My name is Victoria Aponte, I am an Honours student in Political Science at McGill University, with a minor in Social Entrepreneurship and another in History. In summer 2022, I interned remotely for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) in Guatemala. I am also very grateful to have been a recipient of the Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill, McGill International Experience Awards.
My summer working at UNHCR Guatemala as a Livelihoods and Economic Inclusion Intern was a wonderful experience. Through many training modules, I learned about the workings of the unit, the challenges faced by displaced populations, and the logistical changes that the UN is currently undergoing. After soaking in all this new information, I learned how to use proGres, a registration database used by the UN to keep a record of people of concern and gained knowledge about the Self-Reliance Index (SRI), a way to measure the self-reliance of refugees. Thanks to this new knowledge, I was able to write a report regarding demographical differences between groups of refugees and people of concern in relation to the SRI Index, and a document for internal use which highlighted the main advances in the unit from the past few months.
In addition to learning new tools and organizational knowledge, I was fortunate to work with people that have years of experience in the humanitarian sector. I attended a MIRPS (Marco Integral para la Protection y Soluciones) meeting where representatives from the region discussed a framework to remove barriers for refugees to access work in host countries. In a similar vein, I got to attend several meetings dedicated to discussing ways in which UNHCR could help the entrepreneurial projects of refugees. During these discussions, one of my supervisors would talk with representatives from NGOs from different provinces who would present the business plans/proposals made by refugees or people of concern. These meetings were filled with people advocating for the needs, well-being, and capabilities of refugees and displaced people.
While I was able to learn a lot and meet amazing people, the highlight of my internship is an interview I conducted during the last days of the internship. Working remotely made me feel like I was missing out on a big part of what my experience would have been like if I had been able to actually leave for Guatemala. The reality is that I was not going to be able to work directly with refugees. This desire to understand refugee populations more deeply, lead me to ask if I could interview refugees to write an article about them, my supervisors agreed as they needed to highlight success stories of refugees with entrepreneurial projects. I was lucky enough to interview a Venezuelan family that had set up a restaurant where they served arepas (a traditional Venezuelan dish). As a Venezuelan myself, I was very nervous to meet them since usually the stories of Venezuelan refugees bring me to tears. Yet, as they told me the many ups and even more downs of their journey, this mom and her son would not stop smiling. Their drive and energy were contagious, by the end of the interview I felt energized rather than sad in any way. Writing the article made feel inspired by this family and showed me the importance of the work that the UNCHR does.
I was fortunate to see the effort and passion of people working for the well-being of others. While interning remotely was not easy, this internship allowed me to closely see the drive of people working in the humanitarian sector. I had coffee breaks almost every week with people from different areas of the unit in Guatemala, from protection to external relations. When asked what their favorite part of their job was, almost every single person responded, “working for people.” They did not sugar-coat the difficulties of the job, but they were keen and passionate about their missions.
I am incredibly grateful to the ION for this opportunity, and to the MIEA founders and Mr. Garvin Brown for making this possible and supporting me with my internship.