Internship Spotlight: Laurence LeBlanc

My three-month internship in Kenya with IMPACT was an unforgettable experience full of meaningful lessons, thought-provoking conversation, and deep reflection. I learned more than I was expecting, both within and beyond the office environment.


A bit of background information is relevant to better understanding both my experience with IMPACT and how it will continue to propel my academic aspirations looking forward. IMPACT stands for Indigenous Movement for Peace Advancement and Conflict Transformation. This human rights organization works at the intersection of conservation, policy action, and pastoralist livelihoods to ensure equitable, conflict-free land use in Northern Kenya. As a Master’s student in Political Science with a concentration in International Development Studies, I was drawn to this organization to better understand how grassroots mobilization could assist marginalized communities. As time progressed, I became increasingly interested in gendered labor responsibilities in East Africa, and how this was related to land ownership and livelihood strategies. This topic became particularly relevant when discussing community land demarcation, climate induced insecurities, and local governance strategies.


My intern responsibilities included participating in field research pursuits with ICAN (International Canopy of Conservation, a research branch under McGill University), interviewing community members about land demarcation in Samburu county, writing a 50+ page report about these research findings, presenting the implications of this research to IMPACT, going to women’s groups and learning about grassroots strategies for gender equality, attending community land council meetings, presenting a template for a gender activity to be incorporated into a larger institutional gender strategy, proof-reading grant applications, attending office meetings, going to an ICAN training workshop in Nairobi, and sending photos and short reflections to the IMPACT communications team.


Some of the most rewarding experiences came from conversations which pushed me to reconsider what I took for granted. As a young, educated Canadian woman, it was difficult to learn the extent to which women in many pastoralist communities in Laikipia and Samburu counties have limited input when it comes to decision-making. At first, it was a challenge to know how to contribute my personal opinions about gendered land use without offending cultural norms. Although my supervisors were self-proclaimed feminists, the communities in which they worked had deeply entrenched patriarchal norms. As time wore on, I learned how to become an active listener, which allowed me to relate to people from very different backgrounds. If I could see things from the Maasai or Samburu perspective, my Maasai and Samburu coworkers and community informants were more likely to engage with my perspective. The experience solidified my belief that locals have more insight about resolving local problems than foreigners can, and that discussions questioning assumptions on both sides can lead to more well-rounded solutions.

One of the most concrete educational benefits of my internship with IMPACT was that it solidified my MA thesis research questions. Whereas before this summer I wanted to focus my thesis on resource extraction in the Ecuadorian Amazon, now I wish to delve deeper into gender relations in the East African context, especially with regards to land use and climate change. Although I did not do the internship credit, I will use my internship field notes and related interview excerpts in my thesis. In addition, the internship opened my eyes to potential career paths. Whether I continue in academia or pursue a law degree, the internship solidified my hopes of one day working in an NGO as a community organizer.


Many of the skills I learned cannot be explained so easily. These include cross-cultural sensitivity, increased awareness of profound inequalities, and emotional resilience in adapting to new environments. On a personal level going forward, I became better attuned to what I need to feel good in a place. Beyond these more subjective, yet nonetheless important lessons, I also learned some Kiswahili and Kimaasai language skills. I also reflected in a daily journal, which I may publish as a collection of journal entries once I finish my degree.


If it were not for the Tania Zouikin Arts Internship Award in International Development, I may not have enriched my McGill experience with this international experience. This award paid for my transportation, my accommodations and meals, and internship-related event participation costs. The funds allowed me to fully immerse myself in my work. For these reasons and more, it is with utmost gratitude to Tania Zouikin and the AIO that I reflect on my internship experience. I would also like to thank my IMPACT coworkers for their warm welcome, McGill’s ICAN project for providing structure to the internship, and others who positively impacted my stay in Kenya.

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