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Claire Whelan, Norway, Political Affairs Officer, UNMIK

UNV volunteer Claire Whelan from Norway is a Political Affairs Officer for UNMIK in Kosovo. "I am in the middle of the making of international politics," she says. (UNV)UNV volunteer Claire Whelan from Norway is a Political Affairs Officer for UNMIK in Kosovo. "I am in the middle of the making of international politics," she says. (UNV)
19 September 2008

Pristina, Kosovo: Half the things I do I can’t talk about, and the other half seems to be one form or the other of paper-pushing - and it is great!

The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) is in an uncertain and sensitive political situation both locally and in relation to United Nations member states after Kosovo declared itself independent earlier this year. Working within the Office of the Strategy Coordinator and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General is thus a peculiar situation to describe.

The office I work in is in charge of planning for the reconfiguration of UNMIK as ordered by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Half the things we do in our office we can't talk about due to the political sensitivity of the issues, and the other half is typical office work.

Within the Office of the Strategy Coordinator there are currently three UNV volunteer Political Affairs Officers in addition to two professional posts. That implies that in the day-to-day work there is no differentiation between UNV volunteers and the others, as the UNV volunteers in reality make up the majority of the office so to say. Thus our job as UNV volunteers touches upon everything that is done within the office.

As for most people working in a peacekeeping mission, there isn't really such a thing as an average day. A day can involve anything from meetings with relevant senior decision-makers in the international community, drafting speaking points on reconfiguration for the senior management of the mission, responding to requests from the UN Headquarters secretariat in New York, or carrying out detective work on issues where there doesn't seem to be any obvious answer or guideline on how to deal with the issue.  

But I am in the middle of the making of international politics. For people with a background in international relations or political science, working within the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General gives you a unique chance to contribute in the making of international affairs.

Peacekeeping is clearly more than blue helmets or distributing aid; it is also about working within the difficulties of a framework of political sensitivities and dilemmas that the UN has to deal with in order to create the space needed for the blue helmets and aid distribution. Being part of this from the inside of the decision-making centre of a mission is honestly both intriguing and frustrating, and much more educational than any textbook you ever read in university.

And we are a community of volunteers. We are all here in Kosovo as UNV volunteers because we want to contribute. This means that most of the fellow UNV volunteers you meet are open-minded people interested in the world and the experiences of others.

So, if you want to you get to know fascinating people from all over the world who like you is working away from the safety and comfort of what you know from before, you will have a great opportunity of doing so as a UNV volunteer.
UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)