2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Blair Smith

Blair Smith

Internship Location: Enseña Peru

Journal Entry #1:

Greetings! My name is Blair Smith, and this summer, I have endeavored to Lima, Peru, for a violence awareness and prevention internship with Enseña Peru. This nonprofit strives to provide high-impact educators to under-resourced areas throughout the country. Enseña Peru Professionals (PEPs) staff schools in a diversity of regions where they teach classes, provide socio-emotional support, and oversee community-focused projects that students develop. The organizations vision is to give 8 out of every 10 people in Peru a high-quality education by 2032.

It is an unfortunate truth that many Enseña Peru students have experienced violence of some kind. In a survey sent to all PEPs, 80 percent reported knowing students who are victims of physical, emotional, and/or sexual violence. I am working with a few members of the organization who are developing trainings and protocols to address this widespread issue.

The team’s work centers on empowering PEPs and their students by weaving lessons on students’ rights and entitlements into Enseña Peru’s curricula, equipping PEPs with more extensive counselling skills, and squandering stigma surrounding victimization through activities like circles of trust and survivors’ stories. While much work needs to be done in the way of providing resources to students after they have experienced violence, this group is also working to confront the problem at its source through prevention strategies and community-facing education.

My first week in the kind and quirky office space has been a mix of acquainting myself with the various laws, policies, and government organizations that currently exist to address violence in schools, and translating subtitles for videos on Enseña Peru’s YouTube page into English. Everyone I’ve met is incredibly kind and helpful, and I am grateful for their attentiveness as I get adjusted to living in the city. Every day at lunchtime, most people in the office gather in a small meeting room for lunch to pause, chat, reflect, and enjoy one another’s company. I’ve loved how central “togetherness” is in the office culture—everyone is willing to help one another. And it seems like everyone really enjoys spending time together, too.

My Spanish major has been infinitely valuable for this experience. I am nowhere near fluent, and it is challenging to keep up with the fast pace of many conversations. But I have understood the majority of my conversations, and I’m learning new words and cultural concepts all the time. For example, Peru is known for its expansive and delicious cuisine—every block is home to several restaurants, cafés, and markets. People take pride in the food that they make, and are always willing to experiment with new dishes. I’ve solicited cooking tips from my coworkers several times (pineapple and onion are an unlikely and scrumptious combination).

Enseña Peru’s director, Aldo Valencia, believes that it is possible to cultivate national pride in education in this same way—through sparking excitement and joy through dynamic learning experiences. I think he’s right. With love and kindness, we can fuel a movement.

Journal Entry #2:

Midway through my internship with Enseña Peru, I have visited and participated in classes at two secondary schools where Enseña Peru Professionals (PEPs) teach, met with an employee of Peru’s Ministry of Education to learn about national violence prevention, awareness, and support protocols, and attended a UNESCO event about improving educational experiences for migrant youth. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind, but I’ve learned much about educational policy in Peru, and the wonderful work that Enseña Peru does to ensure that all young people receive a quality education. Here I will detail bits of my day-to-day and what I have been working on so far.

Staff of Enseña Peru’s main administrative office in Miraflores flurry from one task to the next. On most days, I arrive to the office in the morning and am greeted by several friendly faces on either of the two-floor, compact office spaces. I settle into one of the unoccupied desk spaces and unpack my laptop and journal. My main project is to develop action plans for PEPs to fall back on if they or any of their students experience any form of violence, as well as strategies to prevent violence from occurring in the first place. For a few hours, I review and transcribe my notes from previous meetings (with PEPs, psychologists, and teachers), extract tidbits from these meetings into a brainstorm document, and research relevant methods to address and prevent violence. Most of my work so far has been getting acquainted with Peru’s systems of governance, and the cultural-historical contexts that perpetuate violence as a corrective mechanism against young people.

The Government of Peru has several programs to support victims of violence, including Emergency Centers for Women (CEMs), a 24/7 government operated phone hotline for victims of violence (Línea 100), and the Ministry of Education’s phone hotline (SiSeVe). One challenge is in making these services available and maintaining them in remote areas. Some communities in the highlands and the jungle do not have internet connectivity, and/or do not have adequately staffed CEMs or health centers. Phone hotlines can help generate government reports for local and regional authorities to respond to, but when immediate action is warranted, supports are sometimes unavailable. Several PEPs report that the nearest support services, such as a police station or hospital, are more than a two-hour drive from their school. If a student brings a knife to school and intends to harm someone, there is not a timely solution

Because of this, we are looking at building community support systems by encouraging PEPs to engage community members in volunteer service, from informal counseling to security and protection. PEPs will form relationships with, inspire, and organize community members around a common mission to do good for and with their young people. When a PEP finishes their two years at a school, they will acquaint the incoming PEP with community members to maintain the community support system in the long run. Because Enseña Peru Professionals typically only teach for two years, incoming PEPs often feel disoriented and disconnected from their community, leaving them to build from scratch. The proposed model creates a more substantive, constructive force that supports the community’s young people beyond the classroom—young people and fellow teachers would not feel abandoned when the PEP leaves the school. Further, this support system would be available when formal supports are not, providing the much-needed immediate care and protection for young people should they experience some form of violence.

My tenancy in Lima has been incredibly eye-opening. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with Enseña Peru and learn from standing with several communities that they reach. Violence is a complex and far-reaching issue, and the work I am doing with this non-profit in our quest to give students secure spaces to grow in is urgent, and good.

Journal Entry #3: 

My internship with Enseña Perú has come to an end, and I am beyond grateful for the many beautiful experiences that came of my time with the organization. Between phone interviews with Enseña Perú Professionals (PEPs), a side project to create a marketing strategy for an international fundraiser, and researching government resources for survivors of violence, my internship partner and I traveled to Machu Picchu and sampled delicious local dishes. More importantly, we formed deep friendships with our coworkers that I hope will last a long time. Peru is a breathtaking country, and the people who endeavor with Enseña Perú do important work to make sure that every young person can live healthy, fulfilling lives.

After interviewing seven PEPs about what they have done to prevent spread awareness of violence, I wrote two policy memos outlining my recommendations for content to be included in an informational resource for future PEPs. In these, I compiled my research on violence in Perú, strategies and exercises that PEPs used to approach the topic with various community groups, and recommendations for how PEPs can strengthen community support systems. One PEP I spoke with talked about five values that she held during her two years teaching: respect, empathy, non-judgement, humility, and gratitude. Leading with these values allowed her to gain trust from others and become part of the community. This trust was the foundation for collective social change to end physical punishments in homes and the school. I learned the true power of connection from this PEP and the people I had the fortune to work with. In humanitarian work, like that of Enseña Perú, it is easy to think that a person is doing something good for someone else, but effective change doesn’t happen unless a person listens to and works with everyone around them.

I’m leaving Lima with new questions and worldviews. The past six weeks have opened my eyes to so much I had not seen clearly before, and I wonder what else I am not seeing. What injustice exists beyond my field of vision, and what simple solutions lie beneath the surface? Now more than ever, I believe that loving relationships and collective action are guiding lights that can cut through the ubiquitous darkness that shrouds our world. I am infinitely grateful to the Parents Fund for allowing me this opportunity to learn with my feet on the ground. I still have a long way to go, but this transformative experience has equipped me with tools and experiences that will propel me forward in my quest to do and be good.