Interning at the UNHCR Ecuador: Ariana Castillon

My name is Ariana Castillon, I am a third-year student from the Faculty of Arts with a major in International Development Studies and a minor in Communications. My interests center on Latin America, refugees, food security, and the Sustainable Development Goals. Due to Mr. Schull and Ms. Yang's generosity, I was able to intern for the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees in Ecuador. As someone who grew up in Peru, I was able to witness first-hand the impact of the Venezuelan exodus in my country, and ever since, I have wanted to work for an organization that helps displaced Venezuelans assimilate into their new societies.


Once I read that the UNHCR in Ecuador catered towards Venezuelan refugees, I felt compelled to apply to the internship and to learn more about the development projects and types of assistance that the UNHCR provides. The UNHCR was formed after WWII to help European refugees, and their mission has expanded to include any refugee, forcibly displaced person, or those who are stateless. They work tirelessly to offer them the protection they deserve. As international development theories change, the UNHCR has changed the way they help refugees, and I have no doubt that the experience I received from my internship will be invaluable for future experiences.


My internship responsibilities varied from conducting research, constructing databases, translating and elaborating documents and guides, and providing support. I arrived at the Livelihoods Unit at a time of transition, as a new head of unit had just taken charge of the operation, and in a manner of speaking, we were all adjusting to our roles. I was in an all-female team, and I have to say that as a woman, it was exciting to see how involved and passionate my colleagues were. Their dedication inspired me to remain dedicated to my work, and it gave me a renewed sense of purpose. At the beginning, since we were all adapting, and I was the first member to join the team besides the head of unit, there was a learning curve when it came to managing the dynamics and the responsibilities. Furthermore, I was unfamiliar with a vast majority of the jargon, and I had to quickly adapt to a new language, of sorts. Lastly, at the time, I had a medical issue that required several appointments to solve.


Nevertheless, I can say confidently that with the help of the head of unit and my colleagues, I was able to successfully tackle all of the challenges thrown my way. I was very thankful for the understanding and patience I was given during my internship, and I always felt like my contribution was valuable and my presence in the team was welcome.


Computer screens on a table, showing the UNHCR websites
The website “Empresas con los Refugiados” side by side with the guide for the private sector Ariana created for UNHCR Ecuador during my internship. The guide can be found on the website.
Some of the highlights of my internship include the visit of the High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, who came for the Day of the Refugees and witnessing the launch of the website “Empresas con los Refugiados,” which was created to encourage businesses in the private sector to employ Venezuelans and other refugees. One of my biggest projects consisted in the elaboration of a guide that focused on explaining to businesses why bringing refugees into their enterprises would benefit them in the long term, and the different ways in which they could employ them legally. Another project of mine involved creating a database of potential benefactors for one of the development projects the UNHCR was launching, with the help of a local university in Ecuador. This project consisted in paying the university to create a course for refugees so they could become official messengers, and thus giving them job opportunities and knowledge to be employable. Further incentives were given to them to participate in the course, such as awards for the best students. I was also asked to create an internal private sector toolbox for the UNHCR Ecuador, for which I elaborated an array of documents such as databases and guides, for the future use of everyone in the office.

Due to this internship, my passion and interest for my major was renewed. Learning the inner workings of the United Nations gave me a profound respect for the work they do. It has gotten me excited for future job opportunities, and now more than ever, I am committed to working for a similar organization after graduation. The Schull Yang International Experience Awards was instrumental in making this experience possible for me, as the funding allowed me not to look for another type of employment. For that, I’m extremely grateful to you.

Thank you again Mr. Schull and Ms. Yang for making this experience possible!

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