You’ll find answers to all of these questions and many more by reading comments from Faculty of Social Sciences interns on this blog. Students posted all around the world will share their experience, challenges and success stories with readers. Please visit this blog regularly to find out about their adventures!
Please visit the French version of this web page to read the French postings published by our Students.
Julia, WUSC, Honours Political Science, WUSC Malawi office, Research Officer
My first month as an intern for WUSC Malawi as been both enlightening and fairly easy to adjust to. My particular placement is slightly different from what my peers this year are experiencing as my mandate expects me to produce research reports on certain areas of interest for the Malawi offices. This combined with the time difference between Ottawa, Canada and Lilongwe, Malawi leaves me working almost entirely independently, with only monthly check-ins as supervision.
This is evidently quite different from my time as an undergraduate student as I used to work based on deadlines and due dates- now I have several months to produce two research reports on subjects I am entirely unfamiliar with. This has proven to be the most fulfilling and interesting part of my work so far, despite my initial fears. Blind research is a very interesting way to spend weeks at a time, allowing my interests and curiosity lead my search rather than a syllabus. It can be very daunting at first, but it taught me to let go of my performance fears and delve into a foreign and strikingly interesting country.
My everyday work always begins with emails and passes on to researching whatever question needs answering that week. This usually leads to lunch, which then leads to either compiling the funding I was looking into this month and analyzing the content. I write this a month and a half into my internship, where I have now finished writing my first research report and am reviewing feedback that mentors and colleagues have given. I will admit, the writing of this report was definitely a relief as it was a return to the familiar processes that we use in university. Drafting the structure, writing out the bulk of the content and adding relevant citations, then requesting my friends and professors to review the paper is typically how I spend every weekend during the school year. Working this internship was a step into completely new territory and the lack of in person office culture, or having regular colleagues, or even working with material that is familiar threw me off more than transitioning to online work ever did. Bear in mind I work in customer service in the summer, and therefore have not worked at home yet.
That being said, I appreciate the opportunity as I believe it is fairly close to the work I will be doing in the future and being off balance at this stage is much more forgiving than the first few month at the first professional job I work would be.
This internship has allowed me the opportunity to reach out to some big names both in the field and at the university which has been an interesting element to my learning. I originally felt quite lost on where to start researching which led me to seek out experts to see how they approach these types of projects and what they like to see in the resulting reports. Networking is, of course, a somewhat mysterious aspect of career building we infrequently touch on in undergrad. These connections will hopefully continue to be fruitful and beneficial as time goes on.
Online Volunteering and the Impact of Digital Communication During the Pandemic
Asma, Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences with a Major in Criminology and a Minor in Law, Communications Support at the Forum of Federations
In March 2020, the World Health Organization announced that the corona virus outbreak had reached the level of a global health crisis. Many business activities transitioned online, except for essential businesses. And while all university courses were shifted to be at a distance, I was unsure to what extent the pandemic would affect my undergraduate studies - particularly when it came to experiential learning. Experiential learning is a significant aspect of my academic experience. It bridges the gap with classroom learning and constitutes a great opportunity to gain firsthand experience, while improving relevant professional and communication skills.
Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge the efforts of the Faculty’s professors and staff who have coordinated with non-governmental organizations to make an international internship at a distance possible for students such as myself. And for that, I am truly grateful.
So, I began my internship in the fall providing communications support at the Forum of Federations. Although I have not been able to meet many of the Forum’s members and interact directly with stakeholders, it is amazing how much time and money is saved when working from home. My role at the Forum ranges from editing podcasts and book chapters to producing content to stimulate social media engagement. From an institutional perspective, the Forum’s core principle is “learning from each other.” And this is indeed the kind of opportunity the Forum’s members have given me - to learn from their knowledge and experience.
The pandemic has put to the test the effectiveness of federal countries’ institutional design while also highlighting the advantages of this form of government. Now more than ever, the impact of digital communication and indeed online volunteering are reshaping our understandings and conceptions of how to effectively work together as a global community.
The Forum is playing an important role in sharing the comparative experiences of federal countries in terms of how they manage and cope with the virus. The Forum’s impact goes beyond national borders and supports the growth of resilient local communities where everyone is valued and included in decision-making processes.
As I continue to adjust to my internship, I am eager to connect with more people from different countries and further integrate into the online community the Forum has fostered while also playing my part in flattening the curve.
“Let’s go International… But do it Virtual”
Nicky, Honours Conflict Studies and Human Rights, CECI Nepal, Blue Diamond Society, Research Intern
In just a blink of an eye, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared and the world changed, sooner and quicker than we all expected. Everyone and everything such as schools and workplaces were shifted to a virtual world and is now considered, the new ‘normal’. If anyone would have asked me a year ago, a month before the pandemic, even the week before that this was going to happen, I would not believe them. I got the email from uOttawa about the international internship and the opportunity to be an e-volunteer and I thought to make this possible. I have always wanted to go abroad so I used this to my advantage where I said, “Let’s go International… but let’s do it virtual”. I knew from the start that being physically there in another country, would be a totally different experience than doing it virtually, however, I knew with time and adjustments, it would still be a great experience. I am part of the first group of people to experience this internship fully virtual, from start to end so welcome to the new world.
I am working for the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation (CECI) as a research intern in Nepal. CECI highly focuses on combating poverty and economic exclusion. In Nepal, the focus is on the economic empowerment of marginalized women and young women due to their identity such as gender, sexual orientation, caste, etc. When I began my internship with CECI Nepal, I was tasked to work with one of their partner organizations in supporting them and their work which focused on emphasizing attention toward economic and environmental rights. I chose to work along with Blue Diamond Society (BDS) in Nepal. This LGBTIQ rights organizations supports and advocates for the community in order for laws against homosexuality to be changed, in addition to the rights for marginalized transgender communities. As a research intern, I am tasked to conduct personal research to expand my knowledge of the organization, the host country, and the issues faced by the community. Furthermore, in recent days, I am tasked with a proposal to be sent regarding the economic concerns due to COVID-19 on the transgender community.
There is no denying that I would rather be doing this internship abroad. However, remote work has allowed me to experience new challenges I never thought I would. The experience of new responsibilities and commitments I had never previously experienced allowed me to develop my skills as well as newer characteristics of myself. It opened my eyes to different perspectives of me and my work ethic. By nature, we are created to experience different scenarios, which assist in personal development as well as newer dimensions of life. The experience of massive time difference and limited communication forced my hand in being more independent and to try as hard as I can, but to never give up. Although there may seem as if there are many downsides of the time difference, it allowed me to work and expand on my time management skills while developing adaptability skills. As a result, it gave me different strategies in managing my stress and anxiety but also, the reality of a new life.
Lastly, the opportunity I’ve been given to do this internship abroad… but virtual, by CECI Nepal, has been the greatest experience for which I am grateful. The only thing coming in between you and this internship is the fear of “will I be able to do this?” And the answer is yes, you just have to want it, to face your fears and the obstacles along with it. Never pass on this opportunity, I highly recommend it, as you will NOT regret it.
Unexpected Opportunities in Uncertain Times
Danika, Masters Program Criminology, United Nations Association of Canada, UNESCO Thailand
I received an email this summer from the Faculty of Social Sciences detailing an opportunity for an international internship. I had just started my Masters degree the year before in Ottawa. I packed up my car and drove from Alberta to Ontario. I was exhausted after such a long trip, but excited for new opportunities and experiences. In March of 2020, I, like many others, became filled with feelings of fear and uncertainty related to school, work, and even my personal life. In the midst of a global pandemic, I wondered if this email was a mistake. Upon closer reading, I noticed that key word that would clarify things for me: the internship was “remote.” Questions started running through my head. “How can an international internship play out virtually without any in-person interaction? Will this opportunity be as valuable online as it would be normally? Can I handle the new challenges that come with remote work at the international level?” These questions, among others, almost stopped me from following up with the office, but a part of me had to know more. After a lot of meetings, training, and administrative delays, many of which related to the decrease in internship opportunities because of COVID-19, I finally began my work.
Remote work is not entirely new for me. I am a research assistant on a Canadian project based in British Columbia, so I am used to a lot of online communication and interaction. As a teaching assistant, I have also had to adapt to new online formats since March of this year. Working remotely in an international context is not entirely new for me either. A couple of years ago, I taught English virtually to children living in China. I would wake up at 5AM for classes and teach until 7AM, but this was the only experience I had with such work. I have now found myself working with a time difference of over ten hours in this internship position. As I embark on this new ‘adventure’, I find myself dealing with challenges that I never could have imagined. I wanted to use this opportunity to talk briefly about my experience and reflect on the ways in which the internship has taught me a lot about myself, my research work, and others even in the short time that I have been working.
Comparative and international work forces us to be reflexive, by nature. We come to know our positionality in relation to those we work with and for in new ways. We come to understand the struggles of others in ways that we would not have been able to without such opportunities. Although the frustrations of limited communication, again thanks to a significant time difference, can seem like the worst thing in the world, I am humbled when I work in areas that aim to address challenges for those who struggle in ways I could never imagine. Understanding the pandemic and the immense difficulties it has created for others from different points of view makes it easier for me to reframe my own challenges in order to support organizations that are trying to positively impact communities. With these adversities, I am learning in ways that I never would have if I was travelling to my host country. Although I sometimes feel like I am missing out on certain aspects of this work, I also see the new ways in which I am learning to balance, adapt, and create boundaries between work and personal life in a home office (i.e. the corner of my bachelor apartment). I am learning about important work in a different region and getting the chance to contribute significantly, despite being so far away.
If you are reading this, I hope you take a chance on a new opportunity that might present itself to you. If it sounds crazy, it might just be one of the most important things that you do, not only for your work, but also for yourself. As a final note, I hope that people can find some sense of comfort in knowing that we are not alone in many of these challenges. Even as I write this from my quiet apartment, I try to find small moments of gratitude and connection, reminding myself that I am doing my best to adapt in uncertain times, just like everyone else.
The Pros and Cons of E-Volunteering
Emily, Honours Political Science, WUSC, Organization of African Youth, Kenya, Communications Officer
A year ago, no one would have planned to do an international internship at a distance, the option didn’t even really exist. But today e-volunteering is a reality for hundreds, with Universities, students, and NGO’s all working together to make it possible. Initially, I am sure this new reality was devastating, to volunteers forced to suddenly return home and to volunteers who had planned on departing soon. I know that an in-country internship comes with entirely different experiences and benefits, that many feel like they are now missing, but I think there are definitely, maybe less obvious, benefits.
I am working as a Communications Officer for the Organization of African Youth (OAY) in Kenya through World University Service of Canada (WUSC). My position was a late addition, as WUSC was trying to adapt their assignments to be at a distance, so I committed to my internship a little more blindly than normal. This was almost a hidden benefit too because I ended up in a position that I don’t think I would have applied for. The Communications Officer role for OAY was designed for a communications or journalism major but it has allowed me to develop skills I didn’t realise I had. I would have never considered my social media habits to be an asset in the workplace, but I find myself carrying over a lot of knowledge that I didn’t realise could be applied professionally during this internship. My placement has also given me the chance to learn alongside OAY and WUSC as we figure out the best practices for e-volunteering. Everyone is adapting and learning right now, which has made it easier to be in an unfamiliar situation because we are figuring it out together.
I know that for many university students the benefits of doing an internship are obvious, it has been proved that experiential learning is effective. Combined with the workplace experience and networking opportunities, it is surprising that more students don’t chose to do an internship. But the truth is that regular international internships come with costs and logistical issues that some people can’t overcome. I had looked at the international internships before but between the travel cost and commitments I have here, it was an idea that I immediately discarded. E-volunteering has made international internships more accessible to students, and I think that we should take advantage of that.
I think that an online internship is only as hard as online school. Sure, there is a lot we are not used to, or that is not ideal, but we are making the best of it. Communicating at distance and self-regulating my working hours are my biggest struggle right now, but I would be in the same situation in an online semester. I think that as we all work through the same struggles and issues of virtual working, we should know the opportunities available to us and make the most of our experiences. I know that I am learning a lot more from this experience online than online classes even though they have similar difficulties.
Working from a distance
Leorah, International Development and Globalization, Alternatives, National Fisheries Solidarity Organization, Sri Lanka, Human Rights Research Officer
This is the most talked-about conversation piece at the moment. It seems appropriate to do so one more time. Working from home requires discipline, but you can be productive once you create a routine. But finding that balance takes time.
I am working for the National Fisheries Solidarity Organization (NAFSO) as a human rights office. NAFSO in Sri Lanka is a local organization that works with marginalized sections in society. It promotes human rights and sustainable development. What does that look like as an internship? Aiding in the research to strengthen the capacity of the organization. I am being tasked to research various human rights violations to add it to the organization's material and educate others. At the moment, the task is to look at how the 20th Amendment, created from the new Sri Lankan government, affects civil society. Researching the local sentiment and providing an action plan is hard when I am not involved in society. But, a task that I am grateful to have. Being able to add value to the literature is important, especially as to how the next few weeks will unfold in Sri Lanka.
Being able to work my own time has made this online internship freeing. I am thankful that the hosting organization works with our schedules, knowing that we have other commitments such as jobs or classes. But- it's hard working on something you are passionate about when you can't go there and be apart of it.
There are no words I can write to persuade you that I would instead do an online internship rather than an in-person. But other factors do come at play, such as finances and taking time off from life. I have had the privilege of doing a couple of internships (not affiliated with the school) in the past couple of years. Immersing yourself into a culture is scary, but it changes you. Changes not only how you think of another culture, but how you think and feel about yourself. It sounds cliche, I know. But it helps you understand; what's important to you, what sort of things you want to get better at, what things mean to you.
Going on in-person internships changed me. Because of it, I found my passion- International Development. And now, finishing off my 5th year- I wouldn't have done anything else. It's that DUH moment I was looking for in my life.
Go one an internship (or abroad)- Change your life! It will be worth it. Take that risk!
Working virtually -From Gatineau to Dhaka
Stéphane, Joint Honours in Communication and in Political Science
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Bangladesh
Summer 2020 has been exceptionally different to say the least. While the entire world is trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, we’ve all had to adjust to new ways of living. During this unprecedented period of time, I was given the opportunity to remotely intern with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Bangladesh. My internship placement was mandated by United Nations Associations in Canada. I was very pleased to hear of the placement opportunity mainly because I had intended to travel abroad and complete another internship before it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
I’m actually really fortunate that Bangladesh was my host country and gave me the opportunity to completely recognize and appreciate the ultra-important mandate of UNFPA. In essence, the United Nations Population Fund is the leading UN agency designed to improve and protect sexual and reproductive health and rights across the world. The key mandate for UNFPA is to “deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, where every childbirth is safe and where young people can fulfill their full potential”. In many ways, Bangladesh is a focal point of the organization’s mission. It’s a growing country with a lot of young people. Unfortunately, in Bangladesh women don’t always have safe places to give birth as access to essential resources isn't available to everyone. Also, the rate of child marriages is one of the highest in the world which leads to girls not given opportunities to go to school, which leads to poverty and in turn contributes to the “low status” of women. This also leads to what I can consider as forced pregnancies, or unwanted pregnancies. UNFPA is fighting to implement accessible resources to young girls and women in those situations.
My internship with the United Nations Population Fund in Bangladesh was a very unique experience in which I learned a lot about myself, the organization, and what goes behind coordinating content to promote UNFPA’s strategies and activities. As a communications officer, I was tasked with multiple short-term assignments that allowed me to have a hand in proofreading published content, media compilation analysis and event management. Although I was remotely working from the comfort of my home, here in Gatineau, I was able to expand my interpersonal skills as a result of being restricted to virtual interactions. Nevertheless, this unique work setting presented its share of challenges along the way, the hardest being the ten hours’ time difference between Dhaka and Gatineau. It forced my hand into expanding and developing time management skills, mainly by organizing my time in order to efficiently work, reducing interruptions and managing stress.
At the beginning of my internship with UNFPA Bangladesh, the first couple tasks were to simply familiarize myself with the organization. I spend countless hours reviewing data and communications provided by UNFPA on their website and social media platforms. As a member of the communication team, I’m working with various UNFPA’s sections to effectively communicate the core message of the agency throughout every social platform and information release. Recently, I’ve been given the task to revise and modify the Gender Equality Movement in Schools (GEMS) curriculum manual and to improve the quality of the document. The manual was originally written in Bengali and translated into English and needed to be upgraded. This project is managed by UNFPA’s Adolescent and Youth leadership team. This was truly unique as I had an important hand in editing a large document which is basically a core element of UNFPA. To be honest, this was quite stressful mainly because I was at first very hesitant to modify the document in its entirety, and most importantly, I had a deadline to meet. I went back and forth, and spent a lot of time revisiting sentence structures and trying to improve them.
Moreover, I’ve had the opportunity to experience the work that goes behind the official e-launch of the State of the World Population report (SWOP). The annual SWOP report is UNFPA’s flagship publication on the state of the population and every year the focus is on specific issues and themes. The 2020 publication, entitled “Against My Will” is focused on the types of harmful practices against women and girls. Particularly, the three widespread harmful practices: female genital mutilation, child marriage and son preference. As part of the communication team, I was tasked with compiling numerous articles and news coverage of this year’s publication. This media monitoring allows us to collect data, provides us with an overview and understanding of how the report was perceived. This was a very interesting task mainly because it allowed me to familiarize myself with Bangladeshis news outlets, for future tasks (see section about the signing event). Furthermore, I had the opportunity to draft the official press release in regards to the announcement that UNFPA and the government of Sweden were collaborating in COVID-19 response and program development.
Most importantly, I’ve really appreciated the opportunity UNFPA Bangladesh has given me to expand my work experience despite the logistical challenges in this unprecedented moment in time. Working with the communications team has been absolutely amazing, even though I wish the circumstances were different.
Diplomacy During COVID-19
Bibi, Joint Honours Political Science and Public Administration
United Nations Association of Canada (UNAC), Thailand
United Nations Population Fund for the Asian Pacific Region (UNFPA), Intern (Monitoring and Evaluation)
My name is Bibi and I will be sharing my experience working internationally during Covid-19. Currently, I am working with UNAC where I am aiding with Monitoring and Evaluating practices and reports, Later, I will be working with UNFPA Thailand concentrating on gender equality and women’s health. Due to Covid-19, I was not about to travel to Thailand to begin my position, instead I am and will be working from home.
Currently, with the United Nations Association in Canada, I have had the opportunity to work with a dynamic team of individuals from different walks of life and expertise. My responsibilities as an intern is to assist the Program Manager of international programs with reviewing the Monitoring and Evaluations operating manuals for the international programs that the UNAC offers such as: IDDIP – the International Development and Diplomatic internship program, IYIP – the International Youth Internship Program, FLIP- the Financial Literacy Program, CSC- the Canada Service Corps and last the Canada Green Corps program. It gives me the opportunity to use a combination of past experiences and skills providing meaningful recommendations to strengthen reporting periods for M&E – Monitoring and Evolution. Aside from research and program review, I have also had the opportunity to participate in other events and panels that UNAC hosted. On July 9th, there was a discussion concerning youth and future employment in the times of covid-19, on July 16th there were two panel sessions on sustainability: one on the environment and one health. With these panels and public zoom discussions my team ensured that I had the opportunity to be included and participate.
Prior to working with UNAC, my interests for international affairs developed while traveling with my family and my experience with consult affairs. My passion for politics comes from serving my community and representing students in student politics. I knew that one day I really wanted a career in politics and international affairs. As an intern on Parliament, I was able to gain experience with international affairs. working with Standing committee on International trade, on agreements such as NAFTA, CUSMA, CETA, CIFTA, Multicultural and Diversification in Trade in Canada. I had the opportunity to attend conferences and panels concerning Canada’s role on the international level such as Women Deliver, and with UNAC prior to the bid for the UN Security Council. I am also an advocate for gender equality, mental health and women’s rights.
My experience with UNAC has been very rewarding even though there have been some challenges due to covid-19. Working remotely has been a personal learning curb as it has had impacts on my schedules and routine and especially how I tackle simple things day to day. I found that it’s really important to establish a schedule and take wellness breaks when needed, in addition to making clear working boundaries. Covid-19 has allowed us to work from home, use and discover new technology to stay working and connected with loved ones, however, this has also increased our screen time. I consider myself exceptionally lucky that I work with a team that is flexible and that emphasizes mental health and wellness.
With this experience, even though my travel has been very limited I still feel as though that there is an international aspect. With each report that I review, I have learned interesting facts about the impacts that Canadian policies and program has had on the international stage. For instance, the Financial Literacy Internship Program is in collaboration with the Cambodian government that focuses on targeting the Sustainable Development Goal for Quality Education. The Canadian Service Corps gives Canadians the opportunity to take part in High level meetings, and the Canadian Green Corps specifically focuses on the Paris Agreement in addition to the sustainable development goals on the environment. Through meetings and panels, I have the opportunity to meet and learn from experts and politicians from around the world experience very much reminds me of consult affairs and consult duties – working for a foreign office from home or working from a foreign place for home.
As someone who aspires to be a diplomat and a future leader to this country, I definitely found this experience to be useful. I am looking forward to what else this placement has in store for me as well as my career in politics and international affairs.
My new life
Geneviève, Masters in Social Work, World University Service Canada, Malawi
Student Refugee Program, Intern
Before arriving in Malawi six weeks ago, I knew I was going on the trip of a lifetime. Having prepared myself internally to enter a new culture, new environment and new me, I thought I was prepared for the experience that was too come. Truth be told, I was never prepared for this. This experience has been life changing for me in so many more ways than one. All of which, has absolutely been for the better.
Upon my arrival in Malawi, I was shocked by the accuracy behind Malawi’s title as “the warm heart of Africa”. Although many people here do not speak English (or French), they never fail to try and be helpful, to say hello, and to be welcoming. That being said, I found out quickly that this level of welcoming energy was also going to be extended to me by those who are not Malawian.
My responsibilities in Malawi include working in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, as a Student Refugee Program intern. There, I teach the Canadian life course to refugee students who have been accepted into the program. The refugee camp is where I spend most of my time, and despite it having its hardships (such as a 4-hour daily commute), I would never trade this experience for the world.
Over the past couple of weeks, I have been able to get to know my students, as well as many others within the camp, and listen to stories of happiness, resilience, excitement and hardships. I’ve gotten to learn that about their beliefs, and share laughs between us. Furthermore, I’ve gotten to know my supervisor who has been an undying force of support, introspection and kindness.
I have managed to travel around Malawi, to see safaris and beaches, and taste new food. I’ve made new friends throughout the city, as they show me their life, and ask me about mine. I got to taste nsima for the first time (the Malawian national dish), and get dresses made out of chitenge. Yes, all of these experiences has been truly wonderful, and eye opening at times. But my time at Dzaleka, that is the place where my true growth lies.
As I hope I am preparing my students for their new life in Canada, I don’t think they know that they are preparing me for MY new life in Canada. Being as Master’s student in Social Work, I learn about taking on new perspectives and active listening. Although my position includes teaching, I have found that creating meaningful connections with my students has allowed me to truly get to know about their excitement and their fears about moving to Canada, and has allowed me to put my knowledge from school into practice. Malawi…I came to you thinking I was prepared. I fear I may not be able to leave as I will never be the same again.
Unique Cultural Experience
Max, International Development and Globalization, Mines Action Canada, Trinidad and Tobago Women's Institute for Alternative Development, Disarmament Program, Support Officer
When most Canadians think of the Caribbean, they might picture the white sandy beaches home to all-inclusive resorts that are flooded by cruise ship-loads of tourists. Trinidad is admittedly not this. On the surface, Trinidad is heavily industrial, and at times might feel overwhelming from the staggering tropical heat, the incessant traffic and seemingly non-stop noise. Only a few weeks into my stay however, I began to get an immense appreciation for the passion and pride of the people, the natural beauty, and the fascinating cultural landscape of this twin island republic.
I chose Trinidad and Tobago, because of how little most people (including myself) know/knew about it. Many would be surprised to find out about the significant cultural and ethnic diversity here as a direct result of the country’s complicated colonial past. Trinidad and Tobago was colonized at one point by nearly every major colonial power. As a result, a wide array of different religions, ethnicities, and cultural traditions are represented here. Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival, one of the island’s most acclaimed celebrations, is a perfect example of this blend of cultures and traditions.
When I first got here, people were very eager to tell me how visibly other cultures are represented here, and how commonplace it is for people to celebrate each other’s religious holidays/traditions, and even pray at each other’s places of worship; something which I found very interesting given how little some people interact with people of different cultures back in Canada.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival is easily one of the island’s biggest events of the whole year. When I first arrived, everyone told me that I picked
the best time of year to visit. Carnival season starts right after Christmas, and it’s said that during the year, you’re either celebrating it, or reminiscing about how good the previous year’s festivities were. I recently participated in J’ouvert, Carnival’s opening celebrations that begin around 4 A.M. which involves parading through the streets covering yourself in mud and paint until the sun comes up. This was truly an experience I will never forget, and it was incredible to witness the energy and excitement as the streets come alive during this time.
Trinidad and Tobago is seen both as developed and developing at the same time. The country has the third highest GDP per capita in North America, thanks to a well-developed oil and natural gas industry. However, in recent years due to the decline in oil prices, and a host of other factors, the economy has seen relatively little growth. As with many countries, this inequality of income can be drastic and very visible. There are many neighbourhoods here that host large mansions and driveways full of Porsches, BMWs and Mercedes, while only a few blocks over, there are single-room wooden shacks with tin roofs.
This duality of development can lead to logistical challenges as well. I recently had a meeting with the High Commission of Canada where they told me that due to T&T not being on the list of ODA countries, they are unable to provide funding directly for local initiatives, even in areas that may not be getting adequate funding from the local government. This is especially challenging in parts of the country that are more susceptible to natural disasters and severe flooding.
I am here as an intern with the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD), working as a Disarmament Program Support Officer. Although WINAD is a relatively small NGO, their impact is comparatively large. When I am out in public with my supervisor, I am always surprised with how many people recognize her and commend her for the work that she is doing.
Already at the halfway point, I am excited to continue seeing different parts of the island, and learn more about the unique cultural experiences Trinidad and Tobago has to offer. When I first arrived, it felt like I was taking a big step into the unknown. It’s true that there are always challenges when you enter a new environment; however, I am grateful to have been welcomed graciously into Trini life by a caring and thoughtful group of people.
Practicing what you learned in class
Valerie, International Development and Globalization,
Uniterra, Tanzania - Friends in Development (FIDE) - Communications and Documentation Officer
Whereas most people associate Tanzania with wildlife and landscapes, the thing I will remember the most about Tanzania is the generosity and friendliness of the people here. “Polite, considerate and friendly” are words often used to describe Canadians and those seem to apply perfectly to Tanzanians as well. There are 120 ethnic groups and therefore 120 tribal languages in Tanzania, which makes the country the second most ethnically diverse in the world. Despite this diversity, Tanzanians live such in harmony with one and another. Once again, this makes me think of Canada as it is perceived by many, myself included, as a multicultural country that embraces all races, ethnicities and religions.
If not for the people, I will miss Tanzania for its food which is very simple and yet so rich in taste. Living in the small city that is Babati, I have had the opportunity to eat local dishes every day, whether it was rice and beans with milk tea (black tea infused in boiled milk) for lunch or chips mayai (omelet filled with fries) for dinner.
Living in a very small town has had its pros and cons. On one hand, most people here only speak Swahili and the diversity of restaurants and shops is very limited as is the number of foreigners here. On the other hand, I get to interact with the same people every day, practice Swahili and eat more local food than I would if I were living in a bigger city like the majority of volunteers are. Altogether, this has made my integration into my host country easier and I feel as though I am experiencing the local culture more than I would have thought.
Having the opportunity to put to practice what I have learned in class for the past 3 years is truly rewarding. As I am currently developing a gender equality policy for my organization, I was grateful for the “Women, Gender and Development” course I took during the fall semester of 2018 as it provided me with knowledge about theoretical and practical approaches to women in development and issues women face in Southern countries to use for the aforementioned policy. Though, reading back on my class notes from different DVM courses made me realize how applying the theories we learn in class is not as realistic as it might seem. In the case of women’s empowerment, I have found that most theories fail to address the core of gender inequality which is in the private sphere and is engraved deeply in cultural norms and traditions. As pessimistic this might seem, it is the reality I am faced with. I am, though, finding smaller but still meaningful ways of supporting excluded groups (women, youth and indigenous) through everyday actions, whether it is buying from them at the market or giving them a forum by interviewing them on their past and current living situation.
My job as Communication and Documentation Officer with Friends in Development (FIDE) is located in Babati. In a few words, FIDE is a local NGO using local expertise to lead community-based rural development projects in different regions in Tanzania in order to achieve a poverty-free, equitable and environmentally sustainable society. It works in various fields, such as agriculture, health, education and water supply, partners regularly with local, national and international organizations to help implement its projects.
The work culture in Tanzania was definitely a challenge throughout my whole mandate and even after 3 months, I can’t really say that I got used to it. For instance, being productive all the time isn’t a thing, whereas frequent tea breaks and 2h lunches are. During these 2h lunches, everyone eats together, and no one brings their own food unless they are willing to share with the whole office. Also, no one tells you what you are supposed to do and you are expected to create work for yourself. Last but not least, everything takes time here and you can’t rely on schedules. This is where the whole “hakuna matata” saying means more than just “no worries” – it also refers to time as in “do not rush”. Without a doubt, the latter has made my work more difficult and longer than it could have been.
However, when looking back at all the tasks I have achieved, I have done more than the Uniterra team and I had anticipated in my work plan. In fact, in 3 months I have:
Redone completely the website;
Updated the website and social medias weekly;
Developed a Gender Equality Policy and presented it to the staff and board;
Designed a newsletter;
Developed participants form to track the gender, age group and knowledge level on specific subjects of beneficiaries at trainings and meetings;
Conducted interviews with beneficiaries to see how their situation improved;
Created a guide on how to use WordPress for my coworkers.
In a village in the clouds
Ranawk, International Economics and Development and Additional Minor - Statistics
Uniterra Nepal, Central Dairy Cooperative Association Lalitpur District Milk Producer Cooperative Union Ltd, Communication and Documentation Intern
In the second half of my internship, I was able to visit the field. For me, as a volunteer for the Lalitpur District Milk Producers Cooperative Union, this meant travelling to a nearby village of buffalo farms to interview farmers and start to develop a success story. One of the first things that CECI Nepal highlights during in country training is just how diverse the geography and climate in Nepal can be. By going to the field, I was able to see how an hour and many windy uphill roads later, it felt like I was in a completely different area. Looking out from the home I was staying in; the clouds were level with where I was standing.
By spending some time there, I was able to fully appreciate it what it means to be a buffalo farmer. Most families have 2-3 buffaloes and caring for them is not the only job. Vegetable gardens are also important sources of income which take a lot of work. I interviewed several households about their experience with the cooperative and which aspects they appreciated most. While many of the answers were similar, the breadth of responses when it came to how the cooperative has improved their livelihoods was very telling of the change that is possible.
We travelled to the village in the milk truck that travels from the village to the city every day to collect and sell the milk for the farmers. Before the cooperative existed and before the farmers were a part of it, they each individually held the responsibility of finding a way to transport and sell their milk. I can’t imagine how difficult that was but it is clear how great of a benefit it is now. The farmers also spoke about how the cooperative provides seeds for their vegetable gardens, helps advocate at the government level, and improves knowledge on health and sanitation practices for their buffalos.
My visit to the field was a reminder of how change may feel incremental at the individual level but over time, can really add up. This along with connecting with other interns made me appreciate how when we are in these roles and performing these internships, all of our actions and reactions are part of much larger global systems. Each intern before us and each intern after us contributes to our expectations and our host communities’ expectations. While this can sometimes create miscommunications, it is a testament to how powerful a global network is. For students who are considering this internship in the future, I recommend you come in with determination, self-awareness, and an open mind – there is so much you can learn.
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