My United Nations experience in Samoa

27 November 2017, 12:00AM

Samoa bids farewell to a great friend last weekend. Lizbeth Cullity, the U.N. Resident Coordinator and U.N.D.P. Resident Representative in Samoa, ended her four year term and in the following piece, she talks about her experience on our shores. She writes:

As I wrap up my work in Samoa, I contemplate the work and operations, as well as relations and friendships that I have been privileged to be a part of in my four short years in Apia. 

I arrived in November 2013 to take up the dual role of United Nations Resident Coordinator and U.N.D.P. Resident Representative for Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau. 

Having worked and lived in Haiti for over 20 years, I was familiar with living and working in a Small island developing State. Granted that the two countries are very different, in terms of environmental vulnerability, Samoa faces the same challenges as Haiti and other Small Island Developing States (S.I.D.S.) in the Pacific, the Caribbean and beyond.  

This challenge and others related to social, economic and political developments in S.I.D.S. were brought to the fore with the hosting of the Third International Conference on S.I.D.S. in September 2014 by the Government and people of Samoa.

The Conference was a great success, and provided a further opportunity for the international community to articulate its support for the different needs and special case of S.I.D.S. It was also an opportunity for Samoa and other S.I.D.S. to underscore their respective and collective priorities, challenges, and achievements. 

From the time of my arrival to the convening of the S.I.D.S. Conference, my colleagues and I had the immense pleasure of working and collaborating closely with the Government of Samoa and many senior government officials, development partners, civil society organisations (C.S.Os) and the private sector to help organise the Conference, as well as showcase the work of the United Nations system in Samoa, and in the Pacific. 

As an ardent and effective advocate for S.I.D.S., Samoa chose a theme focused on ‘sustainable development of S.I.D.S. through genuine and durable partnerships’. As emphasised in the outcome document, the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway, these partnerships have, and will continue to help provide the means to implement commitments for sustainable development going forward.

Early in my assignment, the Government of Samoa reiterated its call for the UN to ‘Deliver as One’. Based on this approach, U.N. agencies are encouraged to develop programmes where multiple agencies would work together to avoid having too many agencies with too many small projects working in parallel to one another.

With this task set for me, I embarked on a mission to consult the 10-12 agencies based in Apia at the time to look for ways to join forces. Rather than continuing in our individual paths, we needed to forge closer relations and collaboration, particularly on gender equality and youth empowerment as requested by the Government. 

Additionally, at the heart of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (adopted in 2015) was a simple principle: leave no one behind.

This too, in addition to Delivering as One, have been my mantra as we set about to implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. When we talk about improving the lives of the most vulnerable and reflect on how we are going to leave no one behind, it cannot be business as usual.

So, we went out and talked to the Government, as well as schools, communities, civil societies and the private sector. We gained a better understanding as to how we could make that investment best through the expertise of the local context, local language and rapport building to make sure that we have real partnerships. 

I was pleased therefore that with the assistance of my colleagues in the UN Country Team two joint programmes were developed in 2015. The F.A.O., I.L.O., U.N.D.P., U.N.E.S.C.O. and U.N.V. joined forces as part of the Samoa One-UN Youth Employment Programme (YEP) in partnership with Government of Samoa, and various C.S.Os and the private sector.

The One-UN Y.E.P. was developed to assist youth in developing knowledge and skills needed to enter the labour market, as well as provide them with additional support services to secure decent work opportunities in either formal or informal employment. 

The Samoa One-UN Y.E.P. has been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to support numerous initiatives, including enrolling 56 youth, some of whom were in conflict with the law, in vocational school. We also supported farming training in partnership with Women in Business in both Upolu and Savaii; specialised career training by the Samoa Culinary Association for young chefs and assistants; small business training by the Small Business Enterprise Centre; cultural training by the Samoa Culture Centre; and mentoring of young unemployed people for formal job interviews during two mass recruitment runs by major hotels and resorts in Apia. 

The Samoa One-U.N. Y.E.P. will continue to run in 2018, and will also endeavour to connect youth to jobs through an electronic hub (E-Hub) spearheaded by the Samoa National Youth Council, with links to the government’s main employment website. I look forward to hearing more about progress in finalizing the E-Hub and, more importantly, its uptake by Samoan youth in finding jobs, including in cocoa and organic farming.  

U.N.D.P. and U.N. Women came together to launch the Increasing the Political Participation of Women in Samoa Project (I.P.P.W.S.) in partnership with the governments of Samoa and Australia, and with the support of several local partner organisations. The Project sought to increase community awareness of the importance of ensuring women in Samoa are able to engage in political leadership, as well as to work with women candidates in the run up to the 2016 elections, and to work with political parties to raise awareness on gender issues. 

There is no doubt to the depth of leadership of the women of Samoa. 

We see, and hear them in government, businesses, civil society, in their congregations, and in their communities. Some 24 women ran in the 2016 general elections, and five now serve their constituencies in Samoa’s national Parliament. 

The I.P.P.W.S. highlighted for me the size of the task we continue to face - changing the mindsets around women’s roles in political leadership will take time and effort.

Everyone has a role to play, and progress will not always be even. And while the 2013 constitutional amendment was a great step forward, the need for a quota to reach 10 per cent, plus the fact that it had to be triggered in 2016 to reach 10 per cent, shows us that challenges remain.

A successor project to IPPWS is currently being developed, and I am certain this will yield more good progress for women, and Samoa. 

Come 2021, I hope there will be more women parliamentarians in Samoa without the need to trigger the 10 per cent quota. 

Samoa, like many S.I.D.S., lives at the frontline of climate change threats and sustainable development challenges. Devastation suffered by many during and in the aftermath of Cyclone Evan in 2012 highlighted our continued vulnerability to climate change.

Many will have seen steady progress and changes being made around the Vaisigano and Lelata areas, which are amongst the many energy, environment and U.N.D.P.-G.E.F. funded programmes undertaken in Samoa.

I want to highlight the importance of the approval by the Green Climate Fund in 2016 of a U.N.D.P.-facilitated climate change adaptation project focused on integrated watershed management for the Vaisigano River in Apia. 

This G.C.F. project will support concerted efforts by the Government to put in place a comprehensive flood management solution that will benefit over 26,528 people in the Vaisigano River catchment area, and 37,000 people indirectly. As we move into the cyclone season, I hope for fair weather and a quiet season for us all.  

During my four years in Samoa, I can say that much work was accomplished in close collaboration and partnership with the Samoa Government, C.S.Os and the private sector. Much more, however, remains to be done. 

The pace of change occurring around Samoa is unstoppable – and Samoa and her people are vulnerable to changes and opportunities that accompany globalisation.

Whatever the challenges, Samoa should not shrink from the opportunities of change. Through protecting the best of your culture and the willingness to embrace change where it is in your interest, Samoa can only reinforce its current position of influence among countries big and small.   

I cannot end this note without again thanking the Honourable Prime Minister and the Government and people of Samoa for your exceptional gesture of support and commitment to the United Nations through the One U.N. House – our new home at Tuanaimato. 

The One U.N. House represents a concrete step towards assisting the UN system fulfill a demand made by the Government of Samoa in 2012, and which all S.I.D.S. request through the Samoa Pathway, for the UN to deliver better, together. 

The One U.N. House will encourage collaboration between U.N. agencies and facilitate knowledge sharing and rapport building. The U.N. in Samoa is a strong and capable team.

We are devoted to ensuring respect for human rights, which means inclusive development, and to strengthening Samoa’s resilience in the face of climate change, amongst others.

The Agencies have grown in our capacity to formulate and implement joint initiatives, and going forward, I know that Samoa and the U.N. Country Team will continue to strengthen its relations and delivery to ensure that no one is left behind. 

I have enjoyed my time in Samoa immensely and I shall miss its lush greenness, the warmth and generosity of the Samoan people and the dear friendships I have made. 

As I return to the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations - this time in Bamako, Mali - to assume the position of Chief of Staff of the Multidimensional Stabilization Mission to Mali (M.I.N.U.S.M.A.), I am confident that this beautiful nation with its strong identity and traditional culture will continue to evolve as it should. 

Fa’afetai tele lava, Samoa.

27 November 2017, 12:00AM

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