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2018 Summer Interns

The Schull Yang International Experience Award, supported by Joseph Schull (BA ‘82, MA ’85) and Anna Yang (BCL, LLB ’88), helps undergraduate and graduate students gain first hand international experience related to their fields of study. The award provides full or partial funding to assist students with tuition, travel, and other expenses related to their international experience. The Schull Yang International Experience Award is part of the McGill International Experience Awards. For more information, click here.

The Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill was established by Garvin Brown (BA'91) in honour of his mother, Susan Casey Brown.Administered through the Dean’s Office in conjunction with the Faculty of Arts Internship Office, this award is meant to provide partial funding to assist students with travel and other expenses related to their international internship. The Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill is part of the McGill International Experience Awards. For more information, click here.

The Internship Offices Network is pleased to announce the selected McGill students for the 2018 summer internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Ecuador, and the recipient of the Schull Yang International Experience Award, Kelly O'Connor, and the recipient of the Susan Casey Brown Fund for McGill, Jorge Saldana.

Kelly O'Connor, BCL/LLB

Kelly is a second year law student who aims to work in human rights. This summer she will intern for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quito, Ecuador. She will support the Livelihoods program in implementing, monitoring, and evaluating programs that assist refugees and NGOs. Kelly is hoping to get a first-hand look at what it is like to work in a large international organization and to learn about issues facing refugees in South America.


I am a second year student at McGill’s Faculty of Law, and I am writing to thank you for your generous contribution to my education through the Schull Yang International Experience Award. I was very happy to be selected for this award for my internship at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ecuador, and I deeply appreciate your generosity.

I applied to this internship because, as a law student, I am passionate about human rights, particularly the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers, and displaced people. I had hoped to gain some knowledge of refugee law and to learn about what it is like to work in a large international organization, but I am happy to report that my experience greatly exceeded my expectations.

The UNHCR in Ecuador is dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. Practically speaking, UNHCR Ecuador provides services to and conducts advocacy in support of people displaced primarily from Colombia, and more recently Venezuela. My internship was in the resettlement unit, which organizes resettlement of refugees from Ecuador to third countries such as Canada, the United States, and New Zealand. My duties included assisting in drafting resettlement request forms, including legal analysis and country-of-origin research in support of the application. I also observed and later conducted interviews with refugees applying for resettlement, and I assisted with interpretation for refugee status determination interviews, providing me with first-hand field experience in human rights work.

One highlight of my internship was interpreting in a resettlement interview for refugees who were about to be resettled to New Zealand. The resettlement process can take a long time, so I was normally not able to see my cases through from start to finish. This interpretation was one of the few times I was able to witness the end of the process. I interpreted the New Zealand official’s questions for the refugees from English into Spanish and their responses from Spanish into English. As these individuals would soon move to New Zealand, their excitement filled the room as they described how they spent evenings watching YouTube videos about their soon-to-be new home and practicing English. I learned about their desires to study English and later nursing and computer science, and their hopes for their children to have opportunities to study in the future. This interview showed me the impact of my work on the lives of the individuals UNHCR serves, and motivated me through the duration of my internship to do my best.

I applied to law school because of my interest in human rights and in international legal work. This internship gave me a phenomenal introduction to what human rights work can look like in an international context, and provided me with an idea of what kind of career I want to pursue when I graduate. This week, as the new academic year has started, I began a placement at Just Solutions Legal Clinic in Montreal, which specializes in humanitarian immigration law. I can already see that the knowledge I gained during my internship at UNHCR has given me a solid foundation on which to build my knowledge of immigration and refugee law, as well as first-hand experience in human rights work. Thanks to this experience, I have a better idea of what kind of jobs I would like to pursue in the future, and I have renewed my passion for human rights.

Kelly O'Connor (far right) and fellow interns Jessica (far left) and Jorge Saldana (middle).

Jorge Saldana, BA Honours Political Science

Jorge is pursuing an honours degree in political science with a minor in east Asian studies in the Faculty of Arts. This summer he will be interning at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quito, Ecuador. He will support their Livelihoods Unit, which monitors integration programs and workshops for refugees.  His goal is to acquire institutional knowledge about UNHCR’s efforts to integrate refugees into local communities implementing sustainable and long-term solutions.


Growing up, I believed that working for the United Nations would remain a far-fetched dream at the bottom of my bucket list under the “never going to happen” category. A few semesters ago, as I tread the waters of my Honours Political Science degree, I had the opportunity to take a class solely focused on international organizations. I recall sitting in front of my computer trying to answer the question “is the United Nations still relevant today?”

As a result of the incredible generosity of Mr. Garvin Brown and the Susan Casey Brown Fund, I was given the opportunity to answer that question for myself by doing a summer internship for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quito, Ecuador.

The organization

The UNHCR in Ecuador is a leading example worldwide of cooperation with the national government in a common effort to alleviate the plight of refugees. Ecuador is one of the few nations that has successfully recognized the 1984 Cartagena Declaration and produced legislation based upon it (the Organic Law on Human Mobility), effectively creating a legal channel to defend the rights of refugees, promoted by the UNHCR and monitored by their national partner NGOs.

Within this structure, the Livelihoods Unit in Ecuador is responsible for the development of sustainable solutions to bring refugees out of poverty, namely through the successful Graduation Model, in which a gradual 18-month plan helps refugees to ensure their food security, foster community links, encourage saving mechanisms, and provide seed capital to develop small business initiatives. Being capable to sustain their families without the monetary aid of organizations effectively allows refugees to “graduate” from the program.


Being Colombian by birth, but having grown up in Canada, I had a personal stake in the refugee context of Ecuador as over 90% of their provenance was a result of my home country’s civil war. Beyond it being an introspective opportunity, one of my objectives for the internship was to familiarize myself with the challenges that the UN faces daily. Theoretical discussion in class highlighted the United Nations’ lack of efficiency, convoluted bureaucracy and poor results often foreseeing the concrete issues that the international apparatus faces when implementing policy. I wanted to learn from the organization first-hand.

My experience

Because the National Livelihoods Unit depends on the monitoring of the various field offices throughout the country, it oversees the implementation of the Graduation model by their partners and gathers information on how to improve the monitoring and provisions of the program. My main task was to develop a new strategy, in partnership with Universities in Quito, as well as institutionally mapping out existing opportunities for refugees to access higher level education whether through financial aid & scholarships that were accessible, skill-based workshops, or student-community integration. The goal of this partnership is to consequently expand it to a national level, utilizing universities across the country as institutional support for partner organizations that carry out monitoring. This will allow an eventual responsible disengagement by UNHCR.

Aside from other daily office tasks, I developed promotional material for a study that showcased the impact of the Graduation Model on the reduction of gender-based and sexual violence, had the opportunity to attend events as a UNHCR representative for World Refugee Day, and visited families partaking in the Graduation Model to monitor the savings component of the model. However, the highlight of my summer was the chance to walk in the Quito “OrguYO” LGBTI Pride March, under the UNHCR banner. The pride parade received unprecedented support from the population and from media outlets, highlighting the role we play in the protection of refugees. It served as a reminder of the positive channel the UNHCR can have on the people’s changing attitudes towards refugees and LGBTI members.

I left this experience with more realistic expectations and a deeper understanding of the effort it takes to mobilize and protect isolated and vulnerable people at risk. My incredible colleagues, supervisor, and partners, will serve as a reminder of the devotion it takes to make a difference. This internship has laid the foundation for the future I will carve for myself while working in the fields of international law and the protection of human rights.

Once again, if not for Mr. Garvin Brown and the Susan Casey Brown Fund, this internship opportunity would have never materialized and for their support I will be eternally grateful.

Jorge Saldana (third from the left) participating in Quito’s Pride March.

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