"We all have a responsibility to engage"
says George Popanopolis, UNESCO agent
Monday, May 14, 2012
Early Saturday morning I had the pleasure of welcoming one of my favorite j-school professors back to America. It was easy enough to get hold of him early that particular morning because my UO journalism professor Dr. Peter Laufer hosts a local radio show on KPNW.
Laufer’s guest this weekend was George Papagiannis, a UNESCO Programme Specialist who was based in the UNESCO Communication and Information Sector in Iraq.
The discussion was centered around UNESCO’s influence in more than 190 countries around the world. What made this particularly relevant to now (among many other factors, ‘course) is that the US just pulled out from the agency after UNESCO accepted a new-member bid from Palestine.
Quite heavy for five minutes after waking from vague, bleary memories of dreamland--I’m not much of a morning person, especially on the weekend!
But really, I’m so glad I switched on the radio this morning. It had been tuned to KPNW since that’s the station that has the greatest reception -which means it’s a reliable station to tune your alarm clock to.
I’m sad I don’t have a class with Laufer this term, and was glad to listen in--especially since the topic was very relevant from a journalist’s perspective, both Laufer and his guest are journalists. I couldn’t help it, I had to call in. So after listening for several minutes and picking up the gist of the conversation, I decided to call in to the live-broadcast to ask a question.
So, for my question, I asked (in a very winded, Stacey-like manner) if he could go into what it was like to be embedded into countries that are experiencing high distress, if he perhaps had any experiences “as a journalist walking down the street” that may have more of a personal, close-to-home kind of feel. Basically I wanted to hear some touching stories of being face to face with people who have been so removed from the minds of Americans. Hearing something we can relate to is why I’m in this business. Empathy, education and awareness are gonna create some change a lot faster than complaining about the gas prices.
Anyways, he ended up having just the story: In addition to working in Iraq, Papagiannis worked on the border of Chad and Sudan where he developed a refugee program and its flagship program, She Speaks, She Listens, to combat gender-based violence in the war-wrecked border zone. “We crafted a program to give all women an opportunity to have their voices heard," said Papagiannis, "to empower them to speak out against the perpetrators of the crimes.”
He described “janjaweed” as “bandits in Sudan targeting these people in attempt to eradicate them. Women in particular were singled out, rape in war was used regularly,” he said, “The woman is considered to be the culprit and is ostracized from her community.”
The program offered women empowerment. With the war reaching an end, the fairer sex has become the demographic: “You have no men between 15 and 40 and you have old men,” said Papagiannis. So what’s left? Women. And UNESCO seems to be giving them the chance to finally believe in themselves.
“This was a remarkable achievement on our part,” said Papagiannis, “the stories of these women will always resonate with me for all of my life.”
Laufer and Papagiannis on the USA pulling out of UNESCO:
“Let’s make Palestine a state that’s recognized internationally” -Laufer
“I’m gonna book the tickets right now!” -Papagiannis
They kid, yet perhaps their kidding holds deeper meaning.
Thanks for reading! Leave a comment, I'd love to have feedback :)
But first, one little last note:
While Laufer was in Tunisia, he was at a conference where he had the opportunity to ask, “What advice do you have for us back in America?”
Their response: “Guard it protectively, you don’t know how easy it is to lose it.”
KPNW 1100 am on Sat. mornings, 7 to 9 am
KPNW’s Guest: George Papagiannis, Programme specialist, UNESCO
BSc in Biology & Environmental Studies (WWC)
MSc. in Journalism (UOregon)
You can find my published work in Eugene Weekly, Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife.