Archive | October, 2012

Musings on Climate Change and Cheese Fondue

19 Oct

Musings on Climate Change and Cheese Fondue…

Hello everyone!

My name is Ellie and, like Haifa, I am a new Programme Assistant for the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva. As Haifa has already told you all about who QUNO are and what they do, I will tell you a little bit about the programme I work on: Human Impacts of Climate Change. As the name suggests, the programme focuses on what the consequences of climate change will be for humanity, working on cooperation over natural resources, climate change and migration, and the international climate negotiations. Quakers are realising that the environment is a peace and equality issue. They therefore recognise that we need to limit the impacts of existing climate change, as well as mitigating future man made changes, in order to reduce the vulnerability of its victims. What’s really struck me since I started this job is how easy it is to assume that we can somehow damage our environment without damaging our people as well, or that climate change remains a distant Armageddon-like scenario. Over the last few weeks I’ve heard the stories of those whose lives have been devastated by environmental change and it’s hit home that for so many people around the world climate change is already a reality.

In my third week at QUNO I travelled to Vienna to attend a conference on Climate Change and Migration, which, as well as providing an opportunity to eat the world’s best crêpes and wander the city’s palaces, gave me a lot to think about. Questions of what will happen to people displaced by climate change have not yet been answered, whether it’s protection for rural farmers who can no longer make a living or the communities whose islands may someday soon disappear beneath the waves. At times it feels like these problems are too big for us to solve. When so much time is wasted in disagreement between States, the challenge we face can seem overwhelming and I worry that any solution we find will be too late to help these people. But I have faith that if we have taught ourselves to live within the current broken system, we can un-teach ourselves as well. That’s when I find it reassuring to be at QUNO and surrounded by people who are determined to make change happen, people working behind the scenes here at the UN in order to find ways to bring the right people together and move things forward.

When not pondering questions of climate change, me and Haifa have been busy finding the cheapest falafel in this ludicrously priced city and retreating from the cold to saunas and cheese fondue, with the occasional Autumnal dip in the lake (a freezing experience I’m not sure I will be repeating!)

Thanks for reading and Happy Friday!

Ellie, Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva

p.s. I leave you with two photos to brighten up your Friday afternoon. Swiss fondue and a Genevan lake. Beautiful.




Greetings from Geneva!

12 Oct

Hello everyone,

I am spending this year working at the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva, (QUNO) on their well established and respected Human Rights & Refugees programme. QUNO represents the concerns of Quakers worldwide at the international level, which for the Human Rights and Refugees programme means engaging with UN human rights processes. QUNO is known and respected for its lunches whereby diplomats and country representatives are invited to meet at Quaker House over lunch in an informal setting and I was privileged to witness such an event in my first week. It was refreshing to observe the relaxed atmosphere and see how a safe space is created for questions to be asked openly.

Quaker House is a lovely place to work. As the name implies it is house, converted into an office but retaining its dining room, kitchen, balconies, garden and ‘fumoir’ –smoking room (see below and I should add that it is no longer used for smoking!).


The UN Human Rights Council was in session for three weeks in September, which meant that as well as following the events in the spaceship-like chamber (see below) there were also many different meetings, side events, and receptions all clamouring for my attention.


I spent a lot of time getting lost in the Palais des Nations (the main UN building in Geneva) through the labyrinth of corridors and rooms, passing a few peacocks on the way…


I like the way that the government representatives are referred to by their country’s name, how people say “Germany is in the room” as though the room were of Tardis-like proportions. My highlight of the month was undoubtedly reading an oral statement in the Human Rights Council on behalf of the Quakers, regarding children of parents sentenced to death. You can view the video here.

Outside of work, Ellie and I have been making the most of life in Geneva, including swimming in the lake, renting bikes to explore the city, popping to France and a local market to do our weekly shop and the ritual baulking at the cost of a pint compared to the UK.

Thank you for reading, feel free to ask any questions or make comments and do share our blog.


Haifa Rashed, Quaker United Nations Office, Geneva.

5 Oct

Dear readers,

As I sit at my work desk, wondering what to put in my very first entry, it just dawned on me that perhaps, simply stating what is on one’s mind might just be the way to go.

It is a particularly hot Friday afternoon out here in Bujumbura and I am now in my 4th week with HROC-BURUNDI. Sometimes, I still cannot quite believe I am now part of it.
HROC, which stands for Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities, is a small local grassroot organisation, which focuses on bringing all of Burundi’s ethnic groups together, for a collective group recovery and healing process. During the war and in its wake, countless lives and families were shattered. HROC operates on the principle that efforts to heal and rebuild the country, must happen at both the individual and community level. On that basis, it scope of work covers issues such as trauma recovery, displacement, reintegration, and poverty.
As a human and fellow Burundian, I am most in awe its work. As a result of its efforts, many have been able to have a new start in life in spite of the heavy burden of their past. Many have also found ways of getting to a stage where, they can see a light at the end of the tunnel, even with all the trauma and pain they have suffered.
I feel that HROC does far more than touch the lives of so many.  It also helps rebuild a whole country’s faith in its own society and people, which had been left broken by ethnic divides and the aftermath of atrocities. Though having not lived in the country for over a decade, I remain a part of this society and I too, having witnessed the positive impacts that HROC has had, feel much closer to my countrymen no matter how far removed my circumstances maybe from theirs.

Thus far, I have participated in activities in the regions of Burterere, Rukaramu, Maramvya and Cibitoke . I took part in the bio-sand water filter project, where participants were asked to elaborate on challenges and problems they encountered, with the construction, use, maintenance and selling of the filters. In addition to this, I interviewed service users who had attended healing workshops, to later assess how and if, the latter helped them in anyway deal with the trauma they have suffered. I have felt truly moved by the evident strength and joie de vivre of the people I have come across.

I thus simply cannot wait to get more involved in the various HROC projects, learning and contributing to its marvellous work.

Have a fun filled weekend!

Amahoro (peace in Kirundi)



%d bloggers like this: