(November 8, 2022 ) Working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Yemen, Somalia and Iraq, apart from India, has had a deep impact on how Hema Vinod looks at life. The International Education Specialist, who was associated with humanitarian efforts of UNHCR for two years and also spent 15 years with UNICEF, closely worked with refugees, internally displaced and disenfranchised communities. “I have become very adaptable seeing the resilience of people in conflict affected and troubled spots, in most cases leaving everything behind and living in camps and temporary locations. The women especially, as they cannot give up because of their children,” says Hema as she chats with Global Indian. “Their ability to adapt and take care of their children in all circumstances, has impacted me deeply,” she adds.
With a rich experience of more than three decades in the domain of education, Hema is now an author of two books (the first one is a bestseller while the second is in the process of being launched), a blog writer and a coach.
Taste of a different life
In 1990 Hema moved to Uganda when her husband was transferred there, taking their one-year-old son with them. By that time, she already had education experience in India including as Assistant Head Teacher of a school in Kolkata. She decided to continue her career in Uganda as well.
After several years of work in international schools in Uganda including her last position as Head of Department, she joined UNHCR as Education Advisor. ‘I was in-charge of the education programme of children of refugees who had come to Uganda from countries like Sudan, Congo, and Rwanda. The work involved teachers training, taking care of renovation of schools and other supporting initiatives to integrate the children of refugees into the country’s education system,” she says. Serving as an UNHCR employee to support displaced people in putting their lives back on track, she found a greater purpose in life.
Association with UNICEF
After working with UNHCR for two years, Hema joined the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as an Education Specialist. It widened her horizons as she spent the next 15 years reaching out to people in need. Her role was to look into the educational needs of children in disadvantaged and displaced communities.
Her first posting of UNICEF was in a small town in northern Uganda. Staying away from her family, she worked as a member of the field staff, providing quality education by ensuring schools and teachers met the standards of child friendly schools.
“In UNICEF, you cannot forever be in one place, you have to keep moving from one posting to another,” says Hema who travelled to places like Sri Lanka, Yemen, Jordan, Somalia and Iraq as part of UNICEF postings.
Most of the places where I worked were not family duty stations due to the insecurity which prevailed.
In 2009, her family moved back to India. Both her kids were in college then, while Hema travelled from one field site to another in conflict affected and insecure locations. “As an educationist, I was interested to serve the most disadvantaged children,” she says.
She could have chosen to work in India, leading a comparatively comfortable life, working in any school in Bengaluru where her family had settled down but Hema chose to follow her dream. “That work was challenging but very rewarding,” she says. Working for most disadvantaged children, reaching thousands of them, being involved in a vast variety of responsibilities in the realm of education and fulfilling her dream to work with UNICEF were reasons enough for her to keep travelling to those countries. She used to live in risk-prone nations, coming back to India regularly to spend time with family.
Getting affected and impacted
Talking about her experiences in war zones she says, “My colleague was kidnapped in Yemen and returned after 13 months. Some of my colleagues lost their lives in suicide attacks in Somalia. All this deeply affected me. Risk was always there but still I thought, let me work as much as I can.”
Working for displaced, disadvantaged and war-ravaged communities, adding some light to their lives, facilitating education of their children and focusing on women and their responsibilities of child rearing were giving meaning to her existence and that kept her going. “The security provided by UNICEF is very strong,” she mentions.
UNICEF takes very good care of security. But anything can happen anywhere. There is risk to life even if you are staying in a city like Mumbai.
Hema’s last posting was in Iraq. She returned to India in 2020 when the pandemic had just struck. “You really learn, you grow looking at different cultures, it gives a new perspective,” she says about her seventeen-year-long, very eventful association with UNHCR and UNICEF.
The second innings
The International Education Specialist, who holds a double Master’s Degree (MSc and MA, Education) and a B.Ed, loves to work and was not willing to hang up her boots after the association with UNICEF ended. To give her career new direction she enrolled into an 11-month course at iPEC which is an International Coaching Federation (ICF)-accredited coach training programme. She wanted to brush up her skills as she coached youngsters to help them transition into successful adults.
Hema also realised that coaching was not the only thing that she wanted to do, and wrote her first book, Parenteening Made Simple for parents of teens in 2021. “Teenagers are my niche,” says the author. Her second book, Girl Empower Yourself is aimed at supporting girls in their growing up years.
Youngsters need a lot of support and the way in which their parents bring them up determines what they turn out to be.
Whether it is skilling up parents to raise their children well or imparting life skills to youngsters, her goal is to help the younger generation turn into robust, empathetic and resilient adults.
Hema also contributes to blogsites and is collaborating with life coaches for a project called Teen Saheli. “It is in the initial phases and we are trying to collaborate with schools to give life skills sessions to students,” says the author, who is all set to give a talk at Women’s Economic Forum in Delhi next month.
The multifaceted educationist who is originally from Kerala grew up in West Bengal studying at Calcutta Girls school and Loreto College. “I love the kind of work I have been doing, it’s like working for yourself,” she signs off.
- Follow Hema Vinod on LinkedIn