As a program officer with UNICEF Uzbekistan, I contributed to UNICEF’s work on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I was responsible for developing a child protection program that encompassed disabled children, the issue of education, juvenile justice, youth development, and disaster preparedness.
Although some 10 years had passed since Uzbekistan became independent from the Soviet Union, NGOs were slow to grow and often needed basic organizational development and management training. I provided some guidance and links to resources for these inexperienced NGOs. Many NGOs struggle to understand their role in promoting a better life for all children and youth.
As a result, many intellectual debates over the role of NGOs took place.
During my time in Uzbekistan, I was responsible for outreach to local civil society organizations, which had particularly good records of experience on child protection, a proven commitment to children’s rights and a need for support. I also conducted outreach to international NGOs supporting children’s rights. I had several opportunities to exchange ideas about the Convention on the Rights of the child with Uzbek human rights experts, national government officials, NGOs, and prospective partners.
As a UN Volunteer from the West, I faced particular challenges within a high-profile organization like UNICEF. As local staff consisted of mostly highly educated people from Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Canada, it became challenging when I was also asked to recruit American volunteers, who had been working locally in rural schools and health clinics, to join in the discussions. There was no lack of cultural misunderstandings in the process.
One of the high points of working with UNICEF was the World Water Day project. This called for travel to the Karakalpakistan region several times to work with a school called the Progress Center. Because of poor environmental decisions, this region was severely neglected and its water resources depleted through extreme agricultural usage.
Water from the once great Amu Darya River has continued to sustain several small towns and fishing villages that have grown around the river. However, the region has become highly toxic and dangerous to live in. UNICEF led an international emergency drought mission in September 2001. Environmental issues continue to be subject areas that require attention in Uzbekistan.
In a separate but related project, I put together a book with the translation and editing help of fantastic Progress Center interns. We gathered artwork and writings of children from the World Water Day in 2000 and presented the book at World Water Day 2001. World Water Day is an annual awareness raising opportunity for UNICEF worldwide, during which UNICEF aims to focus the world’s attention on the serious problem of drought, desertification, and the need for continuing humanitarian support. The Progress Center organized World Water Day in the region, which included the participation of children, their families and government officials from all the cities in Karakalpakistan. The World Water Day event was particularly meaningful for all the communities because it was held on March 21, the Uzbek Holiday Navrous, which means “New Day” and ushers in the coming of spring.
As a UN Volunteer with UNICEF, I learned how central the Convention on the Rights of the Child is to UNICEF’s work. I discovered true challenges in the implementation of the Convention and in meeting our commitment to children in our world—a world led by adults who have sometimes forgotten how they have been educated, how they have developed into productive human beings, how they survived crises, and how they learned to participate in society. Our role was to remind our world’s leaders about the rights of not just some, but all children.
Diana Cabcabin served as a UNICEF Volunteer in Uzbekistan from 2000-2001. She now lives in the San Francisco area.