– I entered the conference hall of the UNICEF office in Minsk and I could not believe my eyes. I perceived these photos here, in Belarus, as a link between my present-day self and my past, – says Tanja Radocaj, UNICEF Representative in Belarus. Tanja was born in Croatia, she worked there for a long time, then she also worked in Bulgaria and Armenia, and she has been working in Belarus since 2020.
The photo shows a group of children in a desert in Egypt. They are looking at the words “nasa skola (Serbo-Croatian for “our school”) inscribed on the sand. The photo was taken in El Shatt refugee camp. The children were brought there from the territory of the modern-day Croatia at the end of World War II.
– About 40,000 persons lived in the camp,– continues Tanja Radocaj. – Can you imagine – it was like a real city! My aunt Anna lived there for two and a half years. She was 14 years old, when she came there. Her immediate family – her mother, brothers and sisters – stayed in their homeland.
– I heard many stories about the camp when I was a child. How they lived there, how they fought off the desert wind, how they ate stuff that they had never tasted at home before. And there were particularly many stories about the school and other activities arranged for them by the adults.
The photo was taken in 1946 – the year when the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) was established.
– The process had been launched even before the UNICEF’s official emergence. They helped the children, set up the school and settled them down. And the children were able to use the knowledge gained in El Shatt in future. Thus, as it turned out, my aunt received a better education in the camp than her siblings who stayed at home. Owing to the El Shatt school she was able to resume education in Croatia.
You know, it is very important, when children get help. They grow up and realize their dreams then. I have met many persons who were helped in childhood. They all have grown up to be great people. Moreover, they began to help others.
When I got acquainted with Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations from 2007 to 2016, he told me: “You know, UNICEF was there to help me when I most needed it. Therefore, I have a high respect for that organization”.
This is what inspires me, helps me to keep faith in the course of our organization and continue the work. After all, I wanted to help people as early as my childhood.
I was a bit of an unusual child. I always watched the news keeping an eye on the developments in the world. I never missed the newscasts about the events in Vietnam. I was worried about the people during the Biafra/Nigeria independence war. They had a big crisis there, with people dying of hunger. For me, even as a child, it was part of the surrounding world. And I wanted to be involved in these events in order to be able to help.
75 years have passed since the time the photo was taken in the refugee camp in Egypt in 1946. UNICEF also marks its 75th anniversary in 2021.
– Today, I would like to point at the two key principles of UNICEF operations.
From the first days, UNICEF was built on the idea of solidarity and helping children. It was very difficult to create an organization like UNICEF in 1946. It was not easy to help all children, regardless of nationality, since the world was divided into those who won the war and who lost it.
Still, the basic rule of our work is that we always take the side of the child. We do not undertake to judge who is right and who is wrong. We work for children so that they do not suffer. And so that they have a better future.
And, it is also essential that UNICEF has always worked and kept its operations running largely at the expense of voluntary donations. Therefore, UNICEF stands for people of good will and partnership. By making their donations, people express their solidary with children. All these principles underlie our operations in the modern world.