For the very first time, students at Sciences Po Paris (France’s top university for the social sciences) have been given an opportunity to collaborate directly with UNICEF, and the experience has been amazing. This semester, I and 31 of my fellow students in the Masters in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action have been given a unique opportunity to learn about UNICEF activities in Burundi and work alongside the UNICEF team in developing new and innovative projects. As the first semester of this new academic collaboration comes to a close, I would like to share the experiences of our class with the UNICEF community.
The course started in a very striking way: we were welcomed and motivated via Skype by UNICEF’s Representative in Burundi, Johannes Wedenig, who introduced us to basic facts about the country. Since then we have communicated every week via Skype with different members of in-country UNICEF staff who inform us about urgent needs in Burundi in high-priority issue areas like malnutrition, child health, juvenile justice or education, and the programs UNICEF has undertaken to help meet these needs. Based on this information and our own research we have started developing manifold project ideas that we think could help tackle these problems.
We came up with a large number of ideas and flooded UNICEF Burundi by our proposals. Working in small groups, we have suggested, for instance, to build henhouses in order to decrease malnutrition, to launch a school competition in soap production in order to enhance hygiene practices or to equip mothers-to-be with “baby boxes” containing basic items needed by newborns in order to keep them healthy in the critical first months. Further, we have worked on specific operational guidelines concerning detention centers or database of ongoing UNICEF Burundi projects. We have also proposed a project expanding the possibilities of U-Report and, last but not least, we have been working on a concept for a power-mapping tool to assist UNICEF’s advocacy and social policy work.
Once all the projects are further developed according to the requirements of UNICEF Burundi they will be included into their database and assessed by UNICEF programme staff for implementation feasibility.
At the end of the semester, several of the students of Sciences Po Paris will be given the possibility to go to Burundi and contribute to the work of UNICEF as well as develop further project ideas.
We are very grateful for this opportunity and this unique course that allows us to take part in the development of project designs and to have insight into UNICEF in-country operations. I think this experience was enriching for both sides, as we have given UNICEF Burundi many ideas about potential projects, and working alongside UNICEF senior staff has given us an enormous boost in our path to become professionals in this inspiring field.