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.

KIIT MUN in Bhubaneswar

17 October 2014
Speakers at the Model UN event

The vast KIIT University campus was buzzing with activity as delegates gathered for the KIIT International Model UN conference in Bhubaneswar. With 1500 participants, the MUN is one of the largest in the country, and the energy and excitement were palpable. “The UN is called upon to tackle nearly every major crisis the world has seen,” UNIC Director and Chief Guest Kiran Mehra-Kerpelman said in her inaugural address. “And young people are crucial to the UN’s efforts – it is therefore wonderful to see the enthusiasm with which you’re gearing up to discuss issues of global concern during this MUN.” 

KIIT founder Dr. Achyuta Samanta was present to encourage the young diplomats as were several members of the KIIT faculty, including Dr. A. Samanta, Registrar, KIIT University; Prof. P.P. Mathur, Vice-Chancellor; and Dr. Sucheta Priyabadini, Director, Student Services.

“There is much to learn during this 3-day MUN, and we hope that at the end of it, you will come up with innovative, sustainable solutions to global challenges,” Dr. Achyuta Samanta said in his address. “You may start small but you must dream big. Anything is possible if you set your hearts to it.”

All the speakers emphasized the UN’s role in prevention of conflicts, mitigation of the effects of war, and in furthering development and human rights. “The UN today is being called upon to respond to issues across widely disparate fields – from the maintenance of international peace and security, the work of the UN has expanded into development, human rights and essentially everything that allows an individual to live a life of dignity. It is a gargantuan task – and yet the UN is responding,” Ms. Mehra-Kerpelman observed. “You, representing countries from across the globe, know this better than anyone. You see value in coming together to inform yourselves of the challenges, and apply yourselves to finding a solution.”

The three-day MUN simulated 11 Committees, exploring issues such as the legality of foreign military bases, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, trade regulation, the spread of the Ebola virus, aerospace security, the rights of asylum seekers, the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and the framing of an international convention of the legalization of prostitution.

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UNIC joins Government of India in observing World Habitat Day

06 October 2014
The UNIC National Information Officer addressing the gathering

The Government of India’s Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation organized the official observance of World Habitat Day at the prestigious Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi’s top convention centre. Union Minister M. Venkiah Naidu was the Chief Guest.

Delivering the UN Secretary-General’s message for the Day, the UNIC National Information Officer reminded the august gathering: “Often, people in the slums live in near-anonymity -- no address, no census and no idea when their living conditions will improve.  By learning from their experiences, city planners and policymakers can enhance the well-being of a significant portion of the human family.  Let us hear from people who live in slums what has worked and what has not -- and what we need to do.”

Minister M. Venkiah Naidu reiterated his Ministry’s policies being closely aligned with guidelines from the UN and UN-Habitat. He said that the Prime Minister of India had pledged to ensure housing for all by 2020 and he also made reference to the recently launched Clean India Campaign that sought to improve quality of life in both rural and urban areas.

Delivering the expert’s address, Sheela Patel from Mumbai underlined the need to think of slum dwellers not merely as beneficiaries but as stakeholders and potential problem-solvers since they understood their environment best.

The event was attended by 400 diplomats, government representatives, school students and media persons.