Interning at UNHCR Ecuador: Agnes Bouchet

During my stay in Quito, I was able to get a firsthand experience at how the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) operates and collaborates with government and non-governmental organizations to pursue the establishment of universal human rights and the economic inclusion of people of concern. I also discovered an amazing country, full of richness in its diversity of landscapes and savors to taste, and was lucky enough to meet wonderful friends to share it all with. I would truly like to thank Mr. Garvin Brown, the Susan Casey Brown Fund and the McGill International Experience Awards for this amazing opportunity to learn and grow.

The UNHCR is worldwide agency which seeks to redress the wrongs refugees, stateless people, asylum seekers, returnees, and internally displaced people face daily, in cooperation with national governments and other institutions. Ecuador is a leading example in Latin America right now, having the largest recognized population of refugees and having passed the Organic Law on Human Mobility in 2017, a clear and strong legislative tool to defend people of concern’s human and economic rights. Working in the Livelihoods Unit was particularly thriving for me, since I had graduated from a first class Joint Honors in Political Science and International Development Studies bachelor degree and have pursued these studies as a master student. The impact states have on their citizens and non-citizens’ enjoyment of human rights during times of war, conflicts or domestic turmoil, and looking into how to answer the many challenges which arise immediately or for many years afterwards, is a particularly strong focus of mine. Therefore, learning how the UNHCR’s National Livelihoods Unit designs strategies to economically include people of concern through collaboration with the private and public sphere in order to restore people’s self-sufficiency was incredible for me.

During my internship I was very grateful for the opportunity to participate in a number of meetings between the UNHCR and certain of its social implementers, like HIAS and FUDELA, or meetings with the government, in particular the ministry of labor, the ministry of economic and social inclusion, and the municipality of Quito, or other UN agencies like the United Nations Development Program. During these meetings, axes of progression were discussed, solutions elaborated, and best practices regarding certain projects were established. Some of my main tasks during the internship were: the development of project evaluation and monitoring documents; the national systematization of qualitative data from the UNHCR’s field offices regarding the current challenges to economic inclusion; draft and review parts of a project proposal with a foreign government regarding the northern border between Ecuador and Columbia; and research and map local social entrepreneurs that the UNHCR could work with to launch an Ecuadorian line of the UNHCR’s Made51 project. I was particularly thrilled by the Made51 project, whose concept is to make refugee made products reach the international market through joint work with Ecuadorian social entrepreneurs.

I also attended several graduations, from people of concern, after they participated in the various projects I was evaluating, and was able to interview three of them in Spanish in order to share their successful stories in a publication. My Spanish level greatly improved throughout my stay, which is also an asset I am very grateful for. Since many of the obstacles people of concern face when it comes to economic inclusion comes from ignorance and discrimination, I particularly enjoyed a forum which the UNHCR organized, in which private companies and the government participated in order to communicate on challenges regarding the economic inclusion of people of concern and bring down crucial misconceptions about their right to work.

The highlight of my internship has to come from the environment I was working in. My team was very kind and helpful, and as the months went by I came to know everyone in the office. I was lucky enough to have people come to my desk to request services at times, and accompany various members on their day missions on the field. As such, I was able to laugh with and befriend people who were participating in the programs as I took my first ever cooking class with them, and we played soccer. During the LGBTQ+ march and their graduation I was very happy to see them again, and chant, dance, and share a good time.

Seeing how the UNHCR works, on many different levels, really helped me understand more in depth the challenges and capacities an agency can have in a country to redress human rights abuses. Moving forward, I know what type of professional experience I am looking for next, and am glad to have a more realistic and enriched perspective on my career prospects. In truth, I am amazingly happy that I have had the opportunity to live this adventure in Ecuador and would like to thank you, Mr. Garvin Brown, the Susan Casey Brown Fund and McGill International Experience Awards, from the bottom of my heart for allowing it to happen!

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