Interning at UNHCR Ecuador: Sara Escallon

This summer, I was the Community Based Protection Intern for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) based in Ibarra, Ecuador. I was able to participate in this opportunity due to the generous support of the Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill, McGill International Experience Awards.

This internship was an amazing opportunity to gain experience in the humanitarian field in the context of displacement and forced migration. I was particularly interested in this internship as a student of environment, learning about the UNHCR and humanitarian work related to migration was important to me, as environmental change worldwide is creating pressures that displace communities.

Additionally, this internship gave me the opportunity to work in a bilingual environment, helping me further develop my communication skills. The UNHCR has a long history in Ecuador, supporting displaced persons crossing the border from Colombia. The UNHCR provides a diverse number of services to these populations of displaced persons in cooperation with other NGOs as well as local and federal governments. While many of the UNHCR’s projects aim to improve the material well-being of displaced persons, they also focus heavily on community integration and providing psychological support services. As a Community Based Protection Intern, I was mainly tasked with developing communications materials to be used in communities. I learned how to use graphic design programs such as Adobe Illustrator, which I used to update and create information posters and other materials for services and events for displaced persons. I also contributed to a range of projects when my support was needed.

Infographic of the event "movies in your neighborhood", blue background, showing a camera and the title and date of the event
A promotional material I created for an event for International Refugee Day called “Cine en tu barrio” or “movies in your neighborhood” that was shared with migrant communities in Ibarra, Ecuador.

Tweet of the event
A photo shared from the event “Cine en tu barrio”.
My two main objectives with this internship included developing my communication skills with communities and integrating myself into projects that interested me outside of my direct duties. I can happily say that these objectives were met. I not only learned to use software such as Illustrator, but also learned various communication strategies. These skills will be very important as I look to go into environmental research in the final two years of my undergraduate degree. By communicating with my supervisors, I also involved myself in projects related to my academic interests. These skills will be very important when I look to enter the job market.

The highlight of this experience was when I helped contribute to a proposal that the field office in Ibarra was writing for an environmental innovation fund within the wider UNHCR, which funds innovative pilot projects that build resilience to environmental change. I helped conduct research for this proposal and drafted some ideas for sections that were submitted to the fund. During this experience, I learned a lot about the process by which such projects are materialized. The skills I have learned from my interdisciplinary program in Environment at McGill helped me greatly, as these projects required me to understand the connections between environmental and social issues that communities are facing, and how they affect resilience to all types of change.

Large infographic including information on refugee routes in Ecuador
A “totem” information material I created that is now being used in Lago Agrio, Ecuador, to provide information on services and travel routes available to them.

This internship has opened my mind to the possibility of working in the environmental humanitarian field after I graduate. While these last few months were very fulfilling, I would like to pursue a similar opportunity in an in-person capacity in the future. I aspire to use my university degree to work in positions that emphasize solving environmental problems by changing community relationships to build environmental resilience and sustainable habits. This opportunity led me to realize the different roles someone with a similar profile to mine can have within the UN system and NGOs.

The infographic printed on a board, being consulted by two people
The totem being consulted by people in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

The award I received from the Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill allowed me to pursue this opportunity and save for my graduate degree. Without this award, I would not have been able to participate in this internship.

I would like to sincerely thank the MIEA founders and Mr. Garvin Brown for their generous support of my internship experience.

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