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Michelle LillywhiteIn August 2014 I had an amazing opportunity to have an internship, with two of my best friends, in Medellin Colombia. We had support from the university funding scheme called Global Horizons Fund and our academic team had made contacts with a local university who organised our placement.

The whole planning experience started a countdown from April and so when we got to the airport we were very excited, even though we had a 13 hour flight ahead of us.

Our placement was with an organisation called FAN, which supports children and their families in areas of deprivation in the mountain towns around what is now a bustling metropolitan city.

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Colombia-8-edOur journey to work was on the cable car. The views over the city were simply stunning, but really showed how much support some families still needed.

 

The nursery we were working in offered places for up to 300 children and had about 15 other centres all over the city, from large purpose built centres that we were based in to adapted houses in ordinary residential areas.

Colombia-6-edThis was the view from the nursery – simply amazing!

The ethos of the project as a whole was to support families by offering day care to the children so that the mothers and fathers could work and provide support for the family in the home. They offered a good diet for the children during the day, many of whom may not have always been fed at home, and a structured balance between learning and (equally as important) – play!

The support continued with on-site psychologists and social workers who went out into the community to support those most in need. The local ‘fight’ was not only against the historical drug issues in the outlying areas, but also getting over the issues that had been created within the communities and looking forward to a prosperous future.

Colombia-2-edWe took some flash cards with us so that we could teach them some English and also they taught us some Spanish too! This was our translator Maria helping us with the class.

As social work students we were amazed and blown away by how people came together and were proud of themselves and their neighbours. We had the opportunity to take part in their 50th birthday celebrations while we were there. The whole nursery, children and staff, went out onto the streets and we danced and sang and told everyone about the amazing work that FAN was doing. What shocked us most was the people who came out into the streets and waved and sang too about how proud they were of their community – that was a particularly emotional day!

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Getting ready for the parade (in the heat). This shows you how high up we were in the mountains.

Our trip was specific to our course and gave us valuable insight into another world and we met some amazingly inspiring people during our stay. Any international experience can open your eyes to other cultures, their history and in this case their fight for a future. The fact that BU sponsored our trip and actively encouraged us to have this experience is something rather unique.

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This was on parade day on the 50th birthday of FAN – the jungle (top of the mountain) is right behind us!

So come to BU, as you never know where in the world you might end up!

By Michelle Lillywhite

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