¡Saludos! My name is Magali and I’ll be interning with UNICEF Bolivia in La Paz for the next 13 weeks. It’s a little wild to think that I’ve been in La Paz for less than a week—from adjusting to the altitude, to some changes in plans due to protests in the city, to my first few days of work, it’s been a whirlwind five days!
My journey to La Paz started last Friday, with a 5:30am wake up call to get from my parents’ house in rural Rhode Island to Boston’s Logan airport. While booking my flights, I was surprised to find out that flying to La Paz from the States is by no means a straight-forward process. As one of the capital cities of Bolivia (there’s two, the other is Sucre, “the constitutional capital”, but La Paz is where all of the action happens), I assumed that the local airport would be a major international one. Alas, it’s much more of a regional airport, and I can now consider myself lucky to have had only three flights to get here (Boston, MA, USA –> Miami, FL, USA –> Lima, Perú –> La Paz, Bolivia).
I finally arrived on Saturday, a little after 3:30am (again, my flight options were limited!) and a colleague met me at the airport to take me to my hotel. Given this marathon of a travel day to get somewhere that geographically isn’t that far from home, I am so very grateful that my host organization sent someone to greet me at the airport. Seeing his smiling face and UNICEF jacket (in their iconic light blue color) made even an exhausted me feel ready and excited for what’s to come!
The folks at UNICEF recommended that I arrive a few days before my first day of work, and make zero plans, so that I could acclimate to the dramatic altitude—the highest point of La Paz (“La Zona Norte”) sits at 13,320 ft. (4,060 meters) above sea level, but luckily I’ll be spending most of my time in “La Zona Sur”, at about 10,660 ft. (3,250 meters), which is still very different from my normal. So, I gifted myself with a weekend at a hotel and stayed in a big comfy bed watching a Harry Potter movie marathon for a couple of days. And although it’s taking me a few more days to get my resting heart rate to stay below 100 (no joke), this was probably the best way to safely begin my 13 weeks in La Paz.
Before I share some first impressions of week #1, I’ll share a little bit about myself and how I landed in Bolivia. I came into IEDP with five years of work experience, so knew from the get-go that I had a few specific professional goals for this experience. For starters, most of my prior work experience is in higher ed (where I worked with lots of smaller NGOs), so I knew that I wanted to work at a large international organization, to see if this kind of work environment is one that I may want to explore for the future. I have also never worked full-time in Spanish, so one of my goals was to work in a Spanish-speaking country, to hone that skillset. Finally, my coursework in IEDP focused on migration and child development (often in educational settings, of course), so, ideally, I wanted to work with an organization that works on these issues (even if I wouldn’t directly contribute to these kinds of projects). Combine these interests and professional goals, and that’s how I ended up in Bolivia, working with UNICEF’s Child Protection Unit.
Day 1 at UNICEF Bolivia started with the warmest of welcomes. I showed up to the office with my two suitcases, since I had to delay my check-in at my AirBnB due to city-wide protests. The HR team greeted me at my taxi, with smiles and hugs. It was in that moment that I looked at the office building and fully realized that I’ll be spending the next 3 months working in one of the UN buildings of Bolivia. The building houses UNICEF and several other UN organizations. Even though it’s unlikely that I’ll work with folks from any other divisions, just being in this building feels so surreal to me!
After storing my suitcases with the security guard, we headed up to the UNICEF offices, where one of my new colleagues brought me around to literally everyone to begin introducing me to folks. I’m generally really good with names and faces, but meeting nearly two dozen new people at once, while feeling a bit loopy due to a combination of the altitude and a pesky cold, was a bit intimidating. Luckily, everyone is super friendly and accommodating, and I’m looking forward to getting to know folks better as the time goes on.
After these introductions, I met with my supervisor, the head of the Child Protection Unit, to discuss my main project for my internship. Essentially, I’ll be doing a TON of reading about UNICEF’s child protection initiatives in Bolivia over the last decade, and conducting a meta-analysis of sorts, to uncover the underlying root causes of exploitation of and violence against children in Bolivia. The goal is to have a clearer idea of these causes, so that UNICEF can start to focus their efforts more on prevention rather than treatment. I’ve never conducted a meta-analysis before, but reading, synthesizing information, and writing up my findings, are all things I’m nerdily excited about, so I’m ready to dive in.
¡Hasta la próxima!