In a Bhubaneswar slum, working towards education, employment and toilets

19 October 2014
Students at the school

At the far end of the Salia Sahi slum in Bhubaneswar, young children scamper around outside their little two-room school, racing back into class only when their teacher calls out to say it’s time for lessons to begin. “We learn Oriya, English, Social Studies and Maths!” declares 7-year-old Mitali Nayak, prompting several of her classmates to stand up and talk about the subjects they like. 

The school was built with the assistance of the Parichay Foundation, a Bhubaneswar-based NGO that provides primary education to children in the slum and also helps the women in the slum with skills training so that they can get decent work. Most of the men work as carpenters, cooks, or are employed with the municipal corporation.

According to UNICEF, Odisha has the highest percentage of out-of-school children aged between six and 14 in India, and about one-third of women in the state are married by age 18.

NGOs like the Parichay Foundation are helping to change that. 

“The space the school stands on was previously used as an open toilet,” said Minerva, coordinator at Parichay. “We are still trying to get funds to build a proper toilet for the schoolchildren.”

“A toilet is crucial for the children to remain healthy and disease-free,” UNIC Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman observed. “The lack of adequate, private toilet facilities is a major reason for girls dropping out of school.”

“It is also important that the children understand the importance of handwashing – so many diseases can be avoided if they understand and follow this practice.”

UNIC becomes supporter of Healthcare Mela

19 October 2014
Participants taking part in a CPR session

UNIC New Delhi joined NGO Heart Care Foundation of India in presenting a five-day Perfect Health Mela organized 15 -19 October at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium in New Delhi. Renowned dignitaries such as India’s Attorney General  Mukul Rohatgi, President of the Delhi Unit of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party Satish Upadhayay and New Delhi Municipal Corporation Chairman Jalaj Srivastava, joined UNIC Director Kiran Mehra- Kerpelman in inaugurating the health advocacy fair. 

Started in 1993, the Perfect Health Mela is a mass health awareness module, which caters to people from all age groups and walks of life. Its primary activities include health check-up camps, entertainment programmes, lifestyle exhibitions, workshops and inter college and school competitions.  This year’s Mela was organized in joint collaboration with the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and the UN Information Centre for India and Bhutan, along with  several other corporate and government partners.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, the President of Heart Care Foundation of India, Dr. K.K. Aggarwal said: “We at Heart Care Foundation of India are extremely delighted to organize the Perfect Health Mela that promotes the concept of “Swach Bharat, Swasth Bharat” (Clean India; Healthy India!)  By simply observing hygiene in water and environment, up to 50% of the diseases can be prevented!”

In her address, UNIC Director Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman called attention to the UN’s Global Handwashing Day being observed that very day. She said: “We have to realize how the small steps which we take make a much larger difference than we can ever see or know. For example, washing your hands today could prevent you from getting a disease that might cost you or your parents a huge amount of money to treat – if you saved that money, you could use it to give yourself a better education, to get a better job, to build a better life for yourself and your family in the future. It is in our minds, our actions and our lives that we must create a change.”

Later, the UNIC Director joined all the dignitaries in participating in a CPR practice session. She was also given the National Excellence Award 2014 by the Heart Care Foundation of India and its partners.

UNIC, LASG partner to mark Global Handwashing Day

16 October 2014
Students queuing up to wash their hands

The United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Lagos in collaboration with the Lagos State Government (LASG), yesterday joined the rest of the world to observe the Global Handwashing Day. Addressing an audience of over 500 students from four schools, the Lagos State Commissioner for Education, Mrs Olayinka Oladunjoye, acknowledged the partnership that exists between UNIC and the Lagos State government; and called on Nigerians to continue the habit of frequent handwashing with soap despite the containment of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the country. 

According to her, ‘frequent handwashing with soap could prevent many communicable diseases’ adding that ‘clean hands save lives.’ 

Earlier, the Senior Public Information Officer, UNIC Lagos, Envera Selimovic, noted that handwashing was not meant for the Global Handwashing Day alone, but an exercise that should be done as many times as required every day.  

The ceremony, held at the premises of Falomo Senior High School, had in place thirteen handwashing points including that which was provided and donated by UNIC Lagos. Leading the enlightenment about handwashing procedure was the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Public Health, Dr Yewande Adesina who explained in details the eight steps to washing hands and getting rid of germs. 

Dr Adesina urged the students to thoroughly follow the procedure of washing hands and to make sure they do not turn off the water tap with their already clean hands. She advised that wrist or elbow should be used.

Afterwards, the Honourable Commissioner for Education led the dignitaries and students to wash hands in confirmation of the fact that ‘Clean hands save lives’

The Tutor General and Permanent Secretary for Education District III, Mr O.G. Olatunji, delivered the welcome address at the programme anchored by the National Information Officer of UNIC Lagos, Oluseyi Soremekun.

Emphasis on Women’s Empowerment in Tokyo

14 October 2014
Panel members

“It must not be women who break the bamboo or glass ceiling; it must be companies who remove it,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in Tokyo last month. “Research shows that female presence in leadership strengthens a company’s performance,” she continued, and the necessity of promoting women’s active roles in the workplace is not only moral and ethical, but also “an economic reality.” 

The importance of ‘womenomics’ was a major topic of discussion at a recent international conference on women’s empowerment, held in Tokyo September 12-14 as part of the ‘Shine Weeks’ initiative to create ‘A Society Where Women Shine’ in Japan. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka and UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Zainab Hawa Bangura travelled to Japan to participate in the conference, and took the opportunity to speak out about discrimination facing women in Japan and around the world. Facilitated by UNIC-Tokyo, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka and Ms. Bangura were interviewed by some of the top news agencies in Japan.  

Ms. Bangura focused on the major conflict areas around the world today where sexual violence is of particular concern. “Sexual violence is a serious concern in conflict zones in Iraq, South Sudan, Central Africa, and Mali, to name a few examples. We are especially concerned with territories in Iraq and Syria that are ever increasingly being controlled by the Islamic State,” she said. 

Furthermore, Ms. Bangura discussed the UN’s role and responsibilities in protecting women from sexual violence in conflict. She stressed the importance of providing both physical and psychological treatment to victims of sexual violence, and the necessity of rebuilding weakened judicial institutions in order to conduct trials of sex offenders.

Ms. Mlambo-Ncguka spoke about UN Women’s plan to open an office in Tokyo in 2015. She indicated that the Tokyo office will help UN Women work more closely with the Japanese government and private sector to eliminate discrimination against women in the workplace. Even though Japan has a major gender gap, “Norms and cultures are dynamic,” she insisted, “especially for younger people who can adopt new attitudes.”  

However, Ms. Mlambo-Ncguka emphasized that “Japan is not alone” in needing to adopt special measures in the “ongoing challenge” to increase the participation of women in business and government. She encouraged civil society to play an active role in pushing for concrete measures, such as support for childcare, incentivizing women’s work outside the home, and a possible parliamentary quota system. 

Though progress in these areas takes time, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka hopes that Japan will track the effects of its measures so that UN Women can share the information with other countries to promote gender equality worldwide.