Americans in the UN

The United States and the United Nations have an important relationship.

The UN was founded in San Francisco and its headquarters is in New York. The U.S. is a permanent member of the Security Council. And a strong partnership between the U.S. and the UN have helped stop pandemics, address security threats, reduce hunger, enable more children to go to school, and stabilize fragile countries through peacekeeping.

In addition, many Americans work at the UN, helping improve the lives of people in the U.S. and around the world. Here are some of their stories:

Rachel Moynihan, UN Population Fund (UNFPA)

Rachel, born and raised in Virginia, works as an Advocacy and Communications Specialist at UNFPA.

In 2016, Moynihan (center) and colleagues met with Syrian refugees who live in Jordan.

On her message to Americans about the UN: “JFK said it best in his inaugural address, when he characterized the UN as the ‘last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace.’ In a moment where real fears of nuclear proliferation and extremism dominate our headlines, I believe a space for sovereign nations to gather in peace has never been more important.”

On how the UN makes a difference in people’s lives: “In the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, I met a new mom and her baby, who was just hours old. She was so grateful that he was born healthy and happy at the sole maternity ward in the camp. That maternity ward, run by UNFPA, was established with financial support from the United States government. The partnership of the United States and UNFPA was reflected on the side of the baby’s bassinet, which had two stickers: the UNFPA logo and an American flag.

“I will never forget that moment — seeing my home country’s flag alongside UNFPA’s logo just inches from the baby’s head.”

Chris Boian, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Chris, who was born on the Fort Sill Army Base in Oklahoma and grew up outside of Denver, Colorado, today serves as a spokesperson for UNHCR.

Boian plays basketball with Syrian and Afghan refugee children living in a makeshift shelter on the Greek island of Leros in May 2016.

On what motivates him to work for the UN: “Things like human dignity, freedom of choice, and human rights are values that I, coming from a Marine Corps family in the United States, was brought up to cherish and respect as values that are woven deeply into the fabric of my country. I am proud to be an American, I want to serve my country, and I regard my work within the UN as supporting both American and broader human values.”

On his message to Americans about the UN: “I believe engagement with the world furthers the good of all and furthers the good of the United States. It is in the interest of the United States to support the work we do, to support refugees and programs to address their needs, not just because it is the moral thing to do, but also because it promotes peace and stability on the planet in general and in parts of the world that are of vital importance to the United States.”

Amy Auguston, World Food Programme (WFP)

Amy, who grew up in Long Island, New York, works as a Communications Specialist for WFP.

Auguston, on mission for WFP and UN Women in Ethiopia, in 2012.

On her message to Americans about the UN: “The UN is not only in our geopolitical interests, but it also reflects our greatest and deepest values — those of justice, human rights, democracy, and caring and benevolence toward others. Now more than ever, we need to stand up for what’s right, and the UN is a powerful platform where we can make our voices heard.”

On what motivates her work for the UN: “The UN has a mandate like no other — to bring peace and to foster development throughout the world. I’m motivated every day to help reach these goals through feeding those in need.”

On how the UN makes a difference in people’s lives: “I’ve seen so many examples! In Ethiopia, I met women who had learned to read and write as a direct result of the UN’s intervention, and I met children who were previously hungry, but now thriving thanks to food distributions by the UN. In Sierra Leone, I met men and women receiving life-saving health care from clinics supported by the UN. In particular, I remember the women who had lived with obstetric fistula for years, who received surgery to repair their bodies and restore their lives. The women would dance and sing with joy as they thanked the UN for its help!”

Eric Husketh, UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI)

Eric, who grew up in Creedmoor, North Carolina, works as a human rights officer.

Husketh (left) leads a community discussion on LGBT rights in Kosovo.

On his message to Americans about the UN: “The values of the UN are the values of the USA. You might not see it, but the UN really is making your world a better place, solving problems that no country, not even America, could ever tackle alone.”

On how the UN makes a difference in people’s lives: “I’ve seen first-hand how UN judicial and human rights processes allow people who have been though horrible things to tell their story and be heard. We can’t always stop bad things from happening, and we can’t always fix afterwards the pain that people have endured. But listening to people and taking them seriously and telling the world about their lives I think makes a profound difference to individuals and their communities.”

Tina Hinh, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Tina, an Assistant Resettlement Officer with UNHCR, grew up in Houston, Texas, after her family fled Vietnam to Malaysia and then were resettled as refugees in the U.S.

Hinh at her office.

On how she learned about the UN: “The UN plays so much into my personal story. The UN was there at the refugee camp when I was born, helping out my parents with assistance and being a presence at the camp. I would hear my parents talk about their experiences. So I would say my first time hearing about the UN is it being a force for good and helping people in the most desperate situations.”

On why the UN is important to Americans: “The UN is important because we are more connected than ever, and we need a place where people can work together on a global level because there are things that happen across borders. Whether it’s displacement of people or climate change, we need a forum to work in the global interest. There are people whose voices are louder than others, and there are other people whose voices can’t be heard as much — having a forum where those voices are more level is incredibly important.

“One thing that a lot of people may not understand is that our colleagues are on the front lines, putting their lives in danger, and they are doing it because they truly believe in the mission and the mandate of our agency — that if we’re not there, there is not going to be anyone there to provide food, shelter, and protection.”

Sean Kane, UN Department of Political Affairs (DPA)

Sean, from Worchester, Massachusetts, works for DPA on the Syria desk and has previously worked for the UN in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kane in Iraq.

On his message to Americans about the UN: “In Iraq, I was working on territorial disputes between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs Iraqis in northern Iraq. As part of that work we needed to go out to all these disputed areas, which include Mosul and Tal Afar and some of the most dangerous parts of the country. We had security escorts from the U.S. military, and I would talk to the soldiers there, and they made it clear that they wanted to support everything we were doing because they saw the link between our work, stability in the area, and their ability to go back home in a responsible fashion.”

On what motivates him to work for the UN: “For me — and this is particularly my experiences in the field — it’s the combination of the intellectual challenge and the purpose that you’re working for. When you’re trying to mediate between different groups in a country like Iraq or Afghanistan, and you don’t have the leverage of economic resources or military power, the value you add is ultimately the quality of the ideas you propose and helping people to be able to look at their disputes in a different way.

“So it’s the combination of this intellectual challenge and being able to put it in service of the public good like trying to help stabilize or mitigate conflict in countries where conflict has been going on so long, where the people there have suffered so much, and the consequences of conflict have been so great for the region and the world.”

Jason Hepps, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Jason, from Hillsborough, California, works as a Senior Regional Protection Coordinator for UNHCR in Jordan, Turkey, and Syria.

Hepps (right) in Syria with a partner and displaced Syrians who were picking up UNHCR blankets.

On what motivates him to work for the UN: “I think about my family, and particularly my children. Then I think about the millions of children whose lives are unfairly disrupted by conflict, and the pain of their parents who — at no fault of their own — cannot give their children the same opportunities as I give my own. I see my job with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees as doing whatever I can to bridge that gap — any step toward it is incredibly motivating and rewarding.”

On how the UN makes a difference in people’s lives: “In Liberia, a country completely destroyed by war, the UN is known to have provided safe havens during exile and through its peacekeeping and reconstruction and reintegration efforts, providing stability and hope to a country in need.”

On his favorite part of his job: “Working with people who are determined to re-build their lives and being just a small piece of that re-building.”

Sona Bari, World Health Organization (WHO)

Sona, who grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, serves as the team lead for WHO’s communications on polio eradication.

Bari notes that the world is “this close” to ending polio.

On what motivates her to work for the UN: “Corny as it sounds, I work here because it makes a difference. Every child vaccinated is a child saved from a deadly disease, and I know my work contributes to that. Working in the UN is also a lesson in humility: you learn how much better someone else’s solution is, how much more equitable someone else’s society is.”

“ As an American, I feel strongly that we should be an important part of the global community within the UN.”

On how she first learned about the UN: “From my father’s work as an international human rights lawyer working for refugees. But I didn’t come to the UN until much later, after a career in journalism. My father joined the UN when I was a teenager, and while I absorbed a lot from conversation with him at home, it was one particular experience that drove its importance home to me. One day, I got in a taxi in Paris and started chatting to the driver, who was a refugee from Vietnam. When I told him that my father worked for the UN Refugee Agency, he told me his story — with tears in his eyes and his voice — of how they fled the country and how he spent years in a refugee camp before being settled in France: ‘Tell your father, if it were not for people like him, I would not be alive today.’ He refused payment for the taxi ride.”

Catherine Bauman, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

Catherine, from Danville, Virginia, works as a Child Protection Specialist with UNICEF in East Africa.

Bauman speaks with women leaders in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

On what motivates her to work for the UN: “I’m motivated by the conviction that all children deserve a chance in life. The future is bright if we invest in our children through improving quality and access to education, water, health, nutrition, and protection services. The United Nations brings together countries around the world with a shared commitment for delivering effective programming and advocacy with and for children.”

On her message to Americans about the UN: “The United Nations delivers critical assistance in some of the hardest-to-reach areas of the world and supports development based on evidence of what works.

“United States leadership and engagement is important to the success of this great experiment and commitment to humanity.”

Brenden Varma, UN Department of Public Information (DPI)

Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Brenden has worked for the UN since 2002 in the Department of Political Affairs and currently in the Department of Public Information.

In 2013, Varma helped launch the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia, which supports the country’s government in areas such as human rights and and governance.

On what motivates him to work for the UN: “I know the UN is not a perfect organization — because it’s made up of people, and people are not perfect. But the overall goals of the UN, like defending human rights, empowering women, and protecting the most vulnerable are ones that I can get behind. And every night, I can go to bed knowing that I work for an organization that I believe in.”

On a memorable experience: “One of my most memorable experiences was traveling to Antarctica with former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2007. We took journalists with us because our goal was to highlight how climate change was leading to glaciers melting, which was bad for our planet. I like to think that we helped draw attention to a worrying phenomenon and made people realize that climate change couldn’t be tackled by just one country alone, but required a global response.”

Nancy Groves, UN Department of Public Information (DPI)

Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Nancy leads social media for the UN Department of Public Information.

Groves (right) gives an update to Secretary-General António Guterres about the UN and its use of social media.

On what motivates her to work for the UN: “I firmly believe that international cooperation is key to peace, safety, security, and equality for all, so it’s so rewarding to see that work happening at UN headquarters. Whether its on issues big or small, every day you see people working to make critical decisions on things that affect the lives of everyone.”

On her message to Americans about the UN: “As a communicator, the big challenge is making sure that everyone understands that rather complex work is going on all the time, even when it doesn’t make the news. It’s important that the UN is a neutral place where people can come together to talk about issues of all kinds.”

Erica Bower, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Erica was raised in New York City and Connecticut and works as an Associate Climate Change and Disaster Displacement Officer at UNHCR.

Bower speaks during COP 21.

On her message to Americans about the UN: “Americans, as all citizens of the planet, have a responsibility to care about what occurs beyond our borders, as we live in an increasingly interconnected world. We can’t ignore that so many flows — large movements of refugees, carbon dioxide emissions and other pollution, and financial transactions, just to name a few — cross borders each and every day. We are facing global challenges that require global solutions — and the UN is a part of that picture.”

Larry Bottinick, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR)

Larry, from the Maryland/Washington, D.C. area, is a Senior Protection Officer with UNHCR.

Bottinick sits with a child he met in a refugee camp in 1991. In 2017, she used Facebook to reconnect with him.

On his message to Americans about the UN: “The U.S. should be proud of its support to UNHCR and the refugee cause and continue it, both a smart investment and an ethical one.”

On what motivates him to work for the UN: “What motivates me is the ability to make a positive difference in people’s lives. I sent you a picture of me and a Vietnamese child in 1991 when I lived on Galang Island, Indonesia, in a Vietnamese/Cambodian refugee camp. She had that picture and my first name and found me with Facebook messenger in 2017 to express her gratitude.”

M. Catherine “Kati” Maternowska, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

Kati grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and works as the Lead on Data and Evidence within the Global Partnership to End Violence.

Growing up, Maternowska spent her Halloweens collecting money for UNICEF through its trick-or-treat program.

On what motivates her to work for the UN: “I believe in government and as an American, born into one of the most democratic governments in the world, I particularly value what civil servants can contribute — even when the Head of State may not fully represent or protect the rights of its constituency. Because of its neutral positioning, I think the UN has huge leveraging power to create a better world for all, and in my case within UNICEF, for children and young people around the world.”

On how the UN makes a difference in people’s lives: “In Peru, where I worked through UNICEF Innocenti and with UNICEF Peru CO and the Government of Peru, we collaborated on a study on the Drivers of Violence Affecting Children. The study was designed to ‘recycle’ existing data and to build capacity for statisticians and child protection experts to analyze their own data through their own national lens. In the process of doing this, the Peruvian Government started taking ownership, accountability, and action — reallocating their budget to violence prevention work, uncovering and analyzing data that was previously too shocking and devastating to understand, and using a multi-stakeholder and mixed methods approach to generate evidence proving how harmful corporal punishment is to children’s math, verbal, and self-esteem scores over time. We used the data in Parliament, and we helped pass a longstanding reform of the law on Corporal Punishment. Laws aren’t everything, but when implemented they can protect children — this was a huge victory, contributing to legal reform and new types of implementation of programming.

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