For the last eight months the build-up of a potentially life-altering trip had begun to take over my thoughts and actions as I made my way through my final semester of classes of my Bachelor of Social work degree. If you would have told me a year ago at this time that I would be living and interning in a country that I’ve only ever dreamed of going to my whole life, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Life works in mysterious ways…
My plane landed late at night in Nairobi on January 30th and although the flight was long and the looming effects of jet lag would soon begin to settle, I could not help but feel that surge of energy rush through me, as the uncertainty of the next three months began to sink in. An uncertainty of how I would feel in a country and culture that is different than my own, along with the unknown of how I would adapt to a new and unfamiliar role in my internship. Although these factors could be a recipe for discomfort and homesickness, I feel myself desiring to be as present as I can since I know that there is so much to learn, and so much room for personal and professional growth.
I’m originally from a small town on the prairies so Nairobi has presented as a city with so much to see and explore. There is no rhyme or reason to the traffic, but I find that I’m slowly starting to get used to the commute to and from work. The people have also been incredibly inviting and welcoming, and despite the fact I’m only attempting to learn Swahili, they have been supportive in my efforts and are constantly teaching me new words and phrases. The goal in the next three months is to learn at least one new word a day!
As previously mentioned I am completing my Social Work degree and am in the final leg of my journey with the required internship. I was attracted to this type of degree because I always knew that I wanted to work with community and help people in some capacity. Additionally, this is not a limiting degree with jobs that span from micro-hands on work with individuals, to mezzo community and organization work. Additionally, macro-social work involving policy analysis, social planning, and social action and advocacy can be practiced (Carey, 2007). Essentially taking a bird’s eye view of the social problem—identifying and observing the overarching systems that contribute to oppression and additional social justice issues on a national and international level. I’ve had hands-on experience in my career but have lacked the macro-perspective that comes with social work. Therefore, when an opportunity for an internship at the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) came up, I knew that I wanted to explore this side of social work a bit more.
This begs the question, how is UNOPS an example of an organization in which macro social work is practiced? The work done at the UNOPS office is complex, but to simplify and explain the role of the Partnership Development Office (PDO) which I’m working in, I’ve had to not only do my own research, but ask my co-workers many questions about their roles. Essentially, UNOPS is a self-financing “operational arm” of the UN whose mission is to “Help people build better lives and help countries achieve peace and sustainable development (UNOPS, 2017).” This is done through multiple project opportunities that occur in some of the most challenging environments in the world.
Upon further investigation I learned more about some of these projects. For example, the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Institute (TVET) in Kenya was developed through donor partnerships that were facilitated through UNOPS. These donors contributed to funding the infrastructure of the building alongside a tedious 2-3 years of proposals, budget, and relationship building that UNOPS was a part of. Additionally, multiple maternity clinics in northern Kenya have also been funded through donors UNOPS worked with, such as UNICEF. More examples of projects can be found here: https://www.unops.org/project-locations. All of these are examples of the social planning, action, and advocacy that go into change that can impact individuals and communities.
Over the next few months, I’m excited to continue learning about how social work fits in with UNOPS and grow in my understanding of macro social work practice. I am beginning to become more aware of the challenges of international development, and am ready to further explore the complexities of this type of work.
United Nations Office for Project Services. (2017). Mission. Vision. Purpose. Retrieved from https://www.unops.org/about/our-story/mission-vision-purpose.
Carey, L. A. (2007). Teaching Macro Practice: An Experiential Learning Project. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 27(1/2), 61–71. https://doi-org.proxy.ufv.ca:2443/10.1300/J067v27n01pass:%5B_%5D04