I would firstly like to thank Mr. Schull and Ms. Yang for their support of the McGill International Experience Awards without which many students like myself would not be able to take on these incredible, but unpaid, internship opportunities. In summer 2021, I worked as a Volunteer Intern for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP)’s Regional Bureau in Panama. As a student of Economics and International Development at McGill, I already had a keen interest for topics such as sustainability, food security and agricultural economics as they relate to developing countries. Furthermore, having traveled to South America during my gap year in 2018, I was already particularly interested in returning to the region and developing my Spanish language skills in a professional context. Therefore, this internship opportunity seemed incredibly interesting and relevant, so I was highly motivated to apply and extremely grateful to have been selected.
Although I completed the internship virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was still able to gain significant exposure to the world’s largest humanitarian organization. WFP works across the globe to build resilience, provide food assistance, and eradicate hunger for the most vulnerable people affected by conflict, disaster, and climate change. Recognized by the Nobel Committee with the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, WFP’s work was also particularly relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as people already experiencing food insecurity were affected by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. Within WFP, I was assigned to the Communications Unit of the Regional Bureau in Panama that serves as the head office for the entire Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region. The Communications Unit (CU) is responsible for all media and public relations for the LAC region which includes publications, press releases, videos, and social media content primarily in Spanish.
Our initial training focused on the various multimedia platforms used by the CU such as the WFP Multimedia Hub, Canva, Wochit, Brandwatch and Medium among others. With Brandwatch, I carried out daily media monitoring of any mentions of WFP’s regional offices in the news and compiled any relevant articles to share with the team. With Canva, I consolidated pictures and videos from the country offices to create micro-videos that showcased WFP’s work, such as the delivery of school meals or rural microfinance initiatives. I was also responsible for consolidating information and updates from the country communication officers to create the weekly communications outlook to send to WFP staff across the region and to HQ in Rome. Additionally, I wrote several articles that were published on the WFP website related to topics such as social protection for migrants and the effects of climate change on women in Guatemala. Seeing my name featured alongside those articles on the official WFP website and being able to share them with my family and friends as proof of my hard work was a significant highlight of the internship.
As WFP’s work is largely related to emergency situations, my specific responsibilities also varied depending on the needs of the unit. For instance, whenever HQ had an urgent press release to share regarding the situation of food security in a country such as Madagascar, I was tasked with translating it into Spanish so that the information could also be shared on the Spanish language section of the WFP website. Some of the long-term projects involved presentations and in-depth analysis of the RBP social media accounts (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) and the individual country accounts for countries such as Haiti, Guatemala, and Honduras to highlight their strengths, weaknesses and identify areas for improvement. It was particularly rewarding to hear how much the communication officers appreciated our feedback and unique perspective as young people who were more familiar with current trends in social media and technology.
Even though the three-month internship was quite busy and did not allow much time to explore interests outside of our direct communications responsibilities, I was able to leverage some of the resources we had access to which helped me gain a better idea of my future career and educational prospects. For instance, I had access to internal information and training modules related to departments such as Public-Private Partnerships and Procurement which gave me a greater insight into the different work divisions I could enter within non-governmental organizations like WFP. Furthermore, gaining an “insider” perspective and understanding of current issues facing humanitarian efforts and development was one of my main learning objectives and is something that will surely prove useful for my professional career.
Although challenging and strenuous at times, particularly due to the stress and fatigue related to remote work, the internship experience was overall very rewarding. Furthermore, receiving the Schull Yang International Experience Awards was indispensable and allowed me to focus all my efforts on this learning experience without the stress of finding an additional source of income to support myself during this unpaid internship. The award helped me support myself over the 3 months, paying for my monthly rent, groceries, internet bill and other personal needs. Thank you once again to Mr. Schull and Ms. Yang for making this experience possible!