2012 - Thea Lim, Filipino JPO currently funded by Spain, shares with us her experience in Jerusalem with UNRWA.
After obtaining undergraduate and master’s degrees in medieval history, I decided to switch tracks and go to law school. I was called to the bar in Ontario in 2006 and I practiced litigation at a law firm in Toronto, Canada, immediately prior to working at UNRWA.
My experience practicing law in Canada exposed me to a wide range of cases, including contracts and employment matters, and I represented clients at mediations and before various courts and tribunals. I studied law for a semester at Lund University in Sweden and also took several international law courses in law school. I was fortunate that the Spanish MDG Fund was funding JPOs from designated developing countries, including the Philippines, and as a Filipino, I was eligible to apply.
I applied to the JPO Programme because I wanted to live and work outside of Canada, preferably for an international organization. Having reviewed the JPO programme, I found it to be a well-structured programme for young professionals to work in the UN. In addition to gaining practical work experience, I thought certain features, such as opportunities to take training courses, were conducive to professional growth.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East provides assistance, protection and advocacy for almost 5 million registered Palestine refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic, and the occupied Palestinian territory.
UNRWA’s Department of Legal Affairs is based in Jerusalem and provides headquarters legal services to all parts of UNRWA. Its main activities include the provision of legal advice on contractual and commercial arrangements, procurement processes and activities, financing/funding arrangements; implementation of UNRWA’s administration of justice system; reporting to and liaising with governments, UN bodies, and NGOs on international law issues; and drafting, reviewing Agency-wide policies, procedures, and legal instructions, and ensuring consistency in the interpretation and application thereof.
I work on issues related to UNRWA’s formal administration of justice system, which is composed of the UNRWA Dispute Tribunal and the UN Appeals Tribunal, including drafting responses on behalf of UNRWA to staff members’ applications and appeals, and responding to queries from the Registry. I also prepare and review contribution agreements and contracts, and on the policy side, I provide advice and assist in drafting various organizational documents. For example, most recently, I provided input on an updated version of the Procurement Manual and the Staff Union statute. From time to time, I serve as Secretary of the Advisory Committee on Procurement, which is the committee that reviews procurement submissions at the headquarters level.
When I started at UNRWA, the UN General Assembly had reformed its administration of justice system, a reform process that was mirrored at UNRWA with the creation of the UNRWA Dispute Tribunal and access to the UN Appeals Tribunal.
It is exciting to be involved in the rollout of the new administration of justice system to staff. I collaborate with colleagues from the Department of Human Resources and the Registry of the UNRWA Dispute Tribunal to create informational materials and deliver presentations to staff throughout UNRWA’s five fields of operations. The presentations to staff have been a valuable opportunity to visit the field and interact with staff members and beneficiaries. I try to take advantage of this access, for example, by arriving a day early to visit the summer camps at the Gaza Summer Games last year, where I could see how much the children enjoyed the organized activities.
Jerusalem is a very special and unique place, full of history and where history continues to be made every day. It is also a place of great contrast and extremes. I can go from Saturday shopping in the bustling streets of East Jerusalem to being the only driver on the quiet streets of West Jerusalem on the same day while Shabbat is being observed.
On weekends when I’m not at the beach (which is rare in the summer!), I visit archaeological sites, especially the Crusader castles, in the region to satisfy the medievalist in me. Although it is a small area, the logistics of travelling around the Levant can be tricky, but I have managed to explore quite a bit – diving in the Sinai, camel riding in Petra and Wadi Rum, hiking in the Golan Heights, shopping in the souqs of Damascus, and visiting the ruins at Baalbek.
The most challenging aspects of working in the area are the checkpoints, especially those surrounding Jerusalem, and the Wall. Although it is relatively easy for me to pass through the checkpoints as an international and with diplomatic plates on my car, I am uncomfortable that I can travel so easily compared to my Palestinian colleagues and friends, some of whom have never seen Jerusalem but tell me that they continue to dream about visiting one day.
I was offered the JPO assignment less than a month after my father suddenly passed away, and as an only child, I was concerned about moving halfway around the world and leaving my mother alone. However, after some discussion, we agreed that the JPO assignment was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.
Fortunately, within two months of having moved to Jerusalem, my mother, grandmother, and aunt paid their first visit to the Holy Land during Holy Week and Easter. Not being very familiar with the area, I got us thoroughly lost while driving around the West Bank looking for religious sites; but on the bright side, my grandmother commented on how peaceful and green Palestine was in the spring–our unintended wandering seemed to allay her fears about my posting.
I became interested in working in an international organization because of the work that I saw my father did as an operations officer for the World Bank, where he worked on a number of development projects throughout China, Central Asia, the Baltic states, and Eastern Europe. I hope that by working in the field of development, I can contribute my skills and knowledge to an organization that works towards creating or fostering conditions that will help people achieve their goals and aspirations.
I would advise new JPOs to get to know as many people within their organization. Personal interactions are a great way to learn about the work others are doing and how different parts of the organization function. Outside of work, I’d advise them to explore their duty station and the region.
Working as a JPO has been a great introduction to how the UN works and the range of jobs in the field of humanitarian work. I am very grateful to the Spanish MDG Fund for providing me with the opportunity to work at UNRWA, and I hope to continue working in the UN or in another international organization in a legal capacity.
By the way...
My favourite quote:
"Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp. Or what's a heaven for?"
- Robert Browning