Jennifer Lee is an intern at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF Program Office. Recently, we at the U.S. Fund were visited by colleagues who are from a region that’s perhaps less commonly associated with UNICEF: Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS). I was excited to learn about the situation for children in this region and about the work UNICEF does. The CEE/CIS is one of the newer—and lesser known—areas with UNICEF programs. Comprised of 22 countries, this part of the world is incredibly diverse, with varying levels of development. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, CEE/CIS experienced great progress. More recently, however, the region sadly saw a reversal of these gains. Much of this was attributed to the legacy and collapse of Soviet structures. You can find out what UNICEF is doing in this area and meet our visitors—UNICEF’s Deputy Regional Director and Country Representatives from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Georgia—in the video below.
During this visit it became clear to me how difficult life is for children in this region. In 2010, CEE/CIS had the highest number of polio cases in the world, and it’s the only region where rates of HIV/AIDS infections are still increasing. In terms of education, 13.6 million children and adolescents are currently out of school! A staggering 46% of students who complete their secondary education don’t have the basic skills needed to function in the world. These are just some examples where health, education, and other systems are simply not functioning for children.
Since 1989, UNICEF has been working with partners in CEE/CIS to ensure a better and more protected start to life for children. One of UNICEF’s greatest successes has been the de-institutionalization of children from state-run orphanages into family environments. Other successes include promoting inclusive education for children with disabilities, and the early detection and prevention of disabilities in children. We've also created public-private partnerships to address malnutrition, and helped develop early childhood centers in rural, hard-to-reach areas. I was so glad to learn that in this part of the world, too, children are getting the help they need.