A Practicum Experience
By : Michaela S. | Practicum Student
My name is Michaela and I’m a university student in Social Work from Sweden. I was interested in doing my semester of practice in Colombia and that led me to research and find Ciudad Refugio. The length of my practicum was for 20 weeks; I started in August and finished in December of 2019. During my time at Ciudad Refugio, there was another student from Germany doing here practicum there as well; it was a great to share this experience with someone from another part of the world.
When I first arrived, I was introduced to the different programs at Ciudad Refugio. This was a good chance to get an impression of the work, processes, and methods of the foundation. This included work with kids (English Club, Homework Club, Homeschool, Ciudad De Los Niños, and the Youth Group), working with women in the restoration program (meetings in the evening for different activities and outings), Agua Panela, working in the neighborhood of Manantiales and the activities with families there. It was also a good opportunity to meet all the volunteers in the foundation and see their work responsibilities in the various programs. Later, I continued to work with different activities but started to focus more on the women in the restoration program.
Here are some of the highlights of my practicum time at Ciudad Refugio:
Every Wednesday night after the church service we went to a street in the city where there are many people using drugs. We brought Agua panela and bread to distribute and we walked around in groups trying to talk to the people we met. For me it was interesting to be a part of this work and I can recall one interaction that really impacted me. My group and I met a woman from Venezuela who was sitting on the street and she was selling cigarettes and sweets. We talked to her for a long time and in the end we prayed for her. She had been separated from her family and had a 2-year-old daughter. A few weeks later when we were on the street again, she came to me and asked if I recognized her, which I did. She held her daughter in her arms and told me she got another job. This was a direct answer to our prayers! We could see the light in the darkness.
Every Saturday we were in Manantiales and had activities for around 200 children. When the children first arrive, they receive yogurt and then we have a gathering with all of them and we sing and dance together. Following, we seperate them into different age groups to teach them from the bible and then play some activity or game. I was with the youngest age group: 3-5-year-olds. Though at times it was challenging dealing with so many young kids; overall it was a fun experience and many of the children stole my heart.
One week in October the students had vacation from school so we were able to organize a camp for the youth in Manantiales from Thursday to Saturday. The event included teenagers from Manantiales (those we meet every Saturday and that sometimes accompany us to the organization and sleep over from Saturday to Sunday), teenagers from the youth group in the church and teenagers from the English club we run in a local high school. It was a lovely mix of youth who attended!
During these days we had various activities that the leaders had prepared. The theme for the whole camp was “Quién Seré?” – “Who will I be?” The other social work student and I prepared a workshop about setting goals for the future since it is very common for young people to follow the paths and examples they see in their surroundings. In the neighborhood of Manantiales following the usual pattern means drugs, dropping out of school, being in a relationship and having children at a very young age. Therefore, it was important that they were given the freedom to dream and think outside those paths. It was incredible to see them be hopeful and share their dreams about becoming a professional football player, studying at the university and more. We also spent a lot of time on games and other activities. And their favorite activity was definitely- the pool! Although we did not have the best weather, it was cold and rainy, they spent as much time as they could in the pool! I really enjoyed spending time and sharing with the youth!
Outside of my work, I focused mainly on the women in the rehabilitation program with the other social work student. We met the women three times a week for activities and their outing on Fridays. During our time together with the women we taught based on what we learned in our studies of Social Work, or we came up with other group activities for topics like goals, perspectives, communication skills, reflections etc. The women were always open to share the time and to do the tasks that we gave to them. Although the work with the women was always changing because there were women leaving and new coming, I really enjoyed spending time with them and getting to know them. We also had a tradition to celebrate birthdays together and it was always an enjoyable event for all of us! The hardest thing when I was going to go back home was to say goodbye to the women. They made a big impression on me and I have learned so much from them and by working with them.
Overall, I had a great time in Ciudad Refugio and my time in the foundation helped me in my professional career and in my personal life. I’m very thankful for the opportunity I had to be part of the foundation.