Reflections on the First Few Weeks of my Internship at UNICEF Peru

It’s hard to believe that today marks the beginning of the fourth week of my chamba (or work, as many Peruvians refer to it) at UNICEF in Lima. Before I describe the specifics of my internship responsibilities, let me tell you about some of the qualities that make this office a truly unique and stimulating place to work.

During my first week at UNICEF, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with the Education Specialist about the organization’s previous and current projects. When I asked him how the projects he has directed at UNICEF Peru compare to those he has worked on in other offices, he smiled and began to speak enthusiastically about the collaborative environment here. In recent years, he explained, UNICEF Peru has been working to develop more integrative approaches to problem solving, meaning that the organization’s different departments (Education, Protection, Health, and Politics, etc.) now work together much more directly throughout the five-year program cycle.

I did not have to wait long to observe the organization’s commitment to intersectoral collaboration. During my second week, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting regarding needs assessment planning for UNICEF’s program to foster opportunities for adolescents. While UNICEF’s Education team and representatives from the Ministry of Education led the meeting, representatives from UNICEF’s Health and Protection departments were also present to help the group reimagine ways of conducting more holistic needs assessments. Throughout the meeting, I saw how the presence of members from different sectors helped the team brainstorm more inclusive assessment methods, particularly with regard to their survey design and data sample selection. It was fascinating not only to learn about such holistic approaches, but also to witness the mechanisms that are in place here to support interdepartmental dialogue. (I also have to include a shout out to IEDP – the sort of collaboration I’ve witnessed at UNICEF has been reminiscent of the amazingly supportive relationships our cohort has built.)

So now you’re probably wondering what kind of work I’ve been doing here on a daily basis. Throughout my internship, I’ll be working on projects regarding Intercultural Bilingual Education (part of UNICEF’s previous country program) and Inclusive Education (a component of the current program).

Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE)

Currently, the majority of my time is devoted to making an inventory of the resources that have been produced for the Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE) program. IBE is a program that has been implemented across 14 Latin American Countries to promote more equitable and culturally/linguistically relevant education for indigenous youth. In theory, the program also seeks to foster mutual respect and cross-cultural understanding between indigenous and nonindigenous youth, though efforts to this end have been implemented to varying degrees across different country contexts. In Peru, IBE has been implemented mainly in rural primary schools, although, as I witnessed at the International Conference for Territories and Development in Peru, researchers and policymakers recognize the need to expand IBE to the secondary level, as well as urban contexts.

As a part of the organization’s efforts to support the development and implementation of IBE in Peru, UNICEF collaborated with the Ministries of Education in Peru, Canada, and Finland to produce hundreds of IBE curricular resources, pedagogical guides, and research reports. Over the past three weeks, I’ve been working to organize these materials into a more accessible filing system and make an inventory that I will ultimately present to the National Education Council, the Ministry of Education, and a think tank to support their continued efforts to foster opportunities for indigenous children and adolescents. While determining the purpose and potential applications of monolingual indigenous language pedagogical/curricular materials is challenging at times, I am fascinated by the variety of resources that have been produced and the ways in which they have been adapted for different indigenous groups.

tarjetas bilingues
Quechua Chanka/Spanish bilingual flashcards: an example of one of the pedagogical resources in my inventory. While I’m working with materials in 7 languages (other than Spanish), that’s only about a sixth of the total number of languages spoken in Peru!

Inclusive Education

As a part of its current country program, UNICEF is working to support more inclusive educational opportunities for children and adolescents who have traditionally been marginalized from the mainstream education system (e.g. children with disabilities, minority language speakers, etc.). To support these efforts, I will be gathering and synthesizing resources (primarily pedagogical guides) that have been produced in various country contexts to foster flexible, inclusive pedagogy/curricular design and help educators develop a diversity-as-a-resource orientation in their classrooms. Since I plan to return to teaching for a while after finishing my degree, I am excited to have the opportunity to explore a topic that is so applicable to my career goals and about which I have so much to learn.

Engaging with both the former and current country programs has been a wonderful way to deepen my insight into UNICEF’s history in Peru, the organization’s immediate objectives, and their plans for future educational development. Realizing the ways in which UNICEF’s IBE and Inclusive Education initiatives are connected both theoretically and with regard to their implementation has also been a fascinating learning experience.

Of course, this post would not be complete without a nod to some of the things I’ve been enjoying in Lima outside of work. While the nature-lover in me was initially a bit overwhelmed by the city’s crowded concrete buildings, relentless drizzle, and grey skies that seldom give way to sunshine, there are many things about this city for which I am undeniably grateful, some of which include:

  1. The food! Ceviche, fresh mangos, the vast variety of Japanese-Peruvian cuisine known as nikkei – enough said
  2. A wonderful and welcoming dance community 
  3. Amazing housemates
  4. Being within walking distance of the ocean
  5. Cheap alpaca sweaters (especially since I didn’t bring nearly enough warm clothing)
  6. The opportunity to learn about a different dialect of Spanish
  7. The chance to be here while Peru is playing in the World Cup (for the first time in 36 years!). Fun fact: when Peru qualified, the mass number of people jumping up and down in celebration throughout the city produced enough of a seismic wave for the Geophysical Institute of Peru to register a 1.0M earthquake.

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    A very Peruvian (and delicious) salad piled with patacones (crushed, fried plantains), choclo (a variety of corn unique to the Andes), and aguaymanto (the tart orange fruit resembling a cherry tomato)

More internship tales and additions to my gratitude list soon to come. ¡Hasta pronto!

– Lauren