Thursday, February 7, 2013

A festive time of year… an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) in Bangkok

By Anna Richardson, an Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) with UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office, Bangkok

My work mates at EAPRO; Vijaya, Lori, Me and Dominik.
Over December and January there was no usual “shut down” over the holiday season. Only Christmas day and New Years’ day off at the East Asia and the Pacific Office.  Aid and development work doesn’t really stop for holidays does it?!

It did mean however, that the focus of the East Asia and Pacific Regional Office (EAPRO) shifted from getting things done to evaluation - reviewing key achievements and gaps from 2012 and planning for the coming year. Understanding what has and has not worked - and why - is crucial in development work. The entire office came together for three days to discuss the key activities, achievements and challenges for each section – such as how teachers in the region are receiving teacher training to give children quality education and what obstacles we need to overcome if we are to make sure children have access to clean water and safe toilets. It was great to hear achievements from 2012 celebrated and key challenges for 2013 discussed.

After this, each of the 14 UNICEF country offices’ reports in the region were presented for review. Each country has a unique situation in terms of finances, politics, culture… all of which UNICEF needs to be aware of and work within. I was most surprised to learn that several countries in the region have moved into the “middle income earning” bracket of World Bank categories, based on Gross National Income. Countries such as Thailand are defined as middle income, and this has a big impact on funding provided by donors. Of course, having a higher average income does not equate to better outcomes for all children nor to development goals being met. Increases in wealth in a country are not evenly distributed and there is no better example of that than PNG, where the country is technically rich – mostly because of mining – but there are still children whose lives are endangered because they don’t have access to safe food, water, sanitation and aren’t able to access education systems or services for protection from violence – basic needs of a population.

After all that information my head was exploding. Luckily, we then had two days of staff retreat – a fun-focused, team-building escape to the outskirts of Bangkok. Little did I know that in the first session we would be required to create four Thai delicacies under the supervision of local expert chefs!

Construction of a child-friendly village - team building exercise.
My team rose to the challenge and -- whilst the food may not have satisfied the judge -- we certainly had a lot of fun making it. I was also unaware that my plasticine modelling skills would come in handy in my work with UNICEF. Having been 20 years out of practice, I was pleased that when we were tasked with building a model child friendly village on a deserted island, I could make a real contribution by building bridges and trees! By the end of the two days the whole office had bonded – as the Karaoke session revealed – and everyone was well prepared to participate in the creative thinking and planning for the office’s future that followed.

Volunteering with UNICEF EAPRO is so far, SO good. My assignment outcomes are coming along well, with work plans made and discussed and even partially implemented. The team building and work planning experiences were helpful – I have a better sense of the current context in the region and of the area where UNICEF is working – child protection, health, education, water and sanitation, emergencies, HIV, social policy and more – and will build on this collaboratively to produce meaningful resources for my team. Good start to the year 2013 and I look forward to the rest!

The AYAD Program is the youth stream of Australian Volunteers for International Development, an Australian Government, AusAID initiative. This year the Australian Government will support more than 1800 skilled volunteers like Anna to live and work in developing countries through the Australian Volunteers program. For more visit

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