Four months at IFSO

By Birgitte Poulsen, Social worker intern at IFSO 2013


4 months as an intern at IFSO is now about to end for me. I have been an intern at IFSO due to my Danish education as a social worker. Part of my education is to have a practice placement in my 7th module, and I choose to take this placement at IFSO.

It has been 4 very interesting months for me, and I have learned many things about social work, as well as the Ethiopian Culture. My main project has been the children on the edge project in IFSO, which is a partnership project with the Danish NGO AC International child support.

The Children on the edge projects and activities mainly take place in the outer areas of Addis Abeba. The goals of the projects are to make sure that children have fair access to education, that they attend school on a regular basis and that they conquer certain goals within their education. In addition to this, another goal for the project is also to secure that, children and their families has access to healthcare and information regarding their health. Hand in hand with the activities, a goal of the project is to secure that children’s participation and to obtain the recognition of childrenęs opinion.

The projects takes place I the sub-cities; Nifas Silk Lafto and Akaki Kality, which are two of the poorest and most marginalized areas of Addis Ababa. The problems in these areas are difficult and diverse. Because of the lack of information and knowledge, a number of children suffer from mental and physical violence, and in some cases, sexual abuse. In addition to this, a lot of the children are forced to work in order to generate an income for the family. Another problem they face in these areas is what is called traditional harmful practice, which includes circumcision and violence against women. The women in general have a low status in the communities and gender discrimination is hard to overcome.  Furthermore, the areas are facing a number of issues regarding the education system, including the poor conditions of the schools and the big distances between the home of many of the children and the schools. Even if the family wishes to send their children to school, some families may not be able to afford uniform, books or even lunch for the child. The areas also have several problems as an effect from the missing health care service in the areas, and because the information about health is poor, and in some cases non existing. I addition to this, there are many issues concerning lack of, or great distance to clean water, and problems with sanitary buildings and the hygiene within these.

It has been 4 amazing months in IFSO, and in general in this country. There has not been a single day where it has not been an adventure, sometimes complicated, but that the way it is when you discover a new culture. In my backpack of memories, I now have many things to take with me. First of all I have experienced and learned more than I had thought I ever could through my internship IFSO. The plan of the internship and the learning objectives I had set for myself, started with mainly addressing the social work field and environment, where I was to be part of a series of activities and workshops, which I sure have been. But halfway through the internship it also took another turn. The development of the organization is growing and changing, and I was lucky to take part these changes. Thus my internship ended with me being part of a wonderful mix of activities and workshops with amazing children and young people from different schools and the development of social work through workshops with social workers.

One of the projects, which will stay in my memory for a long time to come, was my facilitation of a workshop in participatory video. Participatory Video is a set of techniques to involve a group or community in shaping and creating their own film. The idea behind this is that making a video is easy and accessible, and is a great way of bringing people together to explore issues, voice concerns or simply to be creative and tell stories.

In participatory video the subjects make their own film in which they can shape issues according to their own sense of what is important, and they can also control how they will be represented.

It is a fact that those who live and breathe a way of life are those who are best placed to understand its limitations and opportunities; they are the true experts. On the basis of my own involvement in a Participatory video workshop in Denmark, I had an idea on how I would do the planning and facilitation of the workshop. Participants would be around 20 children, divided from 4 schools, therefore the workshop could also contribute to the children to get new friends. To help with communication, I had two of my colleagues to be present to translate, but in addition, the participants were also very helpful in this area. The four days were structured so that the first day should be about expressing yourself, find out what you want to say and how to communicate one's dreams and thoughts. This should be done through inclusive and participatory exercises to enable children to express their history and dreams. Hereafter, the output from these exercises would be helpful for us to let us learn from the children's own stories and ideas. One goal of extending was also to raise awareness of the fact that the participants are in control of their own history and their dissemination. The last three days would then be learning to express themselves through film and digital stories. It was a weekend where we built unity and fellowship and there was created bounds between new people, myself included. And of course, it was a weekend which was ended with amazing film, and the children were given knowledge and learning which they can use in their future.

Besides the many workshops and activities, I have also been involved in organizational development of both IFSO and other organizations and I had the opportunity to examine the pros and cons of the western world's share in the development work in Ethiopia. We even still have a few projects on the go, which I will continue to work on during the summer.

My daily route often goes by the airport, and every time I come to think of the day I landing in this country. Although there has been so many memories since that day, I still remember the day very clearly because it is so much in contrast to the present state. I landed at 3 am on a Saturday night. When I got off the plane almost nobody around me could speak English, I waited half an hour for my luggage, and no one could tell me why. My phone did not work. I could not find the driver who was supposed to pick me up. It all seemed quite chaotic and a bit lonely when all was now so foreign. I considered for a few minutes if I should just go back home, to safe and familiar environment. Today I am so happy that I did not hurry back home!

My conclusion within these last days of my practice placement is that I have had an amazing adventure, and it has been 4 months full of new experiences due to the projects I have been a part of at IFSO. I am happy to see that the social work, and development projects are helpful to a lot of people, and that we are actually able to make significant changes in people’s lives with these kinds of projects.