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Achieving Dreams: Interning for UNESCO New Delhi

By Larissa Prata Varella

Image 1: JPC Larissa Prata Varella


Since I started my bachelor’s degree in international relations back in 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, I have dreamed about an opportunity to work in the UN system. Fast forward 11 years – permeated by a Master of Science in Global Health pursued in Ireland, five years of working within the Education and Health sectors of Brazil and Angola, and a Master of International Public Policy obtained here in Canada – I have finally been given this experience through the International Internship Programme for the Students (IIPS). You may think that is an unusual path to follow, but hey, there are no straight paths nor right or wrong ones when it comes to following your dreams!


I am interning as a Junior Professional Consultant at the UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office. As this is a cluster office with a mandate covering six countries in South Asia – Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka – this opportunity allows me to learn about various cultures in the region. In addition, UNESCO New Delhi has several areas of expertise, including Education, Natural Sciences, Social and Human Sciences, Culture, Communication and Information, and Statistics. All these sectors work together to contribute to the agency’s mission and support the Member States.


Image 2: JPC Larissa Prata Varella's home office


My role is Programme Support to the Girls’ Education programs developed by the office’s Education Sector. This means that I get to be at the heart of the agency’s mission to build peace, eradicate poverty and drive sustainable development, mainly by providing regional education leadership. There are two other JPC interns on the team, one in-person in New Delhi and another working remotely like myself. Together we are responsible for editing drafted publications developed with UNESCO’s partners, creating communication-related materials, and participating and providing support in the conceptualization and development of several projects – including the launch of commemorative international days-related events.


With my academic and professional experiences in global health, I understand that girls’ education remains a strategic development priority for UN agencies and many governments worldwide, including India. Almost one-third of countries today significantly fall behind in gender parity in primary education, and less than half as many girls as boys are in lower secondary grades [1]. Even though education is a fundamental human right, many girls are prevented from getting a complete education in developing countries because they are expected to fulfill certain social roles or because of taboos regarding menstruation. In this context, daily challenges such as inadequate access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities, unavailability of menstrual care products, and inability to maintain their menstrual hygiene in a private, safe, and dignified manner results in school absenteeism.


In this context and in light of the commitments made by the Indian government during the 2022 Transforming Education Summit (TES), I am grateful that our primary focus has been working on projects related to initiatives that aim to keep girls in school by providing much necessary information regarding menstrual health and hygiene management (MHHM) to teachers, parents, and the community. Since the beginning of the internship in January, we have been supporting the final stages of the #KeepGirlsInSchool programme developed as a partnership between Procter & Gamble and UNESCO. The team and I have been reviewing drafts of teaching-learning modules on several topics – such as Disability and Nutrition - and ensuring gender and disability inclusivity to improve menstrual health and hygiene management (MHHM) and education in the country.


It has been a dream come true to take part in this experience and learn so much about the role of UNESCO New Delhi in reshaping local social taboos and misconceptions regarding menstruation and its efforts to leverage education in the region to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. I appreciate the learning opportunities I have had so far, and I look forward to the ones I will have in the upcoming months!


[1] Source: https://social.desa.un.org/sdn/promoting-girls-education-is-a-priority

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