UN staff in Croatia mark UN Day with community service

Oct 24, 2013

Organic garden was planted at school with many Roma students./PHOTO: Gordan Dimić (UNICEF)

The United Nations agencies in Croatia devoted this year’s UN Day on 24 October to community service at a school in Zagreb not far from their offices. Some 60 UN employees dismantled an old metal shed, planted an organic garden and built a compost pile, mowed grass, raked leaves, and added to the graffiti decorations on the walls at the Dobriša Cesarić Elementary School in Zagreb. “Our aim in devoting UN Day to community service is to underline that the true mission of the UN, the daily work that keeps us energized and passionate, is to help people enjoy better lives,” said UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Louisa Vinton.

The location was chosen because the school is attended by a sizable number of Roma children. The full social inclusion of Roma is a shared priority for all UN agencies in Croatia, and UN Day offered an opportunity to draw attention to the importance of a quality education for all children, including those of Roma heritage. Statistics show that Roma are one of the most disadvantaged groups in Croatia: 92 percent of Roma live in relative poverty compared to 21 percent of the general population; only 26 percent of Roma in Croatia finish primary school against 99 percent of Croatian children overall; and 65 percent of working-age Roma are unemployed compared to 24 percent of the general population.

Representatives of seven different UN agencies participated in the community-service activities: the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank (WB) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The UN team was joined by the Croatian People's Ombudsman, Lora Vidović, the Ombudsman for Children, Mila Jelavić, the Deputy Head of the Office for Human Rights and the Rights of National Minorities, Aleksa Đokić, Ermila Pozaić from the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, and Muhamed Zahirović, the head of an umbrella organization of Roma NGOs called “Don't Be Afraid -- Madara,“ who proposed the Dobriša Cesarić Elementary School for this year's community service. 

After the community-service work was completed and students finished playing football and rope-climbing, UN staff enjoyed a hearty lunch of beans and sausages served in the school cafeteria. Gardening and sports equipment purchased for UN Day was donated to the school.