Anitha, Conflict Studies and Human Rights,
Internship Country: Nepal
Canadian NGO: Mines Action Canada (MAC)
Local NGO: Campaign to Ban Landmines Nepal (NCBL) / Women Development Society (WODES)
I was first attracted to participating in an international internship out of familiarity with the FSS international office from a field research course I was enrolled for in Spring-Summer 2020. By the time the office was holding interest sessions for the internships in Fall 2021, I deeply appreciated opportunities to earn credits outside of the conventional courses that I had already taken—the more I could take, the better. The inherent “match” with my areas of study drew me to Mines Action Canada (MAC); having participated in uOttawa’s CO-OP program, all of my placements had been in the federal government, and none lined up very much with either focus area of my studies. When the program manager introduced MAC’s work as a rare example of getting “actual wins” for human rights (most notably, the clearance of mines as well as agreements to destroy and disengage from landmine usage), it fired me up to earn an internship spot with MAC.
When I ended up being assigned to NCBL through MAC, I knew I couldn’t be sure which specific types of work among the initial job description and introductory session from MAC I’d be assigned in terms of mine action support, though I knew that victim assistance was one of the main pillars of mine action that this local NGO worked on. What I didn’t quite expect was being assigned to an initiative called Impactors under NCBL’s partner organization Women Development Society (WODES). I went from expecting to mostly work with mine- and disability-related content and goals to supporting the wrap of 10-month project focusing on young women in STEM and their cooperation and learning experience in devising a prototype system aimed at an important socioeconomic issue—increasing farmers’ crop yields in a mainly subsistence-oriented agricultural sector.
The bulk of my work was creating communications material for this project, which mostly comprising content aimed at different audiences for the Impactors website, as well as other media like a newsletter. Since I was writing in different formats, I wouldn’t always have a perfectly clear method of how to approach each item or how the end products should look. By the sixth week of my internship, I had finalized two different articles for the website, both having unique workflows and troubleshooting processes. I valued learning about the project from a different angle through interviews from the team members themselves immensely; nine interviews with female STEM students or graduates who worked on the project in various positions over three days. I worked on condensing team interview content into a summary and analysis of the members’ experiences and started a final report for the project, which I knew would likely be the toughest task of my internship, as I felt like my knowledge of the project may not be whole enough to best prioritize and convey the content. I had an opportunity to work on one particular item for NCBL proper, which matched my knowledge from MAC and my own curriculum: copy-editing English translations of over 100 short accounts from landmine and improvised explosive device (IED) survivors to be sent internationally across the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) network.
Through the various activities in my unexpected position with NCBL and WODES, I gained more experience than I had expected in interviewing, especially for the team members, as I was able to adjust to the flow of conducting a semi-scripted interview and the dynamic with each interviewee, with my supervisor’s periodic assistance for interpretation and contextual information. It also allowed me to practice phrasing my ideas more clearly, as I’m aware that my train of thought isn’t concise or particularly easy to follow, including for native English-speakers, but I was overall able to hear from the members about various aspects of their personal and professional growth, as well as more structural issues regarding women in STEM as well as pervasive weaknesses of the higher education system. I’d also learned a great deal from the survivor stories; both in terms of common terminology and situations between the stories as well as experiencing a learning curve in how much to value precision over sentiment, as my overarching goal is to coherently relay the survivors’ recollections and sentiments.
In both the aspects of my job that matched my background as per my expectations, and the majority of which didn’t, I practiced various dimensions of communication skills, whether it be promotional, interactive and information-gathering, or a form of educational storytelling. There is a certain level of learning and uncertainty that was bound to pop up no matter what, and so in the absence of a perfect match between myself and my work content, I was exposed to a completely different side to NGO work than I had expected, along with some of what I expected as well.