What an Experience! My NGO Internship

6 years ago, I was fortunate enough to complete a 6-month internship at a grass-roots HIV/AIDS NGO in Uganda, an experience that while challenging at times, was invaluable in so many ways.  I interned with a positive attitude, good work ethic and a willingness to get involved wherever I was needed which held me in good stead because not only did I earn the respect of my colleagues, I was given the opportunity to get involved, even more than I ever imagined.  I had three clear goals: 1. Gain practical NGO based experience to add to my CV 2. Put into context the theory I was studying during my BSc in International Relations 3.  To reconnect with friends I had met while working on a volunteering placement the previous summer.  I managed to achieve all three.

My placement was unsupported financially and while others struggled to understand why I was paying for work experience, I was clear about it.  I was not a qualified member of staff so I needed to be supported by the local team, I would use paper, electricity, the internet and water during my placement, I needed accommodation and of course, food.  These things were not going to be paid for by a not for profit organisation as their focus, quite rightly, was on the community they supported.  I considered it to be a privilege to be given the opportunity, as after all, I wasn’t an expert in the field, and I knew I would benefit hugely from the experience, which I did.

When I look back at my internship I realised that whilst having a structure in place the emphasis was on using my initiative.   Everything wasn’t planned out for me, and my hand wasn’t held at every turn but this was great because I had to work for it and really think about my internship.  The structure was clear; work in 6 different departments including pharmacy, public relations and data, for 1 month under the PM and at the end write a stating what I had learned, making constructive recommendations for improving working practices or processes, ideas for development and suggestions how the placement could be improved for future interns.  This reflection helped me to focus on my progress through the internship on my objectives and the work I was doing.  Importantly, it also meant that the organisation could consider any suggestions for improvement too.   I really felt as if it mattered to us all.

The internship was amazing and I still talk it about frequently at work and with friends.  It challenged me in so many ways.  I found myself participating in activities I had never considered doing, and in some cases avoided, before such as a public advocacy march through town promoting HIV awareness.  I made sure I worked hard, and earned my placement and wasn’t scared to get involved where it was appropriate, through helping with washing up at the end of a huge anniversary celebration to stocking drugs in the pharmacy and presenting a proposal to a local business for programme sponsorship.  I am thrilled that I was given the opportunity and made it happen.  I always recommend internships to anyone who is looking to change career or studying.  Doing an internship was one of the best decisions I have made, both professionally and personally and is an experience that I will cherish and value forever.

Jackie, Projects Director at Kaya Responsible Travel