Posts Tagged 'NGOs'

Eastern promise: interning abroad can be a better option

I just want to share my internship/job experience working for NGOs in the Middle East…I know this is quite a specific field, but my story has some relevance to many of the issues you are discussing.  I have a vague ambition to work in International Human Rights, specifically with regards to the Middle East, and decided to take a year out of my degree and come to Cairo for a year to get some work experience.

Here, I had the rather shocking experience of, after a month, getting a salary from my current NGO, who insisted if I was working I had to be paid.  Soon later, I got a contract, as I asked for job security so I could plan my year properly. As you could guess, many NGOs in the developing world struggle with funding and have nothing like the resources available to private sector companies back in London.  (The coordinator for my organization hasn’t been able to give himself a salary for the past couple of months, making do with money from other consultancy work he does.) Yet many organizations here still manage to pay their interns/and or hire fresh graduates.  I have other graduate friends who are working or interning with NGOs in the region, who are even provided with accomodation. (My journalist friends, interested in foreign affairs, have had similar experiences here, being paid for their work and interning in English language newspapers, and due to the comparative lack of competition in Cairo, they have had work about the city published in national newspapers in London.)

In contrast, I have many friends back in London who have degrees, and masters.  They have been interning for human rights groups, think tanks and NGOs for months without pay, working in bars to sustain a living.  To those friends, and others who want to work in international development, I’d say brave the unknown and leave London and get experience on the ground for a few years.  You’ll find you’re presence is much appreciated, and it often shows in pay, actual job titles and respect.

I’d also say to those who want to work in international development, not to look for jobs on the internet from home, but to save up money for flights, take a risk and go out there.  Native English speakers are always in demand, and particulary in unstable countries where a lot of foreigners leave, internships often lead to job offers.  My organization and all my other NGO worker friends say they never look at applications coming from outside Egypt, due to a) the hassle of organizing interviews and b) the very real possibility that although an applicant might like the idea of working in the Middle East, in reality many people find the life difficult and quickly leave.  It is also crazy to take internships in developing countries that you practically have to pay for, i.e. volunteer tourism.  Again, I stress, if you actually get out there, there are many many organizations who would love to have someone work for free for them.  There is simply not the same internship culture to compete with.  I have now been offered a permanent job, but it is with regret, I will have to return to England to study…and continue my work experience unpaid, doing things that after a year of an intense job, I feel slightly overqualified for.

I just find it insane that most local NGOs here at least pay stipends to their interns, but back in London, organizations apparently can’t afford to.  Yes, there is a difference in living expenses; my £350 a month allows me to get by in Cairo, but even that amount would be better than nothing in England. I guess benefits to interns in other parts of the world comes from a society which finds the thought of unpaid work pretty confusing. And I think this is mentality we should re-adopt.

Seven internships and counting…is a career in international development worth it?

In my third year of a Religions and Theology degree, I knew I wanted to work in international development. And for this, I knew I’d need some experience. I applied for a part-time internship (… internship number 1) with an international inclusive education network located close to my University, which was a good few months and in hindsight provided me with very useful contacts and experience.

This internship also provided me with research and some editing experience and through doing it, I was offered some voluntary work on another NGO project. Naively I thought that this, combined with a gap year spent in Nepal, would be enough when I started my masters degree in international development. The MSc came and went and by this point I was 23 years-old and with an enormous career development loan debt. I applied for another internship in India (internship number 2) with a Dalit postgraduate learning centre.

I was fresh out of my MSc and back living with my parents, unable to afford to do much. My intention had been to move home after Uni and spend the 3 month gap between then and leaving for India doing temporary work (by this point I was well experienced in admin temping). No such luck. Despite a masters degree, lots of admin experience and voluntary work, I was considered too “over-qualified” for the positions I was applying for. The best I was offered was two weeks working in a factory. Eventually, and kindly, my parents offered to pay for my flight to India.

Internship number 2 was 3 months long and was, to be honest, a bit of a letdown. Very unstructured, no clear profile, etc. Myself and another foreign intern had to pay out own flights, visas and insurance and were paid a very, very small stipend (which was about half my monthly career development loan repayments for which I got into additional debt). Immediately after India, I went to Nepal for internships 3 and 4, working for a women’s rights network and a newspaper, respectively. At the former, I was provided with food and accommodation (which initially meant sharing a room with a teenager and a young child) and basically editing English documents. The second internship at a newspaper was very useful, but only paid a basic rate for articles I had published. They also, frustratingly, had a policy of not assisting non-Nepalis with visas. This meant no job at the end of the internship.

I returned to the UK for financial reasons and after two months of unemployment embarked on internship number 5 at a local newspaper. I was now 25. I initially worked 5 days a week, but they said this was too much of a commitment and reduced my days to 3. I received no travel or food allowance, despite effectively doing the same work as a junior reporter and writing a lot of copy. They had made it clear at the start that there was no chance of a job – but what else was I supposed to do? I wasn’t getting any of the admin jobs I was applying for and I needed some form of stimulation and outside interaction. I was 25, living at my parent’s place and splitting my dole money between paying my career development loan and paying travel costs to get to this internship. The really frustrating thing was the fact they didn’t even offer to pay for travel. I lasted 3 months and became very, very unhappy.

Increasing frustrations (shouting at the tv, becoming too bitter and cynical to read the newspapers, etc.), led me to start a development consultancy business, because I needed to do SOMETHING of value. And, I’d rather intern for myself than for someone else. And shortly after starting this, I was offered 3 months of private, well paid teaching work.

I then started what was effectively internship number 6 in May. This was done from home and involved editing work. It did involve one trip to London earlier in the year, which, of course, they didn’t offer to cover the travel for. I’ve received criticism from senior staff, too, and there has been a complete lack of guidance throughout. But, it looks good on the CV (which is all that matters for us desperate grads, right?)

So now… it’s October and last week I received news that I’ve been selected to go and work abroad for, yes, you guessed it… internship numero 7! Fortunately, they provide accommodation, a small stipend and food. Sadly, this means the money I saved from teaching over the summer will just about cover my career development loan for the six month period. It also means I won’t be able to come home for my best friend’s wedding… and, perhaps even worse, I’ll be 26 and still an intern (DOOM!)

Yes, I’ve done a lot and have quite a packed CV. But, it’s really not fair. Having your work consistently undervalued and it made me lose alot of confidence in myself and caused me to become very depressed. Sadly I know people in all too familiar situations who, like me, feel that we’ve been somehow cheated and are perpetually left out of an unjust and unfair system. It makes you want to scream…


Interns Anonymous

We want this website to be a forum for interns to share their experiences and discuss the ethics of unpaid employment. Most importantly, we want this site to be a place where YOU can tell us your story.

Disclaimer

Interns Anonymous accept no responsibility for the contents of the blog, comments or any other content on this site that is posted or provided by third parties. This website is designed to act as a forum for interns to share experiences and opinions about their work, therefore, we will not censor opinions we do not agree with. The opinions stated in blog contributions do not represent those of Interns Anonymous. We disclaim all liability for such content to the fullest extent permitted by law. If you have any queries please email us.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 118 other followers


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 118 other followers

%d bloggers like this: