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Three women: three UNV assignments

UNV volunteer Karla Koutkova from the Czech Republic works in UNDP’s Research and Development Unit and the UNV office. (UNV)UNV volunteer Karla Koutkova from the Czech Republic works in UNDP’s Research and Development Unit and the UNV office. (UNV)National UNV volunteer Nefisa Medosevic coordinates UNHCR's activities in nine municipalities of south-eastern Bosnia. (UNV)National UNV volunteer Nefisa Medosevic coordinates UNHCR's activities in nine municipalities of south-eastern Bosnia. (UNV)Canadian national Lauren McAlister serves as a UNV volunteer Monitoring and Procurement Officer with the UNDP Upper Drina Regional Development Programme. (UNV)Canadian national Lauren McAlister serves as a UNV volunteer Monitoring and Procurement Officer with the UNDP Upper Drina Regional Development Programme. (UNV)
02 March 2009

Sarajevo, Foca and Gorazde, Bosnia and Herzegovina: "What I love the most about the Balkans is the people," says Karla Koutkova from the Czech Republic. However, when she started to focus on the region three years ago, her interest was purely academic.  Only after she finished her Master's thesis about the international administration in Kosovo, she felt that she wanted a real hands-on experience in the region she had read so much about.

After working briefly for a private company, she came to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a volunteer, being part of the first group of European Voluntary Service volunteers coming to the Herzegovinian town of Mostar. There, she explains, she “gained insight into the challenges of working in a socially divided environment, and realized how sensitive one needs to be in assessing their individual impact on local community."

Later on, Ms. Koutkova realized that in order to understand the complexity of the country, she would need to spend more time than the six-month volunteering assignment allowed. The UNV volunteer opening in autumn 2008 seemed to be the right thing; and since the beginning of her assignment, she has been excited about the opportunity to build upon her previous experience, work in her field and learn every day from the people she works with.

Through her engagement in both UNDP’s Research and Development Unit and the UNV office, she hopes to be contributing to the recognition and promotion of volunteerism.

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Nefisa Medosevic has been working as a field assistant with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Gorazde since 1993. After the field office in Gorazde was closed in September 2004, she took the opportunity to continue as a national UNV volunteer, coordinating UNHCR`s activities in nine municipalities of south-eastern Bosnia and providing advocacy related to minority returnees and internally displaced people (IDPs).

Through constant contact with returnees and IDPs in the field, through community development projects she supports and implements durable solutions to the problems of displaced people and the sustainability of returnees.

In close cooperation with a local NGO, Vasa Prava, her task is to ensure that people are provided with free legal aid, and she carries out assessments of vulnerable people. “Promotion of equality, social inclusion and respect for human rights are particularly valued by the most vulnerable and excluded categories of population that I come across on a daily basis, especially by people who live in collective centres and returnees in the remote areas,” she remarks.

When talking about challenges after more than 15 years with UN offices in Bosnia, she adds: “Considering the specifics of the Bosnian context and the large percentage of people living in extreme poverty, it gives me particular motivation to give my best in contributing to the achievement of the overall country goals. However, some goals – for example reconnecting large returnee local communities to electricity - require long-term joint efforts and the involvement of local, national as well as international actors.”

And when asked what the UNV assignment has given to her, her answer is simple, but strong enough: “Being a UNV volunteer gave me the opportunity to continue working with UNHCR and to stay in my hometown.”

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Lauren McAlister serves as a UNV volunteer Monitoring and Procurement Officer with the UNDP Upper Drina Regional Development Programme, based in Foca, a small town in eastern Bosnia. She is involved in activities ranging from monitoring to reconciliation initiatives.

She developed her interest in Bosnia and Herzegovina while conducting research in Mostar on transitional justice for her Master's thesis. After finishing her studies she returned to the region, assisting various human rights NGOs.

She felt that joining UNV was an opportunity to contribute to peace and development, while raising awareness about volunteerism. Her first voluntary experience in 2001 when she worked at an orphanage in Fiji. Although difficult, she did similar work in Italy in 2004.

The major challenge she has faced as a UNV volunteer in Bosnia so far is the cultural barrier, which makes it difficult for her to fully communicate with people. “When working in a different culture, I miss some subtleties that would probably enhance my perspective and understanding,” she says.

But having become a UNV volunteer, she says: “I am now more aware of the practical dimensions of development.  Also, I make a priority of developing volunteerism in the region, which I think is key for increasing civic engagement and enabling people’s individual ownership over their lives.”

An event recently organized for International Volunteer Day enabled her to see the impact volunteers have made in their communities, and the satisfaction volunteering gives to individuals. “The most enriching part of the event was seeing how many young people are volunteering, and listening to their personal reasons for doing so”, she concludes.

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