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July 23, 2020

Adaptations in uncertain times. -Valeria Ramirez Ensastiga MA NCSS ‘21

by valeria rze

In these times, when we feel the world is changing constantly and there is a lot of uncertainty, our professional projects also suffer modifications frequently. After one month in my internship, I needed to re-adapt the shape of the educational material about sustainable development for rural children that I originally planned for.  The initial plan was to create some material for the rural schools, and I was considering that there was going to be a teacher who explains the information to the children and organizes the proposed activities. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the rural schools will remain closed for the foreseeable future and the kids won’t have the opportunity to be guided by their teachers. 

To understand the situation, it is necessary to say that it’s virtually impossible for these children to have online classes, because most of their homes don’t have internet nor computers. Only some of the parents have satellite internet in their cell phones. The THP-Mexico team let me know that surprisingly, Whatsapp is a common app in the communities because they use it to communicate with the neighboring communities and other relatives who have migrated to the city, and after talking with the team and some of the youth leaders in these communities, we think that this app can become a possible channel to deliver our informative material. Besides, we need to be careful because unfortunately, this app is the main source of misinformation about COVID-19 and other issues. 

With this in mind, we decided to replace the tale with a booklet containing many colorful illustrations that will be sent to the rural schools together with a handbook that will be distributed among the youth leaders looking to provide them with information and specific activities to help them direct the conversation about sustainability with the children and families. 

My main labour during the last 2 weeks has been to write all the content. I was lucky to participate in a writing workshop with Ana Garralón, critique of children’s and youth literature, specialized in non-fiction books, to polish my draft for this internship. Her comments were enlightening and supportive. She mainly helped me to feel confident about my work and reinforced my idea that it is not necessary to explain and define all the concepts in the text and that it is important to value the kid’s previous knowledge. At the time, I learnt how important it is to be very clear in a children’s text and have patience in finding the correct sentence.

Since sustainable development is such a broad topic, usually related to uncomfortable situations such as poverty, lack of services and job opportunities, and gender inequality, among others,  one of the biggest challenges is to find the appropriate phrase to talk about those issues and possible solutions, but being careful to avoid stigmatization and not to hurt the children’s feelings.

During the writing process, I have been working more closely with the THP team to verify the text was responsive to the environmental and cultural context in the attended communities and to the children’s necessities . One of the dilemmas that arose was about interculturality: At the beginning of the writing, I mentioned some illustrative examples from some geographically distant regions but some colleagues often insisted that all the examples needed to be more ‘local’. They argued that by showing local examples where the children could mirror their own experiences, we could show them the magnitude of their daily actions, but, in my opinion, the inclusion of distant histories can create awareness into the child about the real dimensions of those small actions in cases such as desertification, global warming and plastic contamination in the oceans. After discussing, we have managed to find a suitable proportion (almost all local references, and a few examples from distant regions).  Also, the constant feedback from the THP team has helped me to align the text completely with the organization’s core values such as gender equality and the recovery of traditional knowledge.

Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” This internship has been a long learning journey where I have found the challenge of ‘translating’ all my academic reviews and class discussions to deliver the same information to an extremely different segment of the  population but that effort has been very satisfying.

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