Ruben Antonio Pagés
2012 - Ruben Antonio Pagés, JPO funded by Spain, shares with us his experience in Guatemala with UNAIDS.
My name is Rubén António Pagés, JPO funded by Spain currently serving as Programme Officer for the United Nations’ Joint Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) in Guatemala.
I was born in Cuba. I studied International Relations and earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health. I’m currently finishing another Master’s in Project Management and Humanitarian Action.
Before joining the JPO Programme I volunteered in Tekove Katu’s Environmental Health School in Bolivia’s Chaco region. I also volunteered for the Red Cross in Argentina as an External Relations advisor for HIV, hunger, poverty-related diseases and crisis management. Years later I joined the International Cooperation Department as liaison officer in Buenos Aires for Tucuman’s Ministry of Health, followed by the United Nations’ Information Center for Argentina and Uruguay.
UNAIDS works to achieve a world with zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero HIV-related discrimination and stigma. It does so by coordinating efforts with civil society organizations, government authorities, cooperation partners and key stakeholders, and by bringing together the resources and technical assistance of ten United Nations’ specialized agencies, programmes and funds.
Actually, I was very far away from home and from my current duty station. At first I was very excited, but after that intense first moment of joy I kept on reading the email and completely panicked with all the pending paperwork I had to send to JPOSC! But the JPOSC has always been an amazing support; I try to thank them in every opportunity I get, and also my sponsor country, Spain. They have been a great support since that very first email, and throughout the entire recruitment process. A lot of this assignment wouldn’t have been the same without the help and constant support of the JPOSC team. I wish that one day I can meet all of them and thank them in person! I keep telling them to come to Guatemala!
My JPO assignment has been divided into three major areas.
The first one is coordination support. I’ve had the privilege of supporting the coordination of UN joint teams on HIV, the Joint Programme of Support and representing the UNAIDS Country Coordinator in all duties required.
The second area is planning and monitoring. I’m a part of the team responsible to elaborate, follow up and report on the UNAIDS’ country office’s work plan, the United Nations Development Assistance Framework for Guatemala, and the UNAIDS’ Unified Budget, Results and Accountability Framework.
Last but not least, I deliver technical assistance in various specific programmatic areas. I’ve been responsible for managing joint projects with UNAIDS’ cosponsors such as UNDP, PAHO/WHO, UNFPA and other UNAIDS’ partners such as UN Women, specifically on human rights, social mobilization and women’s empowerment. I’ve also been appointed as focal point for UNAIDS country office on youth, gender, poverty eradication, strategic partnerships and humanitarian action. Finally, I’m in charge of delivering technical assistance to the National Secretariat against Sexual Violence, Exploitation and Human Trafficking through a permanent cooperation support commission, integrated by various UN agencies and bilateral partners.
To work on HIV is permanently enriching and challenging, and I believe this has to do with the fact that HIV has outgrown the category of being just an epidemic. It’s not just a public health issue.
Over the years, the global HIV response has proven not to be just about the best way to prevent the infection and to guarantee universal access. I feel that it has become more of how passion, commitment and humanity, can overcome desperation, indifference and inequalities, and not only illness. The epidemic invites us to reflect on global changes needed at economic, political, social and personal levels, in order to have a more equal, peaceful and healthier future.
To work for an organisation devoted to those changes, and taking active part in building that future together with human rights’ activists, government authorities, key stakeholders and cooperation partners, is immensely enriching.
Of course there are challenges; we’re face to face with one of the greatest pandemics and what it entails, on a permanent basis. There’s a hint for future JPOs, you become a professional problem solver. At the grander scale of things, problem solving is not “a part” of the assignment; it’s “the” assignment.
Academic background and work experience are clearly important. However, I believe that overall character and professionalism are vital.
To be deeply committed with what you do, the country that you work for and its people, together with a firm believe in the principles of your organisation, are perhaps the most prominent requirements in preparing for an assignment as JPO. If you don’t believe in what you do or what your organization does and stands for, it will be hard to deliver results, no matter what your academic or professional backgrounds might be.
Guatemala is such a beautiful country, with such unique cultural diversity and outstanding landscapes, that it is hard not to fall in love with it at first sight! I believe that Guatemala’s most outstanding positive aspect is its people. It is difficult not to feel welcomed in this country. People are very polite and warm; always making you feel at home.
Guatemala City is also surrounded by beautiful volcanoes. Sometimes walking and driving through volcanic ash can turn into a major challenge, but witnessing a volcanic eruption is truly breathtaking. Guatemala’s countryside and landscapes are very unique and inspiring.
Earthquakes! I’ve adapted to them quite well after living here for almost two years, but some are still scary.
In the course of Guatemalan history the country has been struck repeatedly by grand-scaled earthquakes, which have caused major damage to infrastructure and significant loss of life. There haven’t been any big earthquakes since I’ve been here, but the first one I experienced was only two days after I started duties! It was mild, but it took me by surprise since I’ve never lived in a place with such intense earthquake activity. But now I like to think that I’m well prepared.
I’ve learned that it is important to focus your work in those subjects that you’re truly passionate about, to express your interests for those subjects and strive to become the best in what you do. It requires hard work, close attention to details when delivering technical assistance or making a tough decision, and a permanent effort to always keep yourself updated on the latest trends, reports, approaches, focuses, best practices, headline news concerning your areas of work, etc.
Fortunately the JPO programme gives you the opportunity to study and enhance your knowledge in areas you consider could shape your career plans. In my case, I had the opportunity to attend a course on Human Rights and Health at Heidelberg University in Germany. It was a wonderful experience, and it has empowered me to work better with civil society organizations and human rights activists.
My motivation to work in the fiels of development is changes! Understanding that they are necessary, convinced that they are possible, and having the opportunity to be a first-hand witness when they occur. This is my motivation.
I believe it’s difficult to remain oblivious once you understand that the world faces numerous challenges, and even more difficult it is to remain oblivious once you know, for a fact, that those challenges can be overcome, and that your contribution can be helpful to achieve it. Then I believe it becomes inevitable to do your part. By the end of the day, if my personal work has helped in some way, even the mildest of ways, to contribute to the achievement of the goals the country has set for itself in terms of building a better, safer and healthier future, it is enough to be deeply motivated to wake up the next day and keep going, perhaps forever.
Why not just turn your back and pretend that changes are not needed, if global issues don’t affect you directly? Well, concerning HIV, UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-moon once said “...whatever our role in life, wherever we may live, in some way or another, we all live with HIV. We are all affected by it. We allneed to take responsibility for the response.”
If we truly recognize each other as equals, then we may find that every single global issue affects every human being in the world, directly. This warrants that we all do something to overcome global challenges, and also promises that the benefits from overcoming problems together, will reach us all...whatever our role in life, wherever we may live, in some way or another, we will all benefit.
I’ve devoted most of my academic and professional experience in cooperation for development. A JPO assignment seemed like the adequate step in my career at that time. I wanted to become fully familiar with cooperation structures and procedures, and to have hands-on experience in one of the United Nations’ specialized programmes.
I had been working on HIV in the past, and had been looking forward to keep specializing in the field with UNAIDS. Needless to say, I believe in it, what it does and what it stands for.
I am very determined to keep working in the development field. It would be a privilege if I could keep serving the organization of which I’m a part of right now.
Be an activist for the set of values and principles that we stand for as international civil servants.
Think of yourself as a national from the country you work for. Try to feel the challenges that people go through in their everyday lives, and never underestimate those challenges, because they are real. Join the causes of the most marginalized in mind and spirit, and work hard to support the country in fulfilling the rights of its people as they were your own, because they are your own.
Give yourself the chance to be surprised, reach out to the countryside, open up to the country’s history, traditions, arts and uniqueness; be humble, respectful and accessible. Forget that your assignment will eventually come to an end.
By the way...
What do you like to do with your free time?
I like to spend as much time as I possible can with my family.
What’s your favourite quote?
“All the glory in the world fits in a kernel of corn”. – José Martí
Who inspires you?