2009 - For the JPO Stories, Sara Rivenes gives an account of her experience as a JPO in Jamaica. Funded by Norway, she works in UNFPA's sub regional office in Jamaica, where her core professional concerns range in the field of sexual and reproductive health care.
Where are you from?
What is your background?
I am a registered nurse with work experience in infectious diseases. I have a Masters degree in International Community Health. As part of my master thesis I carried out a study in Darfur, Sudan on the sexual and reproductive health of internally displaced women.
What has been your assignment as a JPO?
I started working as a JPO for UNFPAs Sub Regional Office for the Caribbean based in Jamaica, in April 2008. I am focal point for emergency preparedness and response in the Caribbean. This work includes sensitizing our partners on the need to include issues related to gender and reproductive health when preparing for- or responding to an emergency. We are currently working with the Red Cross National Societies adding a component on sexual and reproductive health and the prevention of gender based violence in emergencies to their training programme for shelter managers in several Caribbean Islands.
I am also coordinating UNFPA’s Comprehensive Condom Programme in Jamaica. Through this initiative 1.9 million male condoms and 280 000 female condoms are being distributed to government and non-government partners across the island. I also manage programme activities related to sexual and reproductive health and youth in Jamaica.
Which random words come to your mind when thinking about your JPO years?
Interest, growth, patience.
In what way do you think your JPO assignment has shaped your career?
I have been given the opportunity to work within my areas of interests building on my professional and educational experience, both at a sub- regional and national level. This has been with an increasing amount of responsibility which has allowed me to develop and improve my skills both in programme management and in the area of sexual and reproductive health.
One of the reasons I wanted to be a JPO was to gain experience working in the UN system. The UN is highly respected but also receives a lot of criticism. After two years working for the UN I have seen many of the challenges it faces today. However, I still believe in its unique role in the world and its relevance. UN reform and organizational restructuring make the UN system more effective and coordinated which in turn continues to benefit the people we are here to serve.
What are your major lessons learned during your JPO assignment in terms of professional growth, career planning and opportunities?
I think it is important to be vocal about specific areas of interest and engage in a dialogue on how these can be developed best during the JPO-ship. When I first came to the office my supervisor and I adapted my ToR to better reflect the current situation in the office and my competencies.
Furthermore, it is important to be proactive. Look for learning opportunities and take responsibility in areas of interest.
What is your motivation to work in the field of development?
I greatly appreciate having a job where I can use my knowledge and experience in the areas of sexual and reproductive health so that it benefits people in developing countries. A job in which I feel that I am part of making a difference for those who need it most. I find sexual- and reproductive health interesting for its so closely being linked to other factors in society, such as religious beliefs, discrimination of women and cultural taboos. Working in other countries and with people from different cultures also adds a lot to my personal development. To collaborate and learn from people with other perspectives on life enriches mine.
Your most enriching professional achievement so far?
One of the things I find the most rewarding is to see the practical results of the work that I have contributed to. After Hurricane Gustav hit Jamaica last year I took part in the distribution of hygiene kits funded by UNFPA and distributed through Jamaica Red Cross. It meant a lot to me to get a chance to talk to some of the persons affected by the hurricane, hear their stories and to see how much our assistance was appreciated.
What kind of advice would you give to JPOs?
Be patient, proactive and flexible.
By the way...
Your crowning glory:
It is yet to come.
The last favourite book you read:
"Le Petit Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I have read the book several times and it still fascinates me.
Behind the suit:
I guess you could say there is a wetsuit! Living in the Caribbean is a great opportunity to scuba dive which is one of my favourite leisure activities.
I like one of Dag Hammarskjöld’s remarks about the UN which I think is still relevant today:
"Everything will be all right - you know when? When people, just people, stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a drawing they made themselves."
The people in my life. Colleagues, family or friends who inspire me with their perspectives on life, their wisdom and love.