I have been home for two weeks now and I have been trying to reflect on my experience to decide what it is that I learned, struggled with and what I wish I had done differently.
My experience has definitely benefited me in more ways than one. I have been able to learn a lot about social work in Peru including the government structure and the current situation of youth living on the street, in group homes and vulnerable populations as a whole. The most valuable part was having the opportunity to meet with so many organizations. Although some were “better” than others it was amazing for me to see what projects are being implemented and how they work. That in it of itself was very valuable. It was amazing to see the passion and love people have for working with vulnerable populations. In a world so full of hate and injustice it gave me a glimpse of hope to see so many people fighting for the most vulnerable. In an ideal world everyone would have tons of money and perfect programs that work but you have to start somewhere.
If I could have done something differently it would be that throughout my time in Lima I wish I had done more reading and research on my own about best practices. I think it would have made me a better interviewer. Instead of being just a listener, I could have been more of an active participant in a conversation.
Some lessons learned include:
- Prioritize questions: When I first started I had imagined that I would go into an interview and I would go through all my questions from beginning to end. What happened in reality is that each individual would talk about what they thought I would be most interested in hearing. This ranged from all of their fundraising projects, personal situations, religion, the situation for street youth, etc. Instead of forcing my 28 questions, I chose to prioritize the three to ten questions that I would be able to analyze and measure impact from.
- Phone not email: Very few people responded to my emails but email was a good way to initiate contact so that parties had a general understanding of why I was calling.
- Coalition in small groups: I think that it is necessary to have a large coalition that meets once a year. The coalition can be broken down into smaller groups with similar goals that meet more frequently. It is a lot easier to coordinate schedules and goals in a smaller group. For example, group homes might not have the same ideas and goals as a group that works with street kids. In the end they are completely different populations with very different needs.
- Need money and full time leader to have a coalition: Having a coalition is a lot of work and is hard to manage without a paid full time leader.
- Desire but lack of follow through: A lot of organizations know some of the benefits of creating a coalition but lack the time or motivation to follow through.
- Hard to do anything with constantly changing administration both within the organizations and the government.
Overall it was an amazing experience. It was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated but each step of the way I learned something new. It was great to conduct interviews in Spanish because I did not need the help of an interpreter, and the interviews actually improved my speaking abilities.
The world is a big place with so many people to learn from. I look forward to whatever adventure, job, or research experience I have next!