UNICEF education staff share their stories
NEW YORK, 4 January 2012 – We asked UNICEF education staff around the globe to tell us about their most inspiring moment they experienced in 2011. Something that they would not forget and reminded them why they chose this profession. Here are some of their stories.
Chief Education and Child Development
In 2009, UNICEF China received a donation to support the building of school playgrounds as part of the emergency relief and reconstruction programme following the Sichuan earthquake of 2008. For over two years, education staff spent considerable time and effort coordination designs, raising supplies and supervising the construction of the playgrounds in ten remote schools that were not part of the governments immediate reconstruction agenda.
In 2011, as part of a different donor visit, I visited a remote multi grade primary school. There stood a small non-descript building in the middle of a small but beautifully laid out playground. The playground in fact made the building into a school. The children put up a show for the guests, and after the programme, we were pleasantly surprised to see the young children pick up the litter left by community that had come in to watch the performance.
It was a revealing moment – I realized that sometimes in the course of our larger programmes that focus on policy changes – we do tend to miss the tree for the forest! That is, on the ground we can make the maximum difference to the individual child, that larger governmental efforts often miss the poorest and most remote child and that by focusing on them we were making the largest difference.
Elena Doadrio Rodríguez
Mexico has one of the highest populations of indigenous populations in the world, with more than 62 ethno-linguistic groups. But more than 87 per cent of children living in the indigenous communities live in poverty.
To raise awareness about the situation of indigenous adolescents, UNICEF sponsored anthropological research called “Voices of indigenous adolescents in Mexico”, carried out in collaboration with the National Anthropological Excellence Research Center (CIESAS) and with the participation of more than 250 indigenous adolescents from 13 indigenous groups from several regions of Mexico as well as one group of migrant indigenous adolescents from the United States.
Through this project I met Maria Bertely and Gonzalo Saravi from CIESAS, both renowned anthropologists in Mexico. They opened my eyes to the cultural diversity of Mexico. I learn to appreciate the different cultures of the country and at the same time recognize the fragility of the indigenous cultures.
I met with adolescents who participate in this research and heard them talk about their rights, concerns and dreams. “We want that society respect us like indigenous and not being discriminated” said someone from Thaihuitoltepec, Oaxaca. “We want to continue our studies so we can support our families. Our families are the ones that encourage us to continue to study”, said someone else. Their testimonies made me realize how special and rewarding it is to listen to their unique voices and how big they are dreaming for their futures.
I’d like to introduce you to the Aguacate Primary School, which is unlike any other. This special school has become a center of inspiration for students and parents because it provides quality intercultural education to a variety of ethnic groups. Here, children are taught in their indigenous language and in English. Diversity is seen as a source of enrichment rather than a factor of exclusion.
I met Pablo, one of the youngest students of the school. Pablo comes from a Q’eqchi family. His father has not been comfortable speaking in his native tongue due to intimidation and negative perception toward his language, but for Pablo, things can really change. Pablo is very determined to speak both Q’eqchi and English. He feels that he can now understand the concepts taught at school better because of the bilingual approach. Pablo also loves that his parents are more involved as they now have the opportunity to play a more active role in his education.
The Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE) approach initiated by UNICEF since 2008 addresses issues of disparity and quality affecting indigenous children. Today, 476 children in three schools are benefiting and 16 Mopan parents received the first phase of literacy training in their own language. Through IBE schools for children like Pablo, UNICEF is bringing equity education to Belize.