Mitra Motlagh

Mitra Motlagh

2009 - Mitra Motlagh, a Belgian JPO working for WHO in Mozambique, shares her JPO story with us.


My dear Maputo,


It has been a week since I arrived in the Philippines to start my new assignment. What better time to look back at the past three years with you, my dear Maputo?


What an adventure! When Emmanuel and I moved in some three years ago, we had no idea what was in store for us. You did not disappoint us. We learned so much thanks to you!


We had heard about you and Mozambique: one of the poorest countries in the world (ranking 176 on the Human Development Index) with warm and welcoming population. We were ready for the worst, yet we got the best.


I finally got to do what I love and studied for: work on human rights. It's been a challenge! Working for the World Health Organization, people wondered what a lawyer was doing there and what was the link between health and human rights. Was I another Woodstock type of activist talking about peace and love, or was I here to blame the government for not doing enough? Well, I was none of that. Slowly but surely, the word was out: WHO's mandate also covers human rights. After a few months, discussions became actions and I had the opportunity to get my hands on a wide range of activities.


Mozambique has ratified several major international and regional human rights treaties that address the right to health. Therefore, one important objective was to inform people, from Ministry officials to people in the communities, on what the right to health is and what it implies. Language has always been an important barrier in this Portuguese speaking country (also including a dozen of local dialects). For that reason, it was crucial to ensure that all information was at least available in Portuguese for easier dissemination. This took various forms. The first country specific fact sheet on Health and Human Rights was produced. We also worked on the translation of a cartoon to sensitize children on stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/Aids. After that, it was also important to ensure that the right to health would be mentioned in key documents such as the national health strategy and the annual economic and social plan. Technical support was also provided to the Parliament for the drafting of the new Bill to "Defend human rights and fight against stigmatization and discrimination for people living with HIV/AIDS."


But one project that was really close to my heart was a collaboration with Handicap International to raise awareness on the rights of people with disability. The end result, a well attended workshop and a brochure, was great. But what affected me the most was the preparation. I got to talk to men and women about the consequences of their handicap on their daily life: limited access to education, inappropriate means of transport, difficulty to access the labor market, and so many things that can also make your life a living hell. Yet, they never stopped smiling and looking at all the good things life is giving them. All of them had so much hope and energy! It was a true inspiration. A dance group accepted to perform at our workshop. It was amazing to see how their disabilities disappeared as the minutes went by. Their performance was powerful and inspiring to the entire audience.


Maputo, you taught me so much. I look back at three years of amazing working experience. But it did not stop there. Emmanuel and I had been together for only a few months when we decided to move to the other end of the world and meet you. This could have been a deal-breaker for us. But we learned so much about each other, it just made us stronger every day. We got married and enjoyed every minute of our new life. We travelled a lot in the region and lived some exciting adventures: playing with lions, riding elephants and doing quad in the desert, just to name a few. We met some amazing people and wonderful friends along the way.


We have now moved to another continent and are ready to face new challenges. Manila seems so different, but I am sure we are going to love it too. Maputo, we are going to miss you so much! I don't know when we will be able to meet again. But be sure of one thing: you will always have a special place in our hearts.