I’m currently Chief of UNICEF's Gaza Field Office, where I lead UNICEF's emergency response across the Gaza Strip in the occupied Palestinian territory. I’ve been in Gaza since August 2013. I joined the UN in 2002 and served in various other roles, including in the Philippines, Yemen, Pakistan, Nepal, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and as UNICEF's global adviser on child protection in emergencies at Headquarters in New York. Since I’m here as a neutral representative of the UN, I hope we can keep the discussions civil. Thanks for your interest!

PROOF: https://twitter.com/UNICEF/status/502124071057117184

UPDATE: We're wrapping up for now, but I'll try to check in later this evening to answer more questions, so keep them coming! My UNICEF social media colleagues will also jump in to answer questions if they can.

Thank you all so much for these great questions. Thanks also for making my first experience with Reddit such an engaging and positive one. I was a friend and great admirer of one of Reddit's creators, Aaron Swartz.

If you want updates about our work in Gaza, you can follow us on social media.



Comments: 82 • Responses: 16  • Date: 

_Kalchio_16 karma

What can someone like me, sitting at their computer, do to help?

PernilleIronside13 karma

Hi! Thanks for your question and great to be here. You can be aware and informed; advocate for change; encourage your leaders to seek and find peaceful solutions; and donate to organizations that are saving lives. Go to: http://www.supportunicef.org/gaza

oekhedr11 karma

Hi, my question deals with the daily life of your coworkers. Gaza has been under blockade for several years now. Yet, business and life continues. There are hotels, restaurants, and other services offered. How would you say Gaza's economic life has been right up the invasion?

PernilleIronside15 karma

Hi oekhedr - great question. Gaza's economy has been severely depressed, particularly since the closure of the informal tunnel system with Egypt in July 2013. Prior to this latest conflict, 41.5% of Gazans were unemployed; and that did not include those who worked only 1 hour per week. The unemployment rate for those under 29 was a staggering 59%; and 80% of the population was dependent on some form of humanitarian aid (e.g. food parcels). So, yes, even before this latest war, life in Gaza was extraordinarily difficult and bleak.

drsyed11 karma

Israel bombed the U.N. school In Gaza because it claimed militants were operating from/near the school. How would you respond to that?

PernilleIronside12 karma

Hi drsyed, in fact, 230 schools (90 UNRWA) have sustained damages from shelling and 25 schools have been completely destroyed or severely damaged and are now unusable. In addition, 6 UNRWA schools that were officially designated where thousands of civilians were seeking safety were struck by missiles, killing and injuring many children and their families.

Under international law, humanitarian relief personnel and objects used for relief operations (this would include UNRWA schools in Gaza being used as shelters), including hospitals and homes, are protected and therefore are not legitimate targets.

A transparent and effective investigation needs to be undertaken as soon as possible to look at potential violations of international humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict.

daleygaga10 karma

Hello! Thank you for all your work in Gaza and everything else. I'm curious, how does the whole UN system (as well as other humanitarian actors) work together (to assist) within the Gaza Strip? Are cluster systems also implemented? How is it different from/same as other humanitarian emergencies you've been to, especially in terms of applying lessons learnt?

Also, looking for positive light, can you share with us an inspiring story that happened at Gaza so that people maybe encouraged to advocate for the cause? :)

PernilleIronside13 karma

Hi daleygaga, thanks for your great questions!

To tackle this very complex emergency, the UN has set up a humanitarian Emergency Operations Centre in Gaza, under the capable leadership of UN-OCHA. It is here that UN agencies and other key humanitarian actors combine forces to do our utmost in terms of the emergency response. We also have an established humanitarian cluster system in Gaza that was active prior to this latest conflict. UNICEF is leading coordination of the water/sanitation and child protection sectors, and co-leading coordination of the education sector with Save the Children.

I am inspired on a daily basis by my colleagues - Palestinian humanitarians. Despite having been through 3 major wars, having themselves been shelled and needing to find safety and shelter for their families and friends, they somehow / somewhere find the strength to get up in the morning, cross all manner of obstacles and danger to selflessly provide much needed humanitarian relief. They are true humanitarian heroes!

REB7310 karma

How do you keep it together when you spend your life surrounded by suffering and dying kids? I became a dad 6 months ago and just seeing a news story about some Palestinian family being caught in an air-strike makes me well-up.

PernilleIronside26 karma

Hi Reb73, congrats on becoming a dad!

Emotions are essential for humanitarian workers – we cannot be effective if we are automatons desensitized from human suffering. We are human. I try to positively channel my emotions into even greater resolve, conviction, strength and deep empathy into everything we at UNICEF aim to achieve and everyone I meet in our work. I also have the unwavering support of friends and family to do what I am doing and to dig deeper when it gets tough.

laurac828 karma

What is UNICEF currently doing to try and protect children in Gaza?

PernilleIronside8 karma

Hi Laura82 - thanks for your important question.

Children across Gaza are incredibly vulnerable right now in so many ways and require multiple forms of protection.

UNICEF is actively advocating for the protection of civilians and civilian objects from military strikes so that no more children are killed and injured; we monitor and document this on a daily basis.

We also have teams on the ground who are reaching out to children and their families who have already lost loved ones to provide them with some immediate coping skills to deal with their grief and loss; this is called 'psychosocial first aid'.

Unfortunately Gaza is now littered with unexploded ordinances, so we are doing a lot of awareness raising via the radio and in public shelters/communities to protect children (and adults!) about spotting such dangerous explosive remnants of war and who to report to. We fear that many more children could lose their lives or be maimed from this after the war if we don't step up awareness.

These are just some of the activities that we have underway.

swilbanks8 karma

If a 7-year-old in Gaza has already experienced three wars in his/her lifetime, how can we help these children to grow up with the belief that peace and coexistence is in fact achievable? What is UNICEF doing to promote coexistence, global citizenship awareness, and education that works to enhance dialogue and open channels of communication with the "enemy"?

PernilleIronside9 karma

Hi swilbanks - you have raised a pivotal question.

Promoting peacebuilding, social cohesion, tolerance and understanding amongst children are key aims of an important project that UNICEF had working with Palestinian adolescents even prior to this latest conflict. Further attention to and investment in providing meaningful and supportive educational and extra-curricular opportunities for Palestinian children and adolescents is even more vital now to counter sentiments of despair, anger and hopelessness.

mschrismills7 karma

Can you speak to the most powerful effect(s) of this conflict on children? How are they being helped?

PernilleIronside10 karma

The impact on children of this conflict has been devastating - both physically and psychologically. 460 children have died (majority under age 12) and 3000 children have been injured, many with terrible burns and amputations. Thousands more have lost their homes. Perhaps what's most impactful, however, is how helpless and frightened children feel, knowing there is nowhere safe for them to go. Many kids are exhibiting symptoms of withdrawal, not wanting to let their parents out of sight, not sleeping, nightmares.... exacerbated by the constant hum of overhead drones and uncertainty of where the next strike will land.

vm20146 karma

Are the children currently attending school? Are there enough schools?

PernilleIronside8 karma

Hi vm2014 - children are still on their summer break but normally school should resume on August 24th in Gaza. This will not be possible this year without a stable ceasefire in place. Also, there are still over 250,000 people who have sought safety and shelter in schools all across Gaza as their homes have been destroyed or they live in high risk areas; they still need to find alternative shelter. UNICEF is working hard on preparing for a massive 'back to school' campaign, enabling children to go back to learning as soon as possible with the support of their teachers and families.

mudassarali6666 karma

How long did you work in Pakistan, and how would surmise your experience there and what would you say is the biggest issue you came across there?

PernilleIronside5 karma

Hi Mudassarli666, I was deployed to Pakistan in August 2010 as part of our emergency response to the terrible flooding that took place there. There were thousands of children and families who had to flee their homes in safety from the rising waters, a number of whom I met in our 'child friendly spaces'. I still keep in my office a beautiful drawing that a young girl ('Saira') gave to me depicting her survival of the floods.

Stoooooooo6 karma

What advice would you give to the leaders/presidents/Prime Ministers of the world?

PernilleIronside9 karma

Hi Stoooooooo - I like your name :-)

We are faced with a situation where 1 million children in Gaza today are deeply affected by this latest deadly conflict; many of them will bear the physical and psychological scars for a lifetime in spite of all the assistance. At this stage, there future looks extraordinarily bleak.

UNICEF and partners work to give children space to be 'children' and we support the health, education, water/sanitation, and social welfare systems and services that keep them alive and healthy. But at the end of the day, what children need is peace - and that requires political action.

The world must unite together in common humanity to put an end to the situation in Gaza and not to perpetuate conditions that promote hatred, intolerance and a sense of hopelessness.

macmeade4 karma

How exactly is Unicef protecting the children in Gaza? In what way/to what extent are donations helping Unicef to protect them?

PernilleIronside2 karma

Hi macmeade, Great questions - please see my answer above to laurac82.

fallingalt3 karma

In the course of doing your work, what saddens you the most?

PernilleIronside10 karma

Thanks for your question fallingalt. It breaks my heart when I hear children give up hope. Last week I met 14 year old Razan in Gaza. She shared with me that she would prefer to have died quickly from the bombs rather than further endure the suffering of a slow death under occupation with little hope for a "normal" future of opportunity and freedom. This is heartbreaking; and she is not alone in this sentiment.

Tipoe3 karma

Hello Mrs Ironside,

A career in development is notoriously difficult to break into. I realised I had a long way to go when an internship alone at UNICEF requires a postgraduate-level degree. I am currently involved with UNICEF On Campus at my university (on the committee) and have a few other volunteering experiences under my belt.

My questions are:

  • If you could tell us about your own path into the UN and working with UNICEF?
  • What could an interested student like myself do to boost their chances further?

PernilleIronside6 karma

Hi Tipoe, thanks for your early engagement with UNICEF on campus and your interest in a potential career with us.

Most professionals who work with UNICEF join the organization after having already amassed some relevant career experience; this may include doing non-profit work overseas, volunteering, working for your government, or having a particular expertise or skill-set.

I started off my career working for the Canadian federal government as a legal officer specialized in human rights, particularly children and women's rights. I joined the UN in 2002.

You can find out more about the background, experiences - and personality! - of UNICEF employees from all over the world http://facesofunicef.tumblr.com

Ruthc102 karma

Hi Pernille, I work for UNICEF Ireland. There has been great interest in UNICEF's work in Gaza here. Could you tell us how long have UNICEF been on the ground in Gaza in total? How do you get supplies in and out every day to children ? Thank you.

PernilleIronside6 karma

Hi Ruthc10, nice to hear from you!

UNICEF has been on the ground in Gaza since the early 1990s.

We manage to get supplies into Gaza through the only commercial crossing called "Kerem Shalom". It involves a complicated process with the designated Israeli Coordination structure (COGAT), and can take considerable time depending on the supplies. Where possible, we buy locally; but we do manage to bring life-saving supplies such as vaccines, essential drugs for children and hygiene kits for babies and adults into Gaza and distribute them as quickly as possible through our partners.

karmanaut0 karma

I assume that you have had plenty of contact with Hamas and their leadership. What are they like? Diehard zealots, corrupt politicians, regular people... what? Are they rational in terms of trying to achieve specific goals, or is it more of a general ideological crusade with no set plan for "victory"?

PernilleIronside12 karma

Hi Karmanaut. UNICEF works with government ministry officials at a technical level in the sectors of education, health, water & sanitation, and social welfare. These are ordinary civil servants who take pride in their work and care about the well-being of children - all the more impressive given that they have been working without a salary for many months now. We do not engage with Hamas at the political or military level.