UNESCO in Bangkok

Emergency Contact: Does your person know they’re your person?

By: Jennifer Romba  (8/18/2016)

I have a rather serious discussion topic for my blog post this week, it is my last week in the office at UNESCO Bangkok and we’ve endured a bit of a situation in the last two weeks. That being said, I often use humor as a defense mechanism, so naturally, I’m going to begin this post with a bit of funny.

I am an avid Grey’s Anatomy fan. Yes, the show should’ve ended years ago and is not what it used to be but I still watch early seasons thanks to Netflix and remember fondly the time when the show was really great. One of my favorite pieces of the show was the relationship between Dr. Christina Yang and Dr. Meredith Grey (the show’s namesake character). Their friendship was based around a pretty firm unspoken understanding that if things really went wrong – if crap really hit the fan – that one would be there for the other. Christina put words to this in the second season when she told Meredith “You’re my person”. What she really meant was that while filling out medical paperwork for a procedure she would have to undergo, Christina had to identify an emergency contact, someone to call if things went wrong, and she naturally chose Meredith.  I have a friend like this, I know for a fact that I am that friend to her as well and understand that I serve as an emergency contact to more than one important person in my life.


I say all of that to say this: does your person know they are your person? Do they know that you have listed them as an emergency contact in cases of emergency? And if they know…do they have all the information they need to either make important decisions for your medical care or have ways to get in contact with those who would? I don’t think I ever fully appreciated how important having the right emergency contact person was until this week.

A friend of mine, who I won’t name for her own sake, began her internship with us at UNESCO just a week after I did. She was an international student at a US-based university that I’m familiar with (well, familiar with the name and the location), and she had visited Bangkok prior to her internship, so she had a bit more understanding of the way things worked here than I did. We got along alright, she was not on my team within the office, so we didn’t work on the same things, but rather worked alongside one another. We made frequent trips to sites around Bangkok – the Children’s museum was a huge success for us both and the big Chatuchak weekend market was a favorite as well. She’s brave and focused – so she didn’t mind traveling around on her own if no one was interested in joining her on a weekend to go see another part of the country. So, she traveled south to an island a few weekends back. That weekend myself and another colleague had gone to Chiang Mai to explore temples, coffee shops, the old own atmosphere – it was a pretty amazing trip. When we returned on Tuesday we realized she wasn’t in the office. So we naturally got a bit concerned. It was suggested that we email around to the hotels on the island she visited – there aren’t many, it’s a rather small island. Then we understood why she wasn’t here.

On Sunday morning she had been in an accident while riding a bicycle, she had suffered serious injury and was in a hospital south of Bangkok. When we heard the group of us mobilized immediately, we called her embassy, we told the UNESCO Security focal point, we even went so far as to try reaching out to as many people as we could that may be able to guarantee us a contact number for her parents. My first phone call was to none other than her emergency contact. This person was a fellow student at her university and so was located in the States. We were trying to reach her in the middle of the night – so I had to leave a rather detailed but emphatic voicemail.

By the end of the day we were successful in contacting her mother, ensured that something was being done to get her mother to Thailand, and to ensure that we had open communication with someone who was at the hospital. While my colleague, the injured though unconscious, speaks English just fine – she was in a Thai hospital with doctors who haven’t had to speak English, and her mother doesn’t speak any English – so as an American with no talent for either language that was necessary…I felt rather useless. But there were volunteers who did speak her language, and Thai, and they were by her bedside – a true blessing, because its meant that in the days since we have been able to get regular updates as to her condition. The updates have been promising and we’re really hopeful. Additionally, UNESCO and the entire UNDSS team have been wonderful in their attempts to help my friend. We’re all very lucky to be members of the UNESCO Bangkok family – and it really felt that way this past week.

All of this really made me (and my fellow interns) think about how this would have played out if it were any of us. I can’t picture my mother being called in the middle of the night by the US Embassy in Thailand and being told that her daughter’s suffered severe injuries and is hospitalized in a Thai hospital. My mother would lose it – really, I love her but she would absolutely lose it. I know that my emergency contact would be able to handle the situation but it’d be incredibly difficult – emotionally, logistically, linguistically. Consider all of these things the next time you plan a trip to adventure somewhere (you should plan to adventure, but safely). Consider who gets that first call and what should that person do next? Make sure you carry your insurance information on your person at all times when you’re out and about on trips like this. Perhaps carry a copy of your passport (losing the real thing would be difficult to replace) so you can be identified if you’re unable to speak for some reason.

I love traveling and I think I recognized that incidents like this could always happen…they just couldn’t happen to me – which I recognize is a bit foolish of me to think. I’m rather accident-prone. I’ve literally broken my foot walking off a stair, I can’t believe I was silly enough to think I couldn’t sustain injury while traveling through a foreign country. While in Thailand some of the things I’ve done include jumping into a lagoon fully clothed (rather murky water as well), sliding off a rock into said lagoon, zip lining through treetops on a mountain in the north of Thailand, and regularly hopping on the back of a motorcycle to bob and weave through traffic to get home. Most of these things are relatively fine given the circumstances, but in any one of those instances it could have been me that incurred serious injuries. I think I recognize these things can happen now.

I promise my next post will be much more about UNESCO, reflecting on my time in Thailand, and about what’s next for me and the Fellows Program – but if I had to talk about one thing that has been dominating my head-space lately, it has been my friend, who is improving day by day. Keep her in your thoughts and prayers. Until next time!


UNESCO Bangkok: Exploring LGBTI in Thailand

By: Jennifer Romba  (8/1/2016)

I haven’t written or created a blog entry for a little while now and so apologies are in order. My MacBook started to exhibit signs that it was coming to the end of its life before I left for Thailand and alas has met its final day. The display is no longer legible, so I’m using a backup laptop I brought with me in the event that this happened. At any rate, this means that I don’t have time to get acquainted with new software – I barely had time to thoughtfully compose a thought-provoking blog entry, so a traditional blog will have to suffice going forward.

My time in Bangkok is passing so quickly I barely recognized today that it was August already! Wow. As the days have passed I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on projects for my team within the Inclusive Quality Education Unit (IQE) but also on my own research for my GW UNESCO Fellows project. This will be one of the deliverables for this fellowship course at the end of the month and I’ve been carefully trying to shape and reshape my research as information becomes available. I’m going to try and give an idea of what I’m working on without getting too technical.

Originally, I had thought I’d be working on looking at how teacher education policy is shaped by multilateral organizations like UNESCO (or any other UN Organization/Agency). Unfortunately, the major project that would have allowed me access to richer data on that particular topic was put on a back-burner rather early, so I shifted focus to something else. Shortly after my involvement with the Respect for All: Thailand National Consultation on Safe and Inclusive Education Environments I became really interested in the topic of school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE). It was clear that UNESCO was dedicating manpower to this topic, UNDP was involved, there were activist groups interested, even the Ministry of Education was on-board – so this really peaked my interest.

What are UNESCO, and other UN Agencies, doing about SRGBV on the basis of SOGIE in Thailand? This was my original question, however I’ve refined that a bit more – What are the entry points for UNESCO, UN Agencies, or other groups looking to help prevent SRGBV on the basis of SOGIE within Thailand? It was clear the government had passed legislation to protect children and youth, there had been a recent groundbreaking Gender Equality Act passed in recent years, so now my I’m looking at: what can be done to use existing legislation as a means to raise awareness, educate, and protect students in Thai schools that identify as (or are perceived to identify as) LGBTI from discrimination and bullying?

Now I have a real research question to work from. I’ve conducted a pretty thorough literature review of research studies that look at the prevalence of school-related gender-based violence on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SRGBV on the basis of SOGIE, in case you were getting lost in all the acronyms) in countries in the Asia-Pacific region. There was an interesting study done in Thailand that was commissioned by UNESCO and Plan International. Additionally, I was looking at studies that had been done in other countries around the world, for example the United States and Australia.

For those who aren’t advocates, aren’t in development work, or otherwise unconnected to the LGBT community – this may seem like a bit of a strange topic to dedicate an enormous amount of research to. This is definitely a side of gender development work that I’d never really considered before – so I can understand any natural hesitation. That being said, there are some really common themes I recognize throughout my time here in Thailand, working on projects for UNESCO and doing my own research on SOGIE-based bullying in schools. The most unsettling would be that as a community of practitioners, we are misusing the term gender equality a bit to take the sting off the women’s empowerment movement. I’m not sure that’s really phrased well but…when most people think of the term gender equality they automatically think of women and girls. I consider myself to be a bit of a feminist, so I recognize the absolute necessity for the push for empowering women and girls around the world – in education, in employment, in society as a whole – this is absolutely necessary. That being said, gender equality should mean gender equality, not only women’s equality right? Recognizing that the push should be to create a better relationship between genders and not only closing the enormous gap that exists between men and women. Part of that work will be recognizing that gender isn’t binary – but I recognize that each country/region is going to adopt that concept in their own time. That being said, I believe a lot of my research will be looking at ways to create honest gender equality and inclusive education – where inclusive really can mean everyone – in Thai schools. I’m looking to make recommendations for various levels, governmental, school administration, student organizations, and community/parent organizations.

So, now I’m happily plugging away at in-depth interviews with a few staff here at UNESCO to get their helpful insight about the work of SOGIE-based bullying here in Thailand and opportunities for action. It’s interesting to see how different cultures/societies see change and the best ways to achieve it.

Until next time!



UNESCO Bangkok, Episode 3: The Road to Inclusion

By: Jennifer Romba  (6/28/2016)

This past week (June 20-22) I took part in an extraordinary conference here in Bangkok to address the problem of school-related violence on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. It’s hard to comprehensively summarize everything that went on over the 2 1/2 day conference but I’ve tried here. I’ve also included links on the YouTube video, but I’ll include the links here in this post as well.

UNESCO’s Road to Inclusion Album

UNESCO’s Purple My School Campaign

Video of the Group Performance


UNESCO Bangkok, Episode 2: Experiencing Thai Culture

By: Jennifer Romba  (6/9/2016)

After many hours of working with tools at my disposal, I have finally been able to compile Episode 2 of the GW UNESCO Fellows Program Podcast! I’ve hosted it once more on Youtube and the link if located below. I’ve also included a LOT of photos and even a jingle! This may not really make it a ‘podcast’ anymore, but viewing the photos is a personal choice. Please feel free to leave comments or feedback.

Until next time, please enjoy!

Getting There: Trains, Cars, Motorcycle Taxis 

By: Jennifer Romba  (6/8/2016)

I assure those of you who enjoyed the first podcast that there will be additional podcast episodes from me coming soon, rest assured. In the meantime, enjoy my written prose!

Now that I have been in Bangkok a little more than two weeks, I think it is safe to begin making some observations about life in this very vibrant city. I am convinced that Bangkok is a city that does not sleep. From the very early hours of the morning, when rush hour begins (my observation is that its somewhere between 7:30 and 8:00) until well into the late night hours, when night markets are hitting their stride, this city has something for everyone – at almost any time of day.

Getting around within the city has been fairly simple, all things considered. In the Rabbit.jpgbeginning, I think my brain was wired to be this strange combination of a Peace Corps Volunteer – who’d rather find their inventive way of getting somewhere that was cheap and effective – and a typical Washington DC commuter – who understands that cabs are just expensive contributions to the gridlock that exists at almost any daylight hour. This made getting places a bit more time consuming, a bit more tiresome, and about three times as hot as they needed to be. The BTS Skytrain is a blessing, because with just my Rabbit card – a Smartrip equivalent (the DC Metro’s card for fare on trains or buses) – I can get to many areas of the city. Though I had started to feel like there were a lot of hidden gems that were inaccessible by train. I’ll admit that not being able to read Thai has made me very weary of the bus system in Bangkok, but I understand that’s just my natural dislike for getting lost and not a reflection of the system.

Coming from Washington DC, which is in the midst of a Metro crisis, I find the BTS here aTrain Platform Pic refreshing experience! In Washington DC, train platforms are a free-for-all of ‘I wonder where the train doors will be, quick! Everyone crowd in!’ – whereas here, there are markers on the ground that indicate this for waiting passengers. Additionally, there are markings on the ground to initiate a queue system for those waiting to board a train. Two lines can form on each side of a train door with the path in front of the door clear so that departing passengers can get by with ease. Once on the train, things get a little crowded of course, but once you get past the idea that personal space has no place on the BTS train, you get used to it. For those who are living in New York or DC and think those trains get crowded, these feel much more crowded than I recall any train back home feeling – even during rush hour single tracking. That being said, the trains and stations are clean, well air-conditioned and run about every 3 minutes (a little farther apart outside of rush hour but I haven’t waited more than 8-10 minutes).

One of my favorite parts of commuting in Bangkok has been the ability to ride on the back of a motorcycle again. This was a fairly regular part of my Peace Corps experience in Rwanda. To get to and from Kibungo, the nearby town where I received mail, could find an ATM, and buy eggs and sugar regularly, I’d have to hop on the back of a motorcycle. Of course there is an inherent danger in riding on the back of a motorcycle with a driver you have never met though, and so many who do rely on this form of transportation in the city, do so for short-distances only. For example, I only rely on a motorcycle taxi to get me from my condo complex to the main road (or the BTS station about 200 meters farther than that) or vise versa. There’s something familiar about the relying on motorcycle taxis that any PCV from Rwanda will tell you is just a bit freeing. In the beginning I had walked down from my condo complex to the BTS station, because it really isn’t that far, however the Soi (or side street) that I live on gets very busy during the rush hours and is fairly unsafe to walk down. I’ve been side-swiped by a passing motorcycle and had to hug a wall on more than one occasion because a car has needed to pass. Once on the main roads, these motorcycles zoom in and out of lanes, around cars and buses, and I can imagine the city Rush Hour 1has seen its fair share of motorcycle accidents on any given day. Despite their inherent danger, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a main road in Bangkok that isn’t packed with motorcycles. Intersections have twice as many lanes, 3 or 4 for cars and 3 or 4 just for motorcycles. That being said, taxis in the city are fairly inexpensive, with a starting fare of 35 baht (about $1 USD), you can most places for much less than you’d expect – but during the rush hours, its probably best to stick with more reliable means of transportation (such as the BTS). The drawback to using a taxi cab as an American that’s been in Bangkok for two weeks, is that I don’t speak much Thai, thus I rely on Google Translate a lot – that’ll help me illustrate to a taxi driver where exactly I’m going. Many drivers do not know how to read English, similar to the way I don’t know how to read Thai, so thanks Google, for helping me to communicate with my taxi driver with your handy app.

I did not realize I had that much to say about getting around Bangkok, I had planned more in this post, but instead I will create my podcast as a separate discussion instead of an accompaniment to this post. So, be on the lookout for a podcast (with photos!) about my adventures at a Thai cooking class, a Buddhist temple, and the Grand Palace.


My Introduction to UNESCO Bangkok

By: Jennifer Romba  (5/30/2016)


I’ve decided that instead of only a blog, I would like to podcast for you all instead. I had trouble making this a ‘real’ podcast, but I’ve uploaded it to YouTube for your listening pleasure. Follow the link and please, enjoy!

ขอขอบคุณ (Thank you!)



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