, they were here to work, and were a very important part of the mission."

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