I was looking for an internship in a developing country, and knew that GAC partnered with various international organizations in order to provide opportunities for young people. After focusing on human rights and gender issues, I was looking for something in that field. MEDA's listing caught my eye as the position and project really spoke to me. Not only was the role exactly what I was looking for – a gender position in Ghana – but what I read about MEDA's work inspired me to apply. The idea of finding 'business solutions to poverty,' empowering those most vulnerable to create their own change, and working on sustainable projects made me excited to be a part of the team.
Working in international development has really opened my eyes to the process of implementing an intervention. Although I had prior experience traveling and volunteering abroad, nothing can compare to living and working somewhere for an extended period of time. Visiting local communities, meeting clients and their families and seeing the positive results of the project were so rewarding. Something I didn't expect was the extent to which cultural differences played a role in the project. This required an awareness of who I was working with at different times and an understanding that practices I might consider normal may come across as inappropriate to others. I learned a lot about working in different contexts that has been extremely valuable.
The internship with MEDA drew upon my Masters degree in so many ways. I could apply skills and knowledge I developed during my academic career in the workplace. However, in other ways the internship went above and beyond what I studied at university. I had experience doing practical work and learned much more about the issues that we had only touched upon at school. After the completion of my internship, I know I will have a wealth of experiences, skills, and abilities that I didn't have before.
One of my tasks was to create a gender-training manual that our partners could use in conducting community gender trainings. It was a large document and it took me several weeks to compile. On one visit to our partner's office, I walked in and saw the manual – it had been printed and bound. Later, I saw the training being conducted in a community. I really felt fulfilled. The women farmers reported enjoying participating in the trainings, and felt they contributed more – and were recognized for their contributions – in the household and community as a result. It was rewarding to see these examples of empowerment.
I gained so much from this internship. I learned the intricacies of gender analysis and reporting, strategies for gender mainstreaming, and practiced my facilitation skills. I participated in conferences with GAC, attended meetings with other international organizations and visited the High Commission. My organizational and problem solving skills were put to the test during logistical planning of tours, events and forums to showcase the project. These are all aspects that I will be able to put to use in my future career.
I think the biggest lesson I learned was the importance of patience and persistence. In the context of development, especially in agricultural settings, a plan may look great on paper but not work effectively on the ground. Other unanticipated factors might affect the outcome of an activity, such as poor rainfall, or low attendance due to cultural events or customs. Although certain elements may create challenges – causing new plans to be developed, different methods used, various pilots undertaken – the overall goal of the project is motivation enough to keep working to improve these strategies.
On a different note, another important lesson I learned was to enjoy every minute of the internship experience! Time goes by way too quickly! Between working, travelling, community visits, exploring and meeting new people, I have no idea where 9 months has gone! Take it all in, live in the moment, acknowledge experiences (both positive and negative), keep being excited – all too soon it will just be a wonderful memory.