Students Without Borders is a WUSC and CECI program that enables Canadian university and college students to participate in exciting, volunteer learning opportunities in South America, Africa, and Asia.

Final Blog Post

July 27, 2014

Well, my internship in Lima is finally coming to a close.  It’s been a really positive experience, and I feel that Uniterra is a valuable programme for what it offers to volunteers.  In this blog post, I’ll describe some of the tasks I’ve been doing since my last blog post, and then share some of my reflections on my time here.

The past two weeks were really busy with a series of workshops in “CETPROs”, or technical education centres, that inform students on how to develop their professional skills and integrate themselves in to the formal economy.  For example, students are given advice on how to apply for a job, how to complete a job interview, and how to write a resume.  A few of these workshops were carried out in rapid succession in Carabayllo, a far-flung barrio of Lima.  The beneficiaries of these were of all ages; while the lower limit for enrolment is 14, students can be as old as 60.  Interestingly, they are 70 or 80 per cent female, even though CETPROs offer courses in technical careers that don’t correspond to a particular gender stereotype (the way that cosmetology might).

At the same time as we began these workshops (known as “ABE”, or Asesorio de la Búsqueda de Trabajo), we were closing up our “Chispa de Aurorita” science club workshops.  Closing up each workshop involved one day when the girls would present the projects that they had worked on to family or peers, and then a field trip to somewhere related to their workshop.  This was a rewarding experience, because the girls took a lot of pride in the work that they had put in over the past few weeks, and they showed a lot of confidence in presenting their projects.  What’s more, most of them had become a lot more friendly and open with me since the first few weeks, and so it was a lot of fun to spend time with them.

Working so many days (I averaged six a week) left me with a few days off, which I used last Monday and Tuesday to visit Huacachina, a touristy desert oasis a few minutes outside the city of Ica.  I went with my girlfriend and a friend of hers, both of whom would continue on to visit more of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.  Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was going into the dunes in buggies and sandboarding down some spectacularly-steep slopes.  We were with a (hilarious) group of anglophones from Australia and the UK, so it was also a nice break to be able to speak English again.  An added bonus of this quick trip was seeing some sunlight; Lima is famously cloudy throughout winter, earning the nickname “Lima la Gris”, or “Lima the Grey”.

Once I was back, I finished up a few administrative tasks in the Aurora Vivar office.  I finished entering some data from a vocational orientation test that one of the schools had completed, and made modifications to the database I’d created so that it would be ready for data entries that weren’t available during my internship, but that would need to be entered in the coming months.

This database is one of my better achievements within the Aurora Vivar office.  Upon beginning our vocational orientation workshops, students complete a little form and respond to some questions that reveal their perspectives and biases on gender or training in professional settings.  While it was just an Excel database, I was able to have each correct response automatically calculated and the percentages of correct responses displayed in a pivot table.  The pivot table, in turn, would automatically update a corresponding bar graph, which permits any user to easily and visually compare any groups who completed the form.  That is to say, if one manipulates the pivot table to show boys from one school and girls from another, then the graph will also show these groups and their responses.  Because in Excel it is easy to accidentally “break” the series of calculations, I was also careful to hide the machinations of my database and leave clear instructions on how it should be updated.

I think it will be interesting to draw on some of the highlights from this database during my follow-up assignments for the University of Ottawa; firstly because it will be satisfying to have my work with Aurora Vivar also contribute to some research element of my studies, and secondly because the database reveals some interesting trends.  Most notably, it shows that boys tend to be far more open to technical education and careers (even though CETPROs are overwhelmingly female), while girls are far more heavily biased towards attending university.  Meanwhile, girls are less likely to say that professional aptitude is determined by gender (for example, women cannot be mechanics, or male cosmetologists must be gay).  It will be interesting to see to what extent age or private schooling will influence these categories.

To close this blog post, I’ll share a few reflections on my experience.  First and foremost, I’m am very grateful to WUSC and to Aurora Vivar; both of these organisations welcomed me and made me feel comfortable and useful, especially at the beginning of my internship.  While there was definitely a cultural adjustment that I had to make, I never felt like I was without support or without someone who could answer my questions.

Looking back, some of the biggest challenges I faced arose from the fact that I had to work in Spanish.  Though my Spanish improved a lot during my three months, not being a native speaker made it so that every little thing was just a little bit more difficult.  It’s like having to swim with an weight belt on.  Another challenge was simply the long travel times between where I lived and where we often gave workshops, in Northern Lima.  Travel could be over three hours a day, which is a lot more than I was used to.  However, compared to what a lot of limeños did every day, it wasn’t particularly bad.

The biggest benefit, I think, from my trip was the practical experience with development work.  While I’ve studied development issues for the past three years, this is the first time I’ve been working on a development project within a developing country.  I have a better understanding of the cultural, environmental, economic and political factors that complicate development projects, and the multitude of opinions that people in developing countries can have on their own development.  Perhaps most notably, I have concrete examples of times where Peruvians ideas of what “development” should look like differ from the vision that is broadly promoted by international organisations and aid agencies.  Attending gender and development seminars with Irma, my boss, was an excellent theoretical complement to the practical element of my internship.

All in all, I’m very happy with everything that I’ve learned and experienced, and I’m happy to be heading home to Canada.  This is definitely an experience I’d recommend to any student with an interest in development issues and an appetite for adventure.