International Women’s Day: “There is not a single day that I haven’t learned something”
On International Women's Day (8 March), OCHA is highlighting some of the remarkable women working on the front lines of some of the world's toughest emergencies.
Shoko Arakaki is an 11 year OCHA veteran. Her first job with the UN humanitarian office was in Timor Leste in 1999. Shoko is now the Chief of OCHA’s Funding Coordination Section in New York, a role that overseas Emergency Response Funds and Common Humanitarian Funds around the world. She loves the work, but it can be a challenge at times.
“The hardest part of this work is finding a life balance,” she says. “In OCHA, we are dealing with emergency situations everyday: everything is urgent.”
This urgency is also what makes the job so rewarding, she says.
“The best part of the job is the challenge. You are never bored. You constantly learn. There is not a single day that I haven’t learned something.
“There is a culture in OCHA in our coordination mandate that makes us think harder and come up with innovative solutions.”
“I would go to the field and see the dead”
Before joining OCHA, Shoko spent eight years working variously with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), with UN Peacekeeping Missions and with international NGOs. Her work has taken her around the world: to the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Timor Leste and a number of South-East Asian countries.
In the former Yugoslavia, she was part of a team investigating reports of ethnic cleansing. “I would go to the field and see the dead,” she remembers. “Couples would commit suicide together because they were from different ethnic backgrounds. I was the report writer for these kinds of investigations.”
In 1995, she was seconded to work on a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) repatriation programme on the Burundi-Rwanda border. Her memories of that time are equally vivid. “There was still shooting everywhere,” she says.
"I don’t take anything that I have for granted."
It was during these experiences that she developed a deep admiration for her national staff. During her career, some of her colleagues – men and women that she admired and cared about – were killed carrying out their work.
“This is something that I’ve never forgotten,” she says. “The level of devotion that you see from them, especially during difficult times like in Rwanda and the Former Yugoslavia – they are sometime part of the conflict but they decided to join the UN and do something for their society.”
World Humanitarian Day – a day that recognizes the contribution of aid workers around the world – is often quite difficult for her. “World Humanitarian Day can be so tough for me. I always flash back to these moments and I think about what it means to be an aid worker.
“These memories also become positive energy that helps me continue with my work. I don’t take anything that I have for granted.”
Read more International Women's Day profiles