UNDSS Training on safety and security
2013 - Costanza, who is an Italian-funded JPO with UNDP, shares with us her experiences and insights on her assignment in the occupied Palestinian Territories.
I consider myself a development officer, I graduated in International Relations and I hold a MA in Development Studies and a MA in Human Rights and Conflict management. My professional background includes research, analysis and project management for NGOs and IIOOs in HQ and field, mainly in Lebanon and Palestinian Territory (PT).
I am serving in PAPP, a Special Programme for the Palestinian People set up in 1979 by UNGA and directly managed under the Administrator. The peculiarity of the Programme is the direct implementation of development programmes through donor funding, including a big portfolio of infrastructure programmes. I am working as a Programme Analyst with the Infrastructure team and my role is the quality assurance of programmes and projects aimed at improving access to public and social infrastructure in the Palestinian Territories (PT). I work in a team and my portfolio ranges from schools rehabilitation to mobile health facilities to public infrastructure for economic development.
The big challenge is constituted by working for development in an on-going conflict context: the Israeli Occupation of 60% of the West Bank, the occupation/annexation of East Jerusalem and the siege to Gaza severely hamper Palestinian lives and development. We work in a very peculiar conflict context in which humanitarian and development functions are merged and closely cooperating in order to ensure the functioning of vital services, while we work for the building of a solid, democratic and accountable statehood for Palestine.
This is a very challenging time and place to serve in and I am proud to be here in this important moment for the Palestinian people. At the same time, after decades of occupation, closures and the stringent siege of Gaza, human needs are becoming urgent and imperative, emergency situations occur on daily basis and it is essential to move quickly to make sure that human development is ensured.
Flexibility, dynamism, patience and understanding of the human and political dynamics of the conflict, are skills needed in this context, which I learnt to apply in my everyday work.
My most enriching and challenging tasks so far have been working on a multi-agency programme for Education for All, and with international and Palestinian local authorities on the set up of territorial development initiatives.
Panorama of the Old City of Jerusalem
Living in Jerusalem is unique in all senses: behind the spirituality of this culturally and historically symbolic city lies the tough reality of being on the edge of a conflict with different perceptions, attitudes and patterns meeting in one place. East Jerusalem is an occupied and annexed territory and we witness every day the reality of it, not only at work but in daily life: house evictions, negligence of social services towards the Palestinian areas, the vulnerability of poor communities in the Old City and its militarization are features of Palestinian life.
The biggest challenge has been and still is to find one's own balance between tensions and sensitiveness, and between perceptions and feelings, as it is easy to feel never-ending personal, emotional, ethical involvement in the conflict, to take sharp positions and have a blind approach. Conflict sensitivity is a skill that one must learn to better understand her/his position, as we are never neutral.
Meeting with Bedouins in the Jordan Valley
I am from Italy and I found both Israel and Palestine very familiar countries with regards to social behaviour, food, and life in general. I am astonished though by the warmth, extreme generosity and deep sincerity and hospitality of Palestinian communities. I have been invited to sit with communities of Bedouins to discuss local developments and I have been cooking traditional dishes with women in refugee camps, and felt at home in every circumstance. I experienced the deep humanity, even for a short time, of the people of Gaza, who are trying to survive in dignity.
Also, I have been exposed to and was taught about Jewish culture and the Israeli culture of peace, I met active Israeli lawyers, journalists, politicians who are keeping hope and support the culture of peace and information which we must take into consideration. The architecture of the occupation is well present and highly visible: checkpoints, tanks, bypass roads and the separation wall. We interact with it, we work in it, we pass through checkpoints and use special roads and gates as well. Not getting used to it, not "normalizing" it, keeps us human, aware and alive.
Installment of a mobile health facility in El Walajeh, Bethlehem region
Joining UNDP in such a peculiar context and assignment has been a real change in my life, as I developed coping as well as professional skills through the daily job routine, interpersonal relations and simply “being there and observing”. I coped with fellows and former JPOs and I learnt through other people’s experiences in order to build my own path for these 2 years. I made my way slowly but constantly ("shway shway”, as Palestinians would say), strengthening technical skills and expanding my network through participating in trainings, field missions and international conferences.
A year into my assignment, I feel more solid and professional, and ready to learn more to move forward in this field. I believe that human development is and must be achievable and I believe that UNDP holds capacities and resources to make this impact. I intend to continue serving for UNDP; my aim is to serve in conflict and post-conflict areas in support to vulnerable communities. I will build on the JPO assignment, both in terms of human and professional growth and career-development, in order to pursue this goal.
I consider joining the JPO programme an acknowledgement of years of experience and capitalization of professionalism. My advice to fellow JPOs is to hold on, believe and be the change you want to see around. And to build networks amongst us, as we are a very important resource in dynamic human capital across the world.
Favourite quote: “If not me, then who; if not now, then when” (If, R. Kipling)
Inspiration: Mahatma Gandhi, Amartya Sen, Mohammed Younus