WHEN, in February, Lotta Sylwander was in the process of leaving Vietnam after a three-and-a-half year tour of duty as UNICEF Representative, ethnic minority teachers, parents and teacher bid her a touching farewell in Lao Cai province.
Swedish, Ms. Sylwander made a point of returning to Lao Chai Primary School because that was the very first school she visited in Vietnam. “There,” she is quoted in a report by Susan Mackay, “I learned for myself what difference the bilingual program makes. I could see in the children’s eyes how confident, curious and engaged they are by learning in their own language.”
Children in Lao Chai learn in both Mong and Vietnamese, as part of an innovative UNICEF supported mother tongue-based bilingual education program.
Like thousands of Filipino schoolchildren, Mong children in Lao Cai walk long distances to go to school in mountain villages. These children, like their Filipinos age-cohorts, are members of destitute families, suffering from hunger every now and then, and seriously at risk for not having access to potable water, sanitation facilities ands health services.
My interest in Lotta Sylwander’s appointment in the Philippines is born of my studies in how bi-lingual education helps make children learn more math, basic physics and practical home economics.
Lots of Filipino children, in the Visayas and Mindanao—just like the children of the 53 ethnic minority groups in Vietnam, including the Mong—cannot understand Tagalog, our national language or English, which is also another of our official languages.
There has been a debate on whether bilingual education, which is used in our school system, has caused the so-called deterioration of the quality of young Filipinos’ English.
Perhaps, Ms. Sylwander can be persuaded to work also on bilingual education here.
She has submitted credentials as UNICEF Representative to the Philippines to Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.
As UNICEF Representative, Ms. Sylwander will provide strategic leadership in the design and implementation of programs on health, education, the protection and well-being of Filipino children as part of the Philippine government-UNICEF Country Program of Cooperation.
Secretary Rosario recalled the longstanding partnership between the Philippine government and UNICEF. He said, “Children in the Philippines are our future and we are very happy that you are here, Ms. Sylwander, to assist us in ensuring a brighter future for children and for our country.”
Ms. Sylwander said: “The Philippines is such an interesting country with so much capacity and energy, I am looking forward to working with the Government to improve the lives of children who make up for half of the country’s population.”
Ms. Sylwander brings with her over three decades’ of substantive experience in the social development sector, garnered from leadership positions she held in many regions across the world where she championed the cause of children and women.
Before coming to the Philippines, Ms. Sylwander served as the UNICEF Representative to Vietnam from 2010-2014, where she led in transforming UNICEF programming, making it more sustainably relevant to the rapid development of that middle income country.
Her efforts led to a stronger focus on child protection, on social protection, and on ethnic minority issues and to decentralized planning and programming. Ms. Sylwander and her team worked in close collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and justice agencies to promote the establishment of a child friendly justice system, including for children in conflict with the law and child victims and witnesses of crime.
In Vietnam, she engaged in policy dialogue and developed and maintained effective relationships with key national and international partners to advance the child rights agenda.
Ms. Sylwander had also actively advanced the key priorities of the UNICEF Vietnam Resource Mobilization Strategy, establishing and maintaining donor relations and pursuing fund-raising opportunities to support UNICEF programs in Vietnam.
She played a major role in conceptualization and development of the One Plan III (UNDAF).
From 2006 to 2010, Ms. Sylwander served as the Representative of UNICEF to Zambia.
From 2001 to 2006, and before joining UNICEF, Ms. Sylwander served as Deputy Director General and Director of the Africa Department at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Sida.
Ms. Sylwander holds an equivalent to a Masters’ degree in Social Anthropology. She was a lecturer in the University of Stockholm. Ms. Sylwander began her career in the non-government sector in Sweden and had spent time in the Philippines in the 1970 and 80s.