Cristina Comunian is a UN Volunteer Senior Communications Specialist with the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office (UNRCO) in Fiji. Lepani Vunituraga is a UN Volunteer Humanitarian Affairs Officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Vanuatu. The two reflect on their assignments in this disaster-prone region.
Vanuatu is a small island developing country with pristine coasts and luscious tropical nature that is also at high risk of natural disasters. The compounding impact of this is a climate security crisis, with quickly deteriorating livelihoods, and lacking opportunities for a sustainable ecosystem where all can thrive. COVID-19 only compounded matters further.
After two years of lockdown, on 01 July 2022, Vanuatu reopened its borders to international travelers. After working remotely for a long time, Lepani and Cristina were able to join the UN Resident Coordinator's Office mission to Vanuatu in early August. They attended a jam-packed calendar of meetings, workshops and events, and finally met with colleagues and stakeholders in UN entities, ministries and civil society organizations.
The 2011 Gender-Based Violence Survey was conducted by the Vanuatu Women's Centre and Vanuatu National Statistics Office. It reveals that 60 per cent of women who have ever been in a relationship have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence by a husband or intimate partner. More than two in three (68 per cent) have experienced emotional violence, placing the country among the world’s highest rates of domestic violence.
Cristina serves under the European Union-United Nations Spotlight Initiative programme that targets ending violence against women and girls.
"My volunteering experience has enabled me to work for and with people who share the same goals: preventing and responding to gender-based violence. --Cristina Comunian, UN Volunteer Senior Communications Specialist with UNRCO, Fiji
"Meeting and interviewing people in person is a privilege I do not take lightly. They have emotions and vulnerabilities that can only be captured in presence, and it is my duty and honour to be here to witness and collect their experiences so that they can become a resource for everyone, and inspire change," Christina adds.
UN Volunteers have the opportunity to experience the impact of the work of the UN right when and where it is happening, enriching it with volunteer spirit and commitment. They take on crucial tasks across UN agencies, funds and programmes that leave an indelible mark on the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, impacting people, prosperity, planet, partnerships and peace. --Shalina Miah, Regional Manager, UNV Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
The breadth of work the United Nations is carrying out in Vanuatu, engaging with national stakeholders, civil society organizations and the donor community, is remarkable. With Vanuatu's high rate of exposure to extreme natural events such as cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides and coastal flooding, the challenges that such a small island country faces to secure prosperity for its people are all-encompassing.
In Vanuatu, UNOCHA is supporting the national government's Emergency Preparedness and Response Department.
Coming to Vanuatu, the most disaster-prone country in the world, it is inspiring to see how government, non-governmental organizations and communities work relentlessly together to prepare for and mitigate the risks and effects of disasters. --Lepani Vunituraga, UN Volunteer Humanitarian Affairs Officer with UNOCHA in Vanuatu
“We are lucky to have the technology to help us work together, especially in challenging times such as COVID-19 and lockdowns,"Lepani asserts. He continues, "Our work and mandate heavily rely on people working together in a coordinated approach and meeting in person was a good opportunity to strengthen relationships and build trust among our network members. It is an honour to meet the organizations and people who step in when everything else falls apart, responding to emergencies and working together to make communities more resilient to current and future challenges."