Luis Alcala Mugno
2012 - Luis Alcala Mugno, Columbian JPO funded by Spain, shares with us his experience in Tegucigalpa, Honduras with UNFPA.
What I have done before joining UNFPA
I graduated in law in 2004 and decided to continue studies in politics and sociology while working at the National Department of Planning (Bogotá, Colombia), within an UNDP project on transparency in the management of public resources in the municipalities.
In 2006, having completed my specialization studies, I was awarded a scholarship for a Master in Local Human Development, Culture of Peace and International Cooperation at the University of Florence (Italy). In 2007, I went to Guatemala as a practitioner coordinating a sociocultural research in Solola’s highlands. This research allowed me to participate in the formulation of the U-Maya project that aimed to create a university degree program based on the Mayan knowledge.
In 2008 I went to the Comoros with my wife who served as a JPO for one year (this was my first contact with the JPO Programme). Besides studying French, I developed a research and then formulated a project for the revitalization of Moroni’s Historic Center. Both the research and the proposal were given to the Comoros Heritage Collective based in Paris (I believe this experience is one of the most fulfilling I have had, volunteering in such an amazing country).
In 2009, back in Colombia, I worked as the Coordinator of a project on Violence Prevention and Youth called “Youth Development Center”, funded by UNICEF and implemented by Escuelas de Paz Foundation. The project aimed to create opportunities for vulnerable adolescents and young men and women in Soacha, a municipality with a very complex social difficulties close to Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. This project gave me a wide range of tools to employ arts and culture in social transformation processes. Last year I completed a Master on Cultural Management.
In January 2010 I started my assignment as a UNFPA JPO in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. These almost three years have been very important in my life, both personally and professionally.
As the Coordinator of a Human Security project, I have learned a lot about the situation in Central America, especially regarding youth violence, maras and gangs, but I have also had the chance to develop new skills and knowledge in other areas. During my assignment I have attended a long term course in Contemporary Leadership and Cultural Diversity and a Master in Cultural Management, among others.
What I do in the UNFPA
In the Human Security project, UNFPA supports three municipalities providing technical and financial assistance for the implementation of Human Security Action Plans that offer a wide range of activities, from workshops on Violence Prevention and Culture of Peace, to youth fairs, TV programs, arts and cultural performances.
Another important area of work is gender equity, including gender based violence prevention and awareness on new masculinities issues.
Besides coordinating the Human Security Project, I am also charged of the preparation of training texts used in workshops on culture, migration, local development and violence prevention.
What working in Honduras means to me
What first comes to my mind when I say Honduras is the warmness of its people. This is a country where people are always very open to help you in anything, they are very curious about other cultures and countries and that´s why you can have an interesting conversation with almost anybody. I would actually say that my friends in this country have been such an important support in many times.
Due to security reasons, in Tegucigalpa you are quite limited in terms of walking around, doing open air sports and so on (that’s what I consider the most challenging part of living here), but at the end of the day, you always have something interesting to do. I often say that living in Tegucigalpa can be an amazing or terrible experience depending on how open you are to meet people and understand their culture.
Honduras is a relatively small country, but it offers an incredible diversity of places to visit and explore, from white sanded Caribbean islands and cays to Mayan ruins, rainforests and colonial cities. All of this is just a few km. from home. There is no excuse to get bored in this country.
About my family
When I started my assignment in 2010, I was a 28 man expecting to have a great one year- professional experience and that’s it, but now I am almost 31, I am about to complete my third year as a JPO and I became a father last December!
Becoming a father during your assignment can definitely be a challenging change, but it also offers an opportunity to make of your experience something unique.
My wife and I decided to have our baby last year, and the main three reasons that moved us to that decision were, first: we were so excited about the idea itself, second: The possibility to offer our baby a good health coverage during her first year, and third: for my wife it would be possible to take care of Victoria full time without risking the family’s economy at least for the first year of a couple of inexpert parents. I have to say that outside the JPO Programme it would have been quite difficult to make that decision.
However, I say to all those desiring to become parents to think it twice, because it is a HUGE responsibility, and it definitely brings with it a lot of challenges (waking up several times during the night and renouncing to almost all your social life are within my top ten).
Another situation that we have had to face as a family, and particularly my wife, is the “job seeking” issue. It has been very difficult to her to have a long term contract so far, and it has obviously influenced her perception of this experience. As I faced the same situation when she was a JPO 5 years ago, I perfectly understand what it feels like, and that’s why I encourage her to attend courses, learn new languages and even volunteering. Maintaining the motivation makes things flow much better.
The United Nations System does its best to ensure that UN staff members’ spouses apply to internal job offers, but I would advise to those married JPO aspirants not to create expectations on this regard, however, every Country Office is different and this is a subject in which local dynamics are important.
My motivation to work in the field of development
I believe in small actions that can make big transformations and that´s perhaps, what has motivated me to continue working in this field despite the daily challenges and frustrations. As a young professional from a developing country, I feel myself called to contribute to make a change in our world. We all and the next generations deserve a happier and more peaceful life.
In my opinion, the JPO Programme sets us in a position from which make that difference seems easier. At the end of the day, your attitude and creativity are the key factors that allow you to succeed in this task.
When I think about my JPO assignment many words come to my mind: opportunities, leadership, privilege, professional development, commitment, support, cultural sensitivity, knowledge exchange… in a few words a lifetime experience.
I believe that this experience has dramatically changed my expectations and has provided me with priceless tools to build a solid professional career. I advise to all new JPOs to take advantage of this opportunity and to never give up when facing the challenges of their missions. Those challenges are in essence what make you stronger.
At this point, I don’t know if there will be a place for me in this organization after my JPO assignment, but at least I feel happy to have had this chance and having taken advantage of it.