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AdvocacyApril 13, 2016

World Immunization Week Spotlight: Cornelia Walther


Cornelia Walther, Chief of Communication, has been working with UNICEF Haiti since September 2014. Her objective is to move beyond the communication of information to the inspiration of hope. Previously, she has been deployed with Unicef in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Afghanistan and Chad. Before joining Unicef in 2007, Cornelia worked with the World Food Program in Mali and a French-Algerian organization in Paris and Geneva. 

She holds two masters, in humanitarian assistance and international crises law, and a Doctor in Law [“The responsibility to make children’s rights come true”] from the University of Law, Aix-Marseille, done by distance while working in DRC. Cornelia is German, and a citizen of the world.

Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up?
I was born in Germany, where I lived and learned until my early twenties. After three years of law studies in Tuebingen, I continued studying International & European Law in France. Instead of returning to Germany and joining a traditional practice as a lawyer, I continued in France with two parallel masters in Humanitarian Assistance and Crises Law. From then on the path was set. I started working with a small human rights NGO in Paris and Geneva, before leaving for Mali.

What inspired you to get involved with children’s rights and children’s health?
I can’t remember when my crave for change began. Somehow the hope to contribute, if only by a tiny piece, to making the world a better place was always there.

And, any change that has the ambition to be sustainable and all-embracing must seek to start with those who constitute the present and future- children.

The idea that there is a direct link between rights and responsibilities – what we can do, influences what we must do – has motivated me over the past 15 years. We have an individual and collective responsibility to make children’s rights come true. Indeed investments made in the physiological and psychological well being of children, are benefits that a society will reap or miss in the short and long term.


You speak three languages—English, French and German. Can you talk about how each language has helped you in your career?
Being able to interact with a large number of people in their own language has helped me a lot  – in terms of verbal understanding, but also because of the thinking process that underlies each language. In a (broadly simplified) way it feels to me that English is short and pragmatic, French extensive and elegant, and German precise and to the point.

To further expand this twofold understanding of reality, I hope to master Creole, Haiti’s local language, by the end of the year and to brush-up my Spanish in 2017. Languages are like treasure boxes whose lid can be only partially lifted via translation.  

How did you get involved with Unicef?
Children are the heart of everything. UNICEF has the most all-embracing mandate in regards to everyone under 18 years old and it is an honor and a privilege to be a part of them today. I got involved with Unicef while working with the World Food Program (WFP) in Mali, as I sought to promote an enhanced collaboration between WFP and UNICEF concerning street children and for education/school canteens. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to start with WFP, an organization that I admire for its efficiency on the ground and for everything I learned within their great Mali team. After three years I felt that my advocacy opportunities in regards to children’s rights were limited within WFP and I joyfully accepted the opportunity to apply for UNICEF in Chad.  

You work in Communications for the Haiti office. What are some of the challenges with immunizations in Haiti?
The core challenge in communication for immunization and for many other programmatic sectors that we work in, is the ever decreasing interest that donors have in Haiti. Much has happened over the past years and six years after the Earthquake, significant issues that jeopardize the well being of children and their families remain today. Is the right of a girl to be protected from measles who is born in Port-au-Prince, less valuable than the right of a boy who is born in Berlin? The challenge of communication is to overcome this ‘fatigue’. The attention of media and donors has moved on to new crisis spots, yet the children of Haiti continue to have rights and needs – responding to those needs is the prime responsibility of the government, but until every child is vaccinated, has access to clean water, sufficient food and education, and is protected from violence and abuse, we cannot stop our efforts.

How did you hear about the Shot@Life campaign and what recent work have you done with them?
The UN Foundation has an amazing capacity to support immunization programs on the ground and Unicef is the largest supplier of vaccines worldwide. Together with the World Health Organization, one of the principal players in regards to children’s health, the partnership between UNICEF and the UN Foundation has been going on in many countries for many years. The Shot@Life campaign is a beautiful initiative that I had been following from afar. In 2015 I got the opportunity to work directly with Shot@Life with a multimedia package concerning immunization in Haiti.  (Thank you for this!)

What is your vision for Haiti’s future?
My vision is a country where every girl and every boy has a fair chance to live and blossom. I dream of Haiti (and of the world) as a place where individuals acknowledge that the happiness of those who surround them is directly related to their own happiness and do something about it.

This video shares the journey of one Mother who walks miles across Haiti to access vaccines for her daughter at a health clinic. Her willingness to overcome any obstacle shows the lengths she’s willing to go to give her daughter a shot at a healthy life thanks to lifesaving vaccines.

Alex Mazzarisi