Nenad Tomić, Integrated Education Consultant, Namibia CO: Windhoek

Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in the early 80s in a country which is no more, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. A beautiful country which fell apart several times before I finished high school. I started my medical degree studies in Belgrade, the country’s old-new capital before moving to Germany to complete my undergraduate studies in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. After a short stint in the US, I moved to Tenerife, an island of ‘eternal spring’ where I explored the volcanic sceneries and did post-graduate studies in biomedicine. Traveling in southern Africa in my late 20s changed my mental landscape irrevocably, I realized I wanted to stay in the southern hemisphere and share some of the knowledge and scientific training & experience with young people who faced various barriers in accessing education. Through a series of chance encounters, I met the co-founder of an exceptionally innovative NGO based in Windhoek which fosters holistic youth development in disadvantaged communities. That’s where my romance with Namibia started, and I found it hard to leave…

What do you do?
I work for UNICEF Programme Section on integrated education. The idea of integrated education, a notion of viewing a learner as a whole person – an often overlooked fact, is to develop a classroom experience not only focused on teaching math and sciences to students but also making them good people through enhancing their mind, body, emotion, and spirit.

To achieve this, and in accordance with UNICEF’s overall mission, I work with a team to minimize or where possible remove health and safety related barriers to education and use innovative concepts, processes, and products to improve the quality of education in equitable terms.

What’s your working day like?
It varies – depending on whether I’m doing office work or field work. Office work entails emailing, reading, and producing technical documents, reports and evaluations. I also meet people (counterparts from other agencies, colleagues from government, education, and health officials) regularly to discuss updates or new ideas. But also, a genuinely exciting part is conducting field work as you get to travel to new places in the company of great colleagues. Field work comprises meeting communities and dedicated people working to achieve providing education and health for all. Personally, working for UNICEF is indeed an invariably steep but incredibly rewarding learning curve.

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?
On a fun day, I get to see a lot of giraffes and beautiful trees, while finding new ways to improve schools that children of your age go to every day. On other days, it’s a just lot of typing on a computer – writing about important things.

What did you want to be when you were a child?
By reading my father’s medical encyclopedia featuring entries on various illnesses, and descriptive studies of unusual patterns of a disease outbreak, progression, and outcomes – I was inspired to be an infectious disease specialist working in the tropics.

How/when did you join UNICEF?
In June 2015, I came across an ad for a consultancy in Integrated Education with UNICEF which spoke to some of my core interests: merging endeavors in health and education to benefit children and young people. It sounded like my dream job, so I made sure I put on my best performance and a decent hat to nail the job.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?
Undoubtedly, it’s working with, and for young people. It’s incredible how much one can, and must learn about oneself to grasp the challenges of what it means to grow up in oppressed circumstances and to work on policies, strategies, solutions that would help the children and young people come as close as possible to actualising their potentials.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
Having to live with the realisation that, as hard as you try, you can only do so much to assist all those who need support, and to keep pushing. As gratifying as it is to work for UNICEF, it is at times hard to grapple with the discrepancy between the conditions in which the benefactors of our work live, in contrast to the safe and supportive environment of our working conditions.

What’s your best UNICEF experience/memory?
Traveling around Namibia’s vast evolving landscapes and encountering the most amazing wildlife for a whole month with the company of the amazing team I work with, to get people’s views on how to improve education in the country.

What’s one of the biggest risks you’ve ever taken in your life?
Swimming in the southern Pacific to a tiny island a few km from the coast of New Caledonia – little did I know a tiger shark would be around. Don’t ask me how I made it…

What are your passions?
Young people, geo/biodiversity in the Anthropocene, southern lands(capes).

What advice would you give others who are seeking a similar job as yours?
To ensure they do things for the ’right’ reasons, whatever that may mean for them, and to strive to become honest to themselves in the quest to work for others

Who do you look towards for inspiration?
My parents, African women, Marie Sklodowska Curie, my friend Mina…

My colleagues don’t know that…
“Two branches of an inflection will not have the same destiny…”

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