UNICEF Fantasia

If I could cry out in the name of all the suffering children in Romania and elsewhere, loud enough for all the world to hear, I would do it. I want to shout at the top of my lungs: “Stop whatever you are doing and reinvent yourselves, because business as usual just isn’t working.” More children are born into poverty every day than the number of children saved by UNICEF over a period of ten years.

I couldn’t cry out, and so I created a work I have titled UNICEF Fantasia. From the outset, I want to say that the imaginary character, the UNICEF unicorn, is a symbol that would stand equally well for other similar international and local organizations.

I decided on UNICEF for two reasons. Firstly because UNICEF is the organisation from which I have the greatest expectations. It is the gold standard for both what the humanitarian industry has aimed to be and what it has become.

Secondly, in the seven years since I first witnessed the terrible abuses to which tens of thousands of Roma children are victim, I have to conclude, with sadness, that I have never met a UNICEF employee on the ground. I haven’t seen anybody from UNICEF either before or during such abuses, nor have I seen anybody from UNICEF take a stand when hundreds of thousands of children were left homeless because of abuses on the part of the authorities.
If UNICEF does not manage in the short term to protect the rights of children who find themselves in vulnerable situations because of attacks on the part of the authorities, what can you expect from their various medium- and long-term programs?

After the country joined the EU, UNICEF Romania ceased to be funded by the network and had to seek alternative sources of funding. This is how it came to develop various partnerships with the Romanian Government and other state institutions.

In partnership with the biggest abuser of the Roma, UNICEF was only partly able to defend the rights of Roma children, let alone promote them.
Lack of funding is always blamed, but budget limitations cannot justify the abandonment of hundreds of thousands of children who have been evicted from their homes, a widespread abuse.

According to the World Bank, more than sixty per cent of the families that live on or below the poverty line in Romania do not have ownership documents for the land on which they have built their hovels or houses. Not even the rate of illiteracy is so high. But who could think about schooling when permanently threatened with eviction by the mayor?

From my seven years experience of social work, I can say that not much remains of the noble idea of protecting children: on the one hand, Romania has the worst rate of children not receiving an education, the highest number of child pregnancies, and so on, but on the other hand, it’s trendy, glamorous even, to work for UNICEF.

A lot of the time, the people who end up working for organizations such as UNICEF are the friends and relatives of politicians. The salaries, offices, trips abroad, sumptuous conferences, and above all status it brings make it a highly attractive world. Compassion and above all efficacy take second place to communications budgets and posh ambassadors. Not voluntary work with children but celebrity recommend you as an ambassador.

Rivalry over budgets and positions in the hierarchy, fundraising, and advertising have all but wiped compassion off the agenda.  Strangely, in the UNICEF mission statement there is no specific mention of Roma children, Romania’s most vulnerable group, although it makes reference to children from other vulnerable minority groups.
You might say that they want to talk about children in general. I would even believe it if on their website there were a single mention of the UNICEF Photo of the Year prize I won in 2011: coincidentally or not, the winning photograph shows a Roma child.

Ultimately, my concern is not UNICEF or other similar organizations, but the children they fail to help, citing self-imposed limitations. It is unjust to talk about the well-being of every single child and then abdicate that statement, promoting only the well-being of the children featured in your own campaigns. It is unjust that your partnerships with the state should oblige you not to take a stand against the grave infringement of children’s rights by the Romanian state itself.
In this series, I aim to draw attention to all these things and to make people think. I hope that in the end, based on this constructive criticism, such organizations will re-evaluate their work and make children their priority once more.

It is possible that they may try to block the dissemination of this humanitarian manifesto on the grounds that permission to use their name and logo has not been granted. But it is wrong not to have the right to criticize a humanitarian trademark that relies on the state budget and charitable donations, but to have the right to make jokes about Jesus or Mohammed. It would be even more wrong for them to demand compensation from me for tarnishing their image. In the name of the children and in order to help them, I declare myself guilty from the start, and I request that as a punishment I be made to do voluntary work for UNICEF.

For almost eight years I have fought to place on the public agenda the need to stop forced evictions and to adopt a solution regarding property rights to the land on which thousands of homes have been built. The lack of any clear legislation and above all any knowledge of the existing legislation make this an extremely difficult task. Above all, it is an extremely unpopular task, which I have to fund from my own resources. Everything I could otherwise put aside for my family, foregoing holidays and personal expenses, I spend on helping and promoting the cause of Roma children. If not even this work brings about a change of priorities–a home and an education rather than education without a home–I will admit defeat and give up this Sisyphean labour.
Finally, I invite you to reflect: if tomorrow all the employees of the NGOs and humanitarian organizations began to be paid based on performance alone (without a basic monthly salary), how many of them would carry on working for the good of the children?

PS: you should check this out too: https://www.unicef.de/informieren/aktuelles/photo-of-the-year/contest-2011/-/mugur-varzariu/107580

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