Hello from UNITAR: 15 years since opening of the office, with the community of Hiroshima

by Yoko Morita, UNITAR Hiroshima Office

The UNITAR Hiroshima Office is celebrating its 15th anniversary this year. Ms. Nassrine Azimi (59), first Head of the office, current Senior Advisor, and Hiroshima Shudo University Professor, reflected on the office’s founding.

In 1999, Ms. Azimi, while Chief of the UNITAR New York Office, met with a representative of Hiroshima Prefecture, who conveyed the prefecture’s interest in inviting a UN agency to Hiroshima. Ms. Azimi recalled how surprised she was by the fact that there was no UN agency in Hiroshima, despite it being an exceptionally symbolic place.

After more than three years of negotiating with Hiroshima authorities and enacting a pilot programme, the decision was made to open the office. Ms. Azimi recalled visiting several potential office buildings in Hiroshima with prefecture colleagues. She was deeply moved when she visited the Hiroshima Chamber of Commerce building; the blinds were lifted, and she saw the A-bomb Dome and Peace Park from the windows.

In the early morning of August 4, 2003, Ms. Azimi raised the UN flag for the first time with her colleagues on the roof of the building, watched over by a security guard. They all felt the symbolism of the moment and were filled with emotion. They thought, “This small UNITAR office is now a part of Hiroshima.” Then, the security guard, gesturing to the park, remarked that his mother and grandmother had died there. It took a moment for Ms. Azimi to understand what he had meant: They had died as victims of the atomic bombing. She realized once again that this place had such a symbolic significance.

As a new office, there were of course challenges, including navigating the different work cultures of the United Nations and Japan. Logistically too there were challenges in bringing participants from fragile or war-torn countries to halfway across the world. But there was also incredible excitement and commitment from all involved. Ms. Azimi and her colleagues were deeply impressed by how the people of Hiroshima warmly welcomed UNITAR’s participants.

As she observed the positive impacts on UNITAR’s participants, who learned about Hiroshima when they visited, Ms. Azimi became more certain that there were few places as well-suited as Hiroshima to share lessons about peace and reconstruction. She said that it was her destiny to come to Hiroshima and her mission to bring as many people as possible here.

(Originally published on July 31, 2018)