Work Uninterrupted

April 29, 2020

Shops closed in Jerusalem as a precautionary measure following COVID-19. ©UNDP/PAPP – Ahed Izhiman

It is 6.45 in the morning and my alarm goes off. I wake up and realize that I am not in Jerusalem, but in my cosy bedroom in the Hague, in the Netherlands. For the past weeks I have been leading the UNDP/PAPP office remotely, an almost surreal experience. A quick visit home to support my aging parents turned into a long term stay after my flights were cancelled twice, and no flights were scheduled anymore between Amsterdam and Tel Aviv. So I have had to adjust accordingly, and am, like so many people around the globe, working from home.

Once I realized I would be in The Hague for the long haul, I set up a small table in the bedroom, and, given the one hour time difference, I make sure every day that the room is cleared for work by 8 am, or sometimes even earlier to be ready for the many meetings and calls. As for so many people, my days are now dominated by the COVID-19 virus. Though the number of cases and fatalities in the State of Palestine are quite limited, the movement restrictions and measures are severe, seriously impacting UNDP in the implementation of its ongoing programmes, and also requiring us to reflect on how our mandate and comparative advantage in the State of Palestine can position us to help mitigate the effect of the virus on the Palestinian people.

Yvonne Helle, UNDP Special Representative of the Administrator leading UNDP/PAPP office from the Hague

Unlike many of the humanitarian agencies, UNDP has invested less in the direct, humanitarian focused response, though we are part of the special humanitarian task team, and more on the medium and longer term impact of the pandemic on the socio-economic recovery, with as first initiative the creation of a recovery team in support of the inter-ministerial task force in the Prime Minister’s office.

So, on Mondays and Thursdays my day starts with a meeting with the Heads of Agencies, led by the Resident Coordinator dialling in colleagues from Gaza, to take stock of the situation and discuss the way forward. Resources have been allocated from the pooled Humanitarian fund to meet the most important humanitarian needs, and UNDP has received US$750,000 to buy a second industrial microwave to help with the treatment of medical waste in Gaza, something already very much needed before the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, but even more important now.

Once that meeting concludes, I run to the kitchen to refill my coffee cup and immediately go back to my computer to meet with the UNDP management team, something we do on a weekly basis. Aside from the normal agenda items, such as project implementation, delivery, audit follow-up, etc. the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has started to take up a lot of our time. This meeting we discuss our ongoing response in Gaza, our support to the Palestinian government and the bright minds we are recruiting to support their rolling out of the recovery plan. Once satisfied, we all agree on the way forward, I take a moment to check and reply to the most urgent emails, and get ready to join the weekly call with the Director of the Regional Bureau, and the Resident Representatives and the Deputies of our Region. This always proves a good moment to better understand the corporate direction of UNDP in the crisis, to get an update of the ongoing discussions at the highest level in New York, to exchange with other Country Offices and to ensure that our local information feeds into the corporate thinking and vice versa.

Weekly management meeting through Zoom

Freshly backed bread at home

Tulip season at the Netherlands

By now my stomach is rumbling and I can smell that my daughter has produced another amazing sour dough bread. So I return to the kitchen to quickly cut off a slice and eat it while preparing for a next round of calls and webinars, and to respond to the many requests for guidance and information that reach me every day, but also to make sure I follow-up on the results of the meetings and the many commitments we have as UNDP.

Every week I check in with several of our donors and partners, and this afternoon a call is scheduled with the new Representative of Norway, who arrived in Jerusalem in the middle of quarantine, , not being able to move freely while starting her assignment.

With the UN setting out the COVID-19 socio-economic recovery plan, UNDP will be leading on the roll out of the plan in the UN Country Team, of course under the overall leadership of the Resident Coordinator. After another round of email replies and a quick read of the many documents I close my computer. Somehow these days behind my computer have proven to be tiring, and since we are allowed to walk around in the Netherlands as long as we practice physical distancing rules, I go for a long walk with my daughter before dinner.

Spring in the Netherlands is amazing, and I have not had the opportunity to be home during spring since I started working for UNDP 28 years ago. I now take full advantage, buying the spring flowers for which we are famous, and enjoying the many trees in bloom. When I return home, dinner is almost ready, thanks to my husband who is an amazing chef. I wrap up my day by doing my Arabic homework. Even though my days are long I have started learning (Jerusalem) Arabic, and love taking some time to study every day as the language slowly unfolds itself to me. I am looking forward to test my newly acquired language skills upon my return.