The Internship Offices Network is pleased to present the seven McGill students who were selected as Students for Development by the Association of Universities of Colleges of Canada. Their internships were undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through the Canadian International Development Agency. See below for more on each of their experiences.
- Philippe Baird
Indigenous Peoples of Africa, Coordinating Committee, South Africa
- Sophia Kehler
National Fisheries Resource Research Institute, Uganda
- Raahil Madhok
Green Power, Kenya
- Christopher Maughan
Ateneo Human Rights Center, the Philippines
- Kelly McMillan
Refugee Law Project, Uganda
- Chloe Potvin
Women's Initiative for Self Empowerment, Ghana
- Laksh Puri
PRS Legislative Research, India
This summer I had the opportunity to pursue an internship with the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC). I am a U3 Honours History student and my particular areas of interest are public policy, international trade and economics of climate change. Learning about these spheres is one thing, but working and witnessing the processes in which different policies are undertaken in an international NGO such as IPACC is a complement I believe essential if I am to pursue a career in international affairs. When I applied for the internship position at IPACC, it seemed that the organization would help me achieve and learn a great deal about NGO work; little did I know that I would have the most thrilling and enriching experience of my life.
The Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee is a network of over 155 indigenous peoples’ organizations across Africa and whose Secretariat is based in Cape Town. IPACC seeks to promote the recognition and respect of indigenous African people and their rights by strengthening their leadership and organizational capacity. As an intern at IPACC, I was given a significant amount of duties, some which proved to be more challenging than others. I was asked to translate official IPACC statements, facilitate communication between the Secretariat and IPACC’s members, help members with questions pertaining to issues of climate change, register and accommodate delegates for upcoming international conferences such as the Conference of Parties (COP) and provide assistance to the Secretariat for past budgeting or administrative issues.
After only one week working in Cape Town, I flew to Nairobi, Kenya, with the rest of the IPACC Secretariat to help facilitate the annual meeting of the Executive Committee, and to help some of its members as delegates to the fourteenth meeting of the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA 14). For the first time in my life, I was given the task of interpreting French to English. Though fluent in both languages, I had never done such work, nor at such a fast pace. It proved to be a difficult task at first, but I was able to adapt quickly. The Director of the Secretariat, Nigel Crawhall, having years of experience in interpretation, proved to be a role model for me. The SBSTTA 14, which took place at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) headquarters in Gigiri, provided me with the opportunity to witness for the first time the work of the UN.
In July, IPACC offered me a second opportunity to travel, this time into the deep forests of Gabon. I was the only IPACC representative for a 3-D Participatory Mapping Project that will take place in Fougamou in September this year with various other partners, including Rainforest UK, World Conservation Society and CTA (Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation). We proceeded to inform the local government officials and villages about the project in September and ask for their participation. The trip to Gabon proved to be one of my most memorable life events. I acquired a great deal of knowledge on the advantages of a mapping project in which locals show their understanding of the landscape and about the Babongo Pygmies, the principle people targeted for the project. For four days we lived in an abandoned Malaysian logging camp in the middle of the forest. After the “trekkie” in Gabon, I wrote most of the budget for the actual project, and submitted it for approval for funding. It was a significant amount of work, but a very rewarding experience.
The successes of my internship were many: I was able to learn about NGO work, indigenous peoples’ language, culture and rights, and the functioning of international organisms such as the UN. This exceeded by far the difficulties I encountered. My academic background in history, political science and economics helped me provide assistance to IPACC members. Though I never got to visit the Bushmen in the Northern Cape, I intend to write a research paper under the supervision of Professor John Hellman about the role and influence of their ancestors in early 19th-century South Africa. I can honestly claim that my internship has strengthened my aspirations to continue with graduate studies and pursue a career in public policy at the international level.
The success of this internship and the many fond memories I have from my experience could not have been possible without the generous donations I received from Eva and Myron Echenberg and the Government of Canada, provided through the AUCC Students for Development Award. Without their financial support, I could not have accepted this internship opportunity, or have had such an exceptionally valuable experience. I will forever be thankful for their kind contributions.TOP OF PAGE
I have had an interest in Africa since before I remember, and my combined love for biology and social science led me to pursue a double major in Environmental Studies and African Studies. Environmental issues tend to span multiple disciplines, something that often frustrates policy makers as solutions are never clearly defined. The interdisciplinary nature of my degrees is something I both love and hate—I’m thrown a wealth of different perspectives and knowledge, but I sometimes feel I lack any tangible skills, any way to discern which of these multiple approaches is most pragmatic. This feeling led me to the internship I did with the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFIRRI) in Jinja, Uganda this past summer, funded by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada and the Arts Undergraduate Society. I understood the merits of interdisciplinary work; however, I had very little knowledge of how it actually took place.
NaFIRRI engages actively in interdisciplinary work. The researchers at NaFIRRI are mandated to conduct research on Ugandan water bodies to ensure the fishery remains not just viable, but continues to provide the country with increasing economic benefits. The Ugandan fishery is immensely important for the livelihoods of Ugandan people, and remains one of the most important commodity exports for the country.
As an intern at NaFIRRI, I spent a lot of time working with a project called Aqua-Links, a conservation outreach program that targeted students in secondary school. The project was intended to teach students about the ecology and history of Lake Victoria so that they could have an understanding of the importance and need to conserve this invaluable natural resource. I helped teach the lessons at the schools and helped organize and facilitate school visits to the institute. I also contributed to the aquarium by creating educational resources that could help students who toured the facilities better understand what they were seeing. We were able to create webpages for both the Aqua-Links program and the museum database. Finally, I was able to assist research on a number of lakes north of Jinja. This experience provided me with a great understanding of the challenges faced by the fishing communities.
Like at any organization, funding became a major constraint. Many of the ideas I initially had required money that simply did not exist. It became immediately apparent, however, that improper allocation of funds is an obstacle at the institute. Funding is provided, however it is often streamed to inappropriate uses or simply lost without documentation. This was a problem that was difficult to overcome. I started to develop ideas that did not require money. The industriousness and creativity of Ugandans was something I drew inspiration from and something I hope will continue to influence my work back here in Canada.
My favorite part of the internship was the teaching aspect of the Aqua-Links program. It is easy to become disenchanted and pessimistic with regard to environmental issues but teaching really inspired me. The children were aware how important natural resources are to the country and individual livelihoods. They engaged with the material we were teaching them and asked questions that most environmental researchers are afraid to ask because there is no clear answer. The discussions we had at the end of class made me realize just how important education is for conservation. It is the easiest and cheapest way to start changing people’s mindset and behavior towards natural resources.
Thank you to the AUCC and the Arts Undergraduate Society for funding this internship. I am looking forward to continuing to unpack and explore the experiences I had this past summer in AFRI 499, supervised by Prof. Colin Chapman. Women were largely absent from any of the work I did while in Uganda which lead me to want to learn more about where they reside in this multifaceted realm. I hope to explore this topic some more in the upcoming months.TOP OF PAGE
I am entering my U3 year with a double major in Economics and Environmental Studies, with a concentration in Development. I wanted to do an internship so I could apply the theories and models I learned in economics and environment classes on the ground. I wanted to see how development projects were conducted in reality, rather than learning big plans about development in class. Green Power presented me with the unique chance to understand the internal operations of community-run development projects, as well as contribute my knowledge of economics and environmental studies to their initiatives.
Green Power is a Kenyan NGO whose principal aim is to advance micro-hydro electricity adoption in rural Kenya by completing dams in several regions on the slopes of Mt. Kenya to connect up to 10,000 households. Their mission includes the identification of capital structures, designing institutionalization processes that isolate and govern rural and national resources and establishing sustainable human relation networks through supermarket cooperatives and youth groups. My internship was with Gpower’s socio-economic evaluation unit, a research office run by 4 professors from different disciplines.
My main duty was to assist the research office in carrying out their required activities. Specifically, I conducted a thorough descriptive statistical analysis of the baseline survey, which I presented to a group of 30 university students. I also learned to use Microsoft Access, a database creation program, which I used to make a search-engine for all post-secondary institutions in the region. Furthermore, I made several pages of a microinsurance questionnaire, which the field officers will use for data entry for analysis later on. Lastly, I learned the computer program, MAXQDA, a qualitative data analysis software. Since Green Power meetings were transcribed, I used this software to make codes for certain themes to analyze the speaker’s persuasion techniques for higher contributions of money. Through these various tasks, I was able to learn vital computer skills essential for effective research.
There were many highlights during the internship, as it was an exceptionally positive experience overall. To go into the field and watch the field workers conduct surveys was a very rewarding experience and gave useful context to my analysis of the baseline survey. Meeting the respondents and seeing their way of life made the data more than just numbers. Going to the dam and meeting the electrical engineers was a wonderful experience, as I was able to ask questions and understand the technical factors behind electricity distribution.
Along with these highlights came several challenges, such as the change of cultural context. Another was the workload. There were times when there was no work to do, and times when there was too much to do. This was mainly due to communication issues, which I overcame by choosing the work I was able and willing to do, and continuously inquiring about further work when I had no work to do.
As an economics student, I found this internship especially rewarding, as it provided a great opportunity for the application of several topics I had leaned in economics classes. Having taken statistics and econometrics courses, working with the baseline database was a beneficial opportunity for analyzing a real-world dataset. Furthermore, I plan to receive academic credit through the economics department. My research paper is proposed to be on the potential for community-owned hydroelectricity projects in Kenya, using Green Power as an example. The paper will investigate the economic impacts of competition with the incumbent electricity company, KPLC. The paper will be written under Professor Kenneth Mackenzie.
This internship has definitely shaped my future career. Working with economics professors and understanding the internal functioning of development economics projects, this internship has given me motivation to pursue a masters and PhD in Economics. I advise anyone uncertain about their career path to pursue and internship in the fields they are looking into, as it is the most advantageous way to get insight into a future in that field.
I received generous funding from the AUCC program and the Arts Undergraduate Improvement Fund to finance my internship. These funds greatly assisted me for travel expenses, vaccinations, transport and food. I sincerely thank the AUCC and AUS for their generous support
The following is a report on the internship I completed at the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) in Manila, the Philippines, in the summer of 2010. The AHRC is an NGO that lobbies for the protection and promotion of human rights in the Philippines. While at AHRC, I completed several research projects, most of which were related to the specific problems of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of activists, journalists, and other members of civil society who have been critical of the government.
In my view, the internship was a great success. It was difficult to get in touch with my supervisors and plan my summer’s before my arrival in Manila, but once I arrived, I found that AHRC staff were very welcoming. At first, I had to lobby a bit to get substantive legal assignments, but I managed to earn my supervisors’ trust quickly. They were, on the whole, very receptive to my interests and keen to have me work on the human rights issues that interested me most.
Adapting to life in Manila was not particularly difficult. There is no real language barrier to speak of, as English is an official language and is widely spoken. There are a number of cultural differences (too many to list here), but again, none were particularly hard to adapt to. Western creature comforts are largely available.
My internship presented me with several challenges. The biggest of these was overcoming initially low expectations of foreign interns in general. My advice to future interns on how to do so is as follows: take initiative, propose a few research projects, and identify your areas of interest. This will show the staff at AHRC that you have been studying up, that (for an intern) you know your stuff, and that you can be trusted with more substantive work.
The main challenge of this internship was figuring out how I might take initiative and propose research activities. I was hoping to discuss the Center’s current projects with the Internship Director before my arrival, so that I could figure out how I might “fit in” and make myself useful to the Center’s lawyers. That conversation never materialized (AHRC staff are extremely busy), so I did my best to prepare by reading as much as I could about as many different Philippine human rights issues as possible. This background research really helped me once I arrived.
With respect to challenges, successes, and failures, I should also note that I originally intended to use my interview with Mr. Espina for a feature newspaper article on the difficulties of doing journalism in the Philippines. Despite the fact that I have moved on from journalism to law, I felt a responsibility to make sure Canadians knew that journalists were still being killed in the wake of the Maguindanao Massacre, and that they were still risking their lives to tell the news. With the AHRC’s permission, I started pitching the story to some of my former employers. To my surprise, no one picked it up. A former editor of mine explained why: it was because AHRC itself was necessarily a character in the story as a result of its work on killings and disappearances. I was, as they say, “too close” to the news to write it.
The Refugee Law Project (RLP) is a large Kampala-based NGO associated with Makerere University’s Faculty of Law. It seeks to ensure fundamental human rights for all refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) living in Uganda. RLP is the only organization in Uganda offering free legal services to forced migrants.
As intern with RLP during the summer of 2010, my day-to-day activities consisted of assessing the needs of RLP’s clients (refugees and asylum seekers from DR Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea), opening files on their behalf (on Mondays and Tuesdays), and taking their detailed testimonies (on Wednesdays and Thursdays). Assessment included facilitating clients’ access to essential services, such as education, housing and medical treatment, by making referrals to partner organizations. I also helped the legal officers follow up a number of cases at the Kampala police and with other Ugandan authorities as necessary.
A highlight of my internship was a two-week field mission to Kyangwali refugee settlement in Western Uganda from 12-24 June 2010. There, I participated in information sessions with refugee communities and meetings with implementing partners of the UNHCR. I was also responsible for focus group discussions with unaccompanied minors.
My experience with RLP was extremely positive, both personally and professionally. I learned a great deal about refugee law, and acquired skills for interacting with clients in situations of crisis and for cross-cultural communication. I was also able to make a number of contacts in various legal organizations with offices in Kampala, which I am sure will be useful in the future. The internship also taught me a lot about myself -- my own strengths and weaknesses and career orientations. I also formed what I am sure will be some lasting friendships.
This internship has been an extremely positive experience both professionally and personally. I learned a great deal about refugee law, and despite (or perhaps because of) the challenges I faced, I did acquire skills for interacting with clients in situations of crisis and for cross-cultural communication.
The internship also taught me a lot about myself -- my own strengths and weaknesses and career orientations. In particular, my experience with RLP has reinforced my interest in working in the area of community legal services in developing countries, although my perspective on the exact role that legal services have to play has changed. I have gained an increasing appreciation for the need for synergy between legal/rights-based approaches and more needs-based approaches to social change and development. Many of RLP’s clients’ issues were non-legal, or their legal issues were inseparable from issues related to survival (food, shelter, access to health care etc.). Yet, there were very few services available to refugees to enable them to satisfy these needs sustainably—this had an impact on the quality of legal services we were able to offer them.
My name is Chloe Potvin. I am a now entering the third year of my Bachelors degree as an International Development Honours student. I am also completing a minor in Management. I decided to combine these two very different fields of study was so as to build the skills necessary to pursue a career in project management for NGOs.
My host organization’s name is Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment (WISE). WISE is a Ghanaian NGO that offers counseling as well as other support services to victims of sexual and gender-based violence, especially women and children. WISE has also made it its mission to educate the general public, advocate with critical stakeholders and offer training on the issues of domestic violence and sexual assault to other service providers. WISE’s objective is to empower its clients to take control of their lives in the short term, while simultaneously striving to transform the institutions and societal structures that sustain these cycles of violence.
As an intern my main assignment was on the Buduburam Liberian refugee camp where I started out by sitting in on psycho-social counseling sessions until I felt confident enough to run my own. At that time I became more than a counselor, I became a case worker. This means that while I did pursue counseling sessions with my clients, I also spent tremendous amounts of time going around the camp with them to the clinic, the pharmacist, the Refugee Welfare Council in a continuous attempt to improve their daily lives.
While this assignment began early and lasted throughout those 13 weeks, what I call my «internship project» was truly the heart of my experience. This «internship project» was in fact a micro-credit initiative that gave a group of ten women a one-week basic business training which covered core themes such as business planning, costing and pricing, bookkeeping, marketing and customer relations. In addition to these business skills, we familiarized our beneficiaries with the concepts of loans, interest rates, repayment schedules as well as loan default and group pressure collateral. The last few weeks of my internship were therefore spent with the «Women of Success» as they called themselves, preparing business plans, forecasting costs and sales, opening bank accounts and going around the Kasua and Greater Accra area to purchase the physical loans with the women themselves.
I had a few very specific learning objectives:
- I wanted to see how well I could relate the theory learned in class to my observations and experiences on the ground. Furthermore, if I could in fact establish a close relationship between theory and practice, I was looking forward to examining how well the theory was preparing me for a life in the field.
- I wanted to go beyond the textbook in my work and have a hands-on experience.
- I wanted to evaluate if I truly had the personality type to go with the kind of career my passions had led me to pursue.
I think the above description of my internship responsibilities illustrates that I could not have asked for a more edifying and rewarding internship experience.
Whatever challenges I encountered along the way, I tried to appreciate them as an integral part of my learning experience. While my internship allowed me to take all the initiative I wanted, this did turn out to be a double-edged sword. The tremendous amount of responsibilities and work that came with the microfinance project, on top of which were all the other challenges of a three-month internship in Sub-Saharan Africa, did indeed become overwhelming at times. However, every time I felt discouraged I took my motivation from the people around me on the camp; my clients, my beneficiaries, my friends, my host family.
I will be writing my Honours Thesis with Fieldwork (INTD 492: 6 credits) by the end of my Bachelors. It will be based on my internship and my work on Buduburam.
I must say that this internship has only further confirmed to me that this is the path I have chosen for myself. Also, while I still have two years left before my Masters, I can say with some confidence that I will be redirecting my Graduate Studies toward microfinance, as long as I find a program that suits my needs and interests. I am hoping this internship experience leads me to other internships that may, in the end, help me get into the Masters program of my choice and maybe, one day, help me get a job I will be just as passionate about.
Finally, I would like to thank my donors: Mr. and Mrs. Darlington, and the AUCC and CIDA for their funding through the Students for Development Award.
Although I am a psychology student, much of the research I have done at university has been highly interdisciplinary and I have consistently strived to take courses in a wide range of topics in arts and science. This influx of information from different academic backgrounds has highly influenced my perspective, which in turn, has influenced my ideas and ambitions. Interestingly enough, the diversity in education throughout my university experience has led me even more astray from any one of the topics/fields I have been exposed to. Instead of helping me gain ground in one field, my education has actually provided me with the tools to think beyond my constraints – and this seems natural given that I have never been absorbed in one set of ideas. In this sense, one product of this exposure has been the development of my ideas relating to economics and law – something along the lines of public policy. To me, working in public policy is one of the most effective ways to add value to society at large and this is my long-term plan.
For this reason, I sought internships that would allow me to gain some experience in public policy. At the same time, I was looking to work in India. Although I have visited India before, I was unsatisfied with my grasp of the culture. My free summer between my third and fourth year of college seemed like an ideal time to visit the country and immerse myself in the environment. And, receiving the AUCC scholarship from the Government of Canada greatly assisted me in covering my expenses for the three months I spent abroad.
I chose to work with PRS Legislative Research (PRS) in the capital, Delhi. PRS is a non-profit research initiative that works to make the legislative process in India better informed, more transparent, and participatory. Its core mandate is to provide research support to Members of Parliament on legislative and policy issues.
At PRS, my role as a policy analyst was to perform background research on food security issues in India and produce a policy brief on that topic. India’s current food security situation is below par. It is widespread knowledge that India’s poverty level is high, and due to this poverty much of the population cannot afford food. In order to improve food security, the Indian government currently implements multiple schemes, though many of them are plagued by widespread corruption – much of the food does not reach those for whom it is intended. The lesson seems to be that good intentions and good ideas, such as food security schemes, are in vain without good infrastructure to implement them.
Recently, the Indian government has initiated programs to deal with such problems, and the legislators are in the process of planning new and more effective policies. However, in order to make good policies, they need objective information and effective advice. This is where my work at PRS comes into play.
The most successful part of the internship was being able to complete the policy brief on food security. It outlined why food security was lagging in the country and what could be done to improve it. The policy brief was important as it provided consultants working at the NGO with information they could use to effectively advise Members of Parliament (MPs). The goal is that with such information the MPs will be able to develop more effective and efficient policies in regards to food security.
Overall, the work during the internship required skills in research (and a certain level of analytical ability) which I had a chance to develop at McGill. By being effective at the work I was doing, I absorbed quite a bit about what policy work entails, which in turn made it a worthwhile experience.
In reflecting about my summer experience, one thought that occurs to me often is that everyone has ideas about how society should function, what is fair or unfair or right or wrong, and what should be done to ‘improve’ the conditions we live in. But, it also seems to me that implementing these ideas requires something more substantive than the theoretical education one receives in university. Implementation of ideas requires that one develop a certain toolkit involving not just knowledge but also practical experience. And this is where my internship experience comes into play. It helped me set a strong foundation for the tools I hope to develop through further education and practical experience before I can be an effective policy maker. In the future, I hope to complete a master’s in economics and then pursue a degree in law while continuing to pursue work as an intern in different organizations.
In February 2011, McGill's 2010 Students for Development gathered for a public engagement event where they discussed the highlights and challenges of their internships.