Yakkers Corner: Muriel Speaks with Agop Kayayan, Former Executive of UNICEF and “Broker for Children” Part 1
Agop Kayayan a Lebanese of Armenian descent studied agriculture at the American University of Beirut ( 1962-1965) and then finished a M.Sc. in Rural Sociology(1965-1968). After working for two years at the UN Office in Beirut, he obtained a Ph.D. at the Ohio State University. He worked at the Ministry of Agriculture in the area of agricultural policies to reduce the price of staple foods. After that he spent twenty two wonderful years with UNICEF in Brazil ( 1978-1980), Guatemala Area Office for Central America ( 1980-1990), and back to Brazil from 1991 to 1998.
After early retirement from UNICEF, Agop founded an NGO called Institute of Child and Adolescent Rights. He served as board member of various Brazilian NGOs. At present Agop does consulting work in the areas of policy elaboration, negotiating for children’s and women’s rights, and fundraising.
FLASHBACK TO DAYS OF TRANQUILITY IN WAR TORN AREAS TO FACILITATE THE VACCINATION OF CHILDREN
I moved to the Guatemala Area Office which covered seven countries. I was responsible for three countries. Except for Nicaragua, where we had a very small office, the other two had no UNICEF staff. When Tony Kennedy ( another excellent guru for a newcomer like me) moved to Bangladesh, I was appointed as representative for Central America. Three of the seven countries were immersed in a sad civil war: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. The others had constant ” security” problems because of these wars. How do you help children in countries at war? You have to be crazier and more daring than the warriors…
Of the seven countries, four had disastrous indicators for child health and education. One was a world model of quality of education and health for children: Costa Rica. No army. After ten years of work in Central America, I was appointed representative to the country I loved deeply. I even had to make a personal promise to stop smoking… From 1991 to 1998 we had to deal with a very different set of problems and at a much larger scale. The problems and solutions at hand were extraordinary.
Jim Grant, our Executive Director at the time, called me one day. He started telling me about a cocktail party at the UN. I could not guess where he would go from there. The next sentence was that he had met the President of El Salvador and had suggested that El Salvador should have 80% of its children vaccinated. When the President told him about the civil war making it very hard, Mr Grant suggested a cease fire which would make it possible to vaccinate children. Next he asks me to organize the days of tranquility… When I said that he needed a new representative to do it, his reply was that he could understand that I was joking and that I could surely make the arrangements. How do you resist to such charm? The next day I was in San Salvador where I had two meetings, one with the Minister of Health and the other with the Archbishop of San Salvador. One was our channel to the government and the military, the other to the guerrilla with which we could not negotiate directly. Both men were committed to the cause of children.
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