Jiesselinde González: 35 years of UN service in Panama

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On Thursday, September 24, the City of Knowledge Foundation organized a ceremony honoring Jiesselinde Gonzalez, Information Officer of the United Nations Information Centre in Panama (CINUP), for her 35 years of working in the United Nations System.

Representing the City of Knowledge Foundation were Professor Jorge Arosemena, Executive President, Irene Perurena, Executive Vice President, Eduardo Araújo, Vice President for Communications, Rolando Armuelles, Vice President for Business Development and various managers at the CDS. On behalf of the United Nations System the event counted with the presence of Martín Santiago, Resident Coordinator of the UN System in Panama, and several other colleagues of Jiesselinde González, both from CINUP as well as from several agencies of the System.

The United Nations Information Centre in Panama (CINUP) is located at building 128 of the City of Knowledge and is open from Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For more information go to: http://www.cinup.org/ or write to unic.panama@unic.org.

Jiesselinde González interview

How did you arrived at the United Nations?

In 1980 I started working on a forestry development project with FAO. We planted pinus caribea, hondurensis variety, in the desert of La Yeguada. Today it is a tourist area in Santiago de Veraguas. While I was there I heard that they would open a United Nations Information Centre in Panama CINUP; I applied for the position of Administrative Assistant and I got it. So that’s how I entered the United Nations. Thirteen years after a journalist vacancy opened, I also applied and got it. Only I had to return to the University to validate subjects to take get my title as a journalist and I kept studying to take a Masters in Advertising and Marketing. At the United Nations, if you want to stay productive, you can’t stop studying.

How and when was the CINUP created? What is your role?

The UN General Assembly, Resolution 13 (I), 1946 stated that "the United Nations can not achieve its purposes unless the peoples of the world are fully informed of its aims and activities". We are the main local source of relevant, complete and timely information about the United Nations and its System of Agencies, Funds and Programs. Among our functions we promote, educate, raise awareness on priority issues of the Organization to mobilize public opinion in support of our goals and principles. We work with various stakeholders to implement, on a local level, the UN global vision based on three pillars: peace and security; Human Rights, rule of law, humanitarian affairs; and sustainable human development.

In Panama it started its functions in 1985 as an achievement of the country. Dr. Jorge E. Illueca made it one of his achievements when he was President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1983. Dr. Illueca was the only Panamanian who has held the top job at the United Nations as President of the UN General Assembly. After the Secretary General, this is the most important position in the organization.

What other positions did you have before you were the National Information Officer? You once mentioned that in your opinion, the passion for what we do is essential. What makes you passionate about working at the United Nations?

Before being National Information Officer I was an Administrative Assistant, both at FAO as well as in CINUP. I love what I do because I got to transform lives. My job allows me to make a difference in the lives of people, young people. For this you have to believe in what you do, speak from the soul. That makes a big difference. And you realize that you managed to reach people, when they say things like "you sowed in me the seed of the debate, and since then I have not stopped participating in them"; people like Hugo Wood, David Bernal, Corina Rueda, Patricia Rogers, Michelle Lau, Rubén Cruz, Jermaine Cumberbatch... the list is long. We contributed to their training as youth leaders. They are outstanding people. The living proof that you can make a difference in people's lives.

What has been your hardest and most rewarding story within the United Nations? What lessons has each of them taught you?

The most gratifying was that the UN believed in me and my potential even though I was a young 20 year old woman. That marked me and represented a responsibility to both my country (because the CINUP is financed by the Government of Panama through the Chancellor's office), as well as to the United Nations, an international organization that believed that another Panamanian could lead an Information Centre.

Everything I've lived in my personal and professional life I did while in the United Nations. I strengthened as a human being from everything good and bad that happened to me, I discovered forces I didn’t even know I had, they made me stronger and helped make me the woman and professional I am today. I feel full, happy and complete. Ready to start a new adventure with the knowledge and experience that age brings, in this new phase of my life.

Could you highlight some milestones in your career?

Yes, when the University of La Paz gave me an honorary doctorate; when I was appointed by the Lions as Peace Ambassador and Honorary Lion. I never worked expecting any recognition. I did it for love and because I believed in what I did and I always thought that from where you work you have to make a difference. To give the extra mile and touch lives, it is the minimum expected of a human being. A little to give back to society the blessings you have received in life.

What (national or global) historical moments did you live during your years at the United Nations?

The invasion of Panama on a national level. I remember the UN Resolution which arrived by fax saying the United States had to immediately leave Panama; I remember all the people that called us, some saying we had to invade Panama and others saying that we could not do that. People thought we were part of the American Embassy. They were very hard moments in everyone's life.

Internationally, September 11, date of the terrorist act against the United States, I saw it live in the television’s office. All officers stopped and we turned towards the TV and could not believe what was happening. It was 8:30 a.m.

You recently received the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, in Panama. Could you tell us about this experience? Have you had a chance to meet other Secretary Generals? What struck you about them?

Yes, I’ve worked directly with 4 to 8 UN Secretary Generals. I worked as assistant to Javier Pérez de Cuellar’s Secretary when he came to Panama in the 80's. Boutros Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan I met several times as Journalist of the Department of Public Information of the UN, we always had access to both. And for Ban Ki-moon I got to be part of the country team during both times he came to Panama.

What always struck me was the humility of all of them; simple people with great people skills, aware of the responsibility they had on their shoulders. Kofi Annan radiated spirituality; he gave me a feeling of being with a spiritually superior being. That experience was beautiful. With Ban Ki-moon the first time he came to Panama (in 2007) there was a blackout in the city, we were at the Sheraton Hotel and I remember that security shoved us into the office and we sat and talked like two friends. The last time he came I asked him for a hug. I said, "I have dedicated 35 years of my life to the UN, the least I want is a hug from you." And he gave me a strong one as well!

What would you say are the main challenges of communication in Panama for an Agency like the United Nations?

We need greater coherence of efforts and greater commitment so that our communication can reach the people we owed ourselves to: the peoples of the world. The major challenges facing the world (wars, humanitarian crises, extremism, poverty, inequality, climate change and environmental degradation), requires us to be at the top of the circumstances.

What do you leave as your legacy in the United Nations? Is there something you would have like to do and that you leave for the new Information Officer?

They gave me a baby and I leave a professional in its early 30s. We are a both a referent within the organization and outside of it. We have established ourselves as the face of the UN in our country. I leave pending for us to pass to the next level, technologically speaking. Everything must be done now electronically with the best technology. We have to take care of the CINUP because the information that we guard is not available in any library or sold in any commercial establishment and that's one of our strengths. Our boys, our customers, require it and the CINUP is the continuation of a legacy left of us by a great Panamanian, Dr. Illueca.

What would you like people to remember at the United Nations (and in general, others who have worked with you in other Agencies) of your years of service?

That I loved my job, which I did with dedication and commitment and I used it to magnify our people. I want to thank everybody for giving me the opportunity to be useful to my country.