Fiona recounts experiences of studying MSc Social Development Practice at the Development Planning Unit
Looking for work opportunities can be a daunting task, but when I came across the Child Protection Trainee Scheme, I thought it would be the chance of a lifetime. On-the-job-training and experience in the field instills confidence, provides an opportunity to learn from your mistakes, and shows there's a wealth of experienced professionals who are more than willing to support you.
In many ways, being part of the Child Protection Training Scheme paved the way for what I am doing now - working as a child protection adviser in Sri Lanka. Both my coaches in Uganda and Sri Lanka, plus the support team in London, have been very supportive and the advice I've been given is invaluable. I feel it's been the perfect launch into my career and I am glad to have been a part of it.
First to Uganda...
My first placement was five months in Gulu District, northern Uganda. I'm from Uganda so many people were surprised that I'd want to work in my own country, but I knew it would give me a first-hand opportunity to learn more about a conflict that has ravaged the region for more than 20 years.
My time in Uganda was a great learning experience. I trained our staff and partners on child protection in emergencies. For example, I co-facilitated a workshop on how to ensure that children can still get an education. And I assessed a child reception centre to try and improve the standards of care it offered.
...then to Sri Lanka
For my second placement, I opted to broaden my experiences and went to Sri Lanka. Faced with different language, culture and customs, I braced myself for a totally new learning experience. It wasn't always smooth sailing: as anybody who works with communities knows, it's a slow process that requires patiently listening to the views of everyone concerned. But I'm continuously amazed at the resilience of families even in the midst of suffering, destruction and loss of life.
I was based in Trincomalee District and visited many camps for people displaced by fighting. I spent time with children, volunteers and community leaders, listening to the challenges they face. And I visited our child friendly spaces - where children can play and learn in a secure environment. Hearing the young children singing there was truly unforgettable. They taught me songs in their native Tamil, so I felt it only fair to teach them 'Old Macdonald had a farm'. It took us about two hours to learn the chorus, but it was worth it!
Making real changes on the ground
One of the highlights of Sri Lanka was working with the community in Pattithidal camp. I helped them form a child protection committee - to make sure that children's voices are heard in the community - and a children's club where children can play. I also researched how we can effectively monitor and support our child-friendly spaces. For example, I observed the general camp environment and interviewed the camp management, volunteers, parents and children themselves.
Following my visits, the camp management agreed to make several changes to create a safer environment for children. For instance, they moved the child friendly space to a more suitable location and provided four more volunteers to help run activities.
The community in Paddithidal was very cooperative, but unresolved issues in another camp meant that it was difficult for the people there to see each other as a 'community'. This didn't deter me, but showed me some of the challenges of community-based child protection work.
I now work in northern Sri Lanka as a child protection adviser helping children affected by armed conflict. I ensure that all activities are well documented and act as a liaison point for Save the Children staff, UNICEF and other relevant organisations. I check that project operations are carried out effectively and in accordance with Save the Children's policies, values and principles, and I train the child protection team to deliver on project objectives.
Since working with Save the Children in Sri Lanka, Fiona has worked as Child Protection Specialist in Yemen, Liberia and South Sudan. She is now based in Uganda hoping to continue the same line of work.