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.