While Samoa and its culture are not new to me, working within the Apia UN office and within a government ministry is entirely new. I’m seeing a whole new dimension to social and political interaction. First of all, UNDP is a global IGO (intergovernmental organization) and it has a complex hierarchy with its own administrative and operational procedures —some of which I’m learning about. The Ministry of Women, Community, and Social Development (MWCSD) is a large government ministry with about 115 employees. There is a hierarchy here too and I find that Samoans are quite formal in the work place, placing an emphasis on respecting this hierarchy and observing protocols. As I’ve mentioned before, I am an intern at the UNDP but have been asked to work within the MWCSD, in order to assist them with various projects related to youth, especially youth employment. In my office there are about 11 people and everyone is extremely friendly with me. Most people work at a relaxed pace and take moments out for coffee or snacks, but as I have been assigned so many duties by the UN, I rarely feel able to chill. I try to be ultra productive while still taking the time for a bit of friendly conversation now and then. I have regular reports to write up, and various projects to work on, including research on employment opportunities.
Two days a week I’ve been assigned to assist a new government program called the High Tech Youth Network (HTYN). I really enjoy being out of the office for this work, going into communities to research and speak to youth about technology and their possible involvement in I.T. training programs. It is also interesting to learn about how Samoan youth understand the word ‘technology’ and their views on media.
My World of Work experience in Samoa is proving to be a fantastic learning opportunity- different from university training, particularly because it carries both responsibility and accountability. The UN and Samoan government are relying on a few of us to conduct research and assist with these initiatives designed to improve the prospects of Samoa’s youth, helping to create a framework for the new High Tech Youth Network, a multimillion-dollar initiative. I feel that I’m learning and building important skills that will endure well beyond this experience. These include: gathering information (often from primary sources), meeting deadlines, liaising with different offices and agencies, speaking to people who are in top leadership positions, speaking with young school leavers and trying to be a role model for them. I am confident that my work this summer will help provide a foundation for a future career in Samoa in my areas of interest: development, social justice and environmental management. I am meeting many key players in the government and the UNDP office and I’m truly enjoying making these connections and being in situations where I am continually learning through experience.
My internship with the United Nations in Samoa did not officially begin until the 6th of June, after Samoa’s long independence weekend; however, during the country’s celebrations my friends and I assisted with a government driven, youth education and outreach program that focused on the two themes of bullying and sexual reproductive health. The program entailed splitting into groups and going around the “hang out” spots in town where youth congregate to discuss the important topics that are a big problem in Samoa. It was a thought generating exercise resulting in fruitful discussions. Once my work officially started, I joined in with the UN Youth Employment Program (YEP) team.
Originally I was to be based at the UNDP office, but because I am working primarily on the YEP, it made more sense for me to be placed at the Ministry for Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD), Division for Youth, working directly with the Project Manager of the YEP. The United Nations is engaged in a number of core development areas in partnership with the Samoan government. Their Millennium Development Goals include eradicating extreme poverty, ensuring environmental sustainability, promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, universal primary education, and others. My task is to assist with some specific projects addressing the needs of youth. Preventing early school leavers and providing employment for youth, are important goals for the government and the UN in Samoa. I will be doing research to identify and highlight pathways between IT training programs and labor market opportunities for youth. I’ve been asked to assist with some technology training related to a new government initiative called the “High Tech Youth Network”. This is a large project sponsored by the New Zealand government, aiming to give youth in Samoa the opportunity to learn IT skills at no cost whatsoever.
The most interesting work for me so far has been in dealing with child vendors and their families. This assignment has entailed visits to low -income families in the villages surrounding Apia, the capitol of Samoa. While conducting a “needs assessment survey”, for the Ministry, I have become quite engaged with these families. In each case the family has been willing to speak openly and frankly about their personal economic situations. For the most part they are large families, with only one or two wage earners. One family in particular consists of 30 people and there is only one adult wage earner. Several of their children have been peddling goods on the streets, in a desire to contribute to the family and improve their conditions. Nevertheless they are extremely poor and struggle to eat. In my professional capacity I am able to listen to them, collect data assessing their needs and offer advice when I can. Witnessing their struggle and tough but positive attitudes makes it impossible not to want to offer some assistance!
This internship with the UN is a fantastic introduction to the operations of a global development organization within a small, developing country. Because my role within the UN has me working in cooperation with the Samoan governments’ MWCSD, I am also able to learn about the mandates of different government departments and the relationships between them. My goal is to learn from my experience working in Samoa, the core skills and practical knowledge that will help me better understand the relevance of my studies at Brandeis to real-world development challenges. I also wish to conduct research that will enhance my understanding of how technology may be used for youth empowerment and sustainable development. The internship is fascinating, and I know it will be a very busy two months.