Christine Botejue-Kyle is working on both world peace and inner peace. The yoga instructor and Chief Civilian Personnel Officer at the United Nations (UN) has worked in crisis situations all over the world, from Sri Lanka to Kosovo, and East Timor to Cyprus. What inspires her to work in these situations is both simple and challenging: “I hate injustice,” she says. “It really bothers me…emotionally, spiritually and physically.”
Building communities at the grassroots
Eleven-year-old Christine was home sick from school one day when she saw a TV commercial showing poverty in Africa. From then on, she knew she would work in international development and humanitarian aid. After high school, she travelled to Sri Lanka with Canada World Youth, and ended up staying for several years before returning to Canada. Upon her return, she enrolled in the IDS Co-op program as a mature student.
Christine returned to Sri Lanka for her IDS Co-op placement where she was tasked with building a community from scratch through Sarvodaya, the largest people’s organization in the country. Flooding had displaced one hundred families from a small mining community. With local leaders’ awareness of their needs and assets, and Christine’s logistics skills, they began re-building their community from its foundations. “We did everything,” says Christine. “Everything” included building houses, starting community gardens, setting up an under-five clinic, and providing community training.
“The IDS program gives you a broad foundation,” says Christine. “Then it’s up to you to build on those skills.” Her language and logistics skills grew stronger on placement and the grassroots work helped prepare her for her involvement in peacekeeping. “Being comfortable in local communities really helps in peacekeeping. A lot of people who join the UN don’t have that experience. They’re lawyers, administrators and have a hard time making that transition,” says Christine. “People come to the UN idealistic. IDS helped me refine my grounded perspective.”
Staffing in conflict
Christine lived in Sri Lanka for almost 12 years, and it was there that she first got involved with the UN. In 1995, the UN Development Programme was looking for a UN Volunteers (UNV) coordinator in Sri Lanka. In this role, Christine became one of three people allowed to travel to the northern-most tip of Sri Lanka, controlled by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
In 1999, she was invited to East Timor to coordinate logistics for more than 400 UN Volunteers recruited to prepare and register Timorese for the country’s independence referendum. She met new arrivals from around the world on the tarmac in Dili and deployed them all over the island. When violence erupted after the vote, Christine assisted with the evacuation of UN personnel. “It is an adrenaline-driven life,” says Christine.
Next, she headed to Kosovo as Chief of the UN Volunteers program. Her contract was for 6 months, but she ended up staying for four years.
Since Kosovo, Christine has been stationed in New York, Cyprus and now in The Hague where she is Chief of Human Resources for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The STL is an international tribunal for the prosecution, under Lebanese law, of those responsible for the assassination of Rafic Hariri, former Prime Minister of Lebanon. Like many UN work environments, the Tribunal’s staff is made up of people from many UN nations – Christine works with people of 61 different nationalities. She says, “IDS gave me the skills to work in a situation like that.”
Christine thrives in chaotic circumstances. “I function very well when critical incidents happen. I’m the one who gets into action,” she says. But, in New York, something happened that nudged her in a different direction. While walking down the street, she was stopped by what felt like a physical force. She walked up the stairs to a building she’d never visited before and found herself in Dharma yoga studio. Now, as a yoga teacher, she has found her centre. “Everything you have is in you,” she says.
Profile written by Kate Jongbloed (Class of 2008)