Bournemouth University: Students help Colombian communities move on from violent past

Five students from Bournemouth University (BU) have just completed four-week internships in Medellin, Colombia to volunteer with families and communities hoping to change perceptions of their country.

The BA Social Work students had the opportunity to complete their work placements in a kindergarten or an elderly person support centre. The kindergarten offers free placement for children under six, enabling them to give support and advice to families and communities who want to free themselves from the violent troubles of their past. The students were also able to work for Fundicol, a housing and support facility that helps elderly people that may have been abandoned or can no longer live alone.

The group was made up of first and second year BU students Karen Sampson, Gemma Chiverton, Georgia Foy, Cassie Dando and Michelle Lillywhite who were guided by the local Colombian social workers during their trip. One student, Karen Sampson said “We were told more don’ts than do’s. The warning of safety issues and possible hostility to tourists by local ‘guerrillas’ could not have been further from the truth.”

As well as the local social workers, the students received support from a local university as well to help them bridge the language gap. This allowed them to explore how organisations were coming together to overcome their historic issues. Sampson continued, “We were asked if it was safe and actually yes it was; as safe as anywhere here in the UK. It was suggested that we did not venture into certain areas alone at night but that is not dissimilar to some areas within the UK.”

The students were able to fund their trip thanks to the BU Global Horizon Fund, securing them £1,500 each to go towards their visit. Michelle Lillywhite said, “The whole experience was amazing and we need to bring back the message from Colombia that asking for help is a positive move and does not mean people are weak or to be shunned. Families and individuals should be celebrated for understanding when support can make all the difference to empower themselves to be more independent.”

Jill Davey, a Social Work lecturer at BU, commented, “This was a great opportunity for our students to be exposed to the social work profession in different countries; to see the issues and care solutions in rural communities is a once in a life time opportunity. Our Social Work curriculum is centred around globalisation of the profession, but for these students to see it first hand and then share their experiences will be a great learning experience for other students too.”

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