A blog post by Jacqueline Fanta Reflecting on her virtual summer internship 2021 with UN-Habitat Nairobi for Global Development Studies 396/310, a course supervised and taught by Dr.Cherie Enns at the University of The Fraser Valley
My 18-year-old little sister, Wilma, surprised me one day with a simple question: what was the most important thing in life that I could not afford to lose? The question was of course clearly driven by the innocence of youth, however, as I reflected on it, it hit me that the question carried more meanings than what it sounded on face value. It touched on how I currently organized my life and how I prioritized my activities. It spoke to the values that I would always need to keep as I shaped my life for the future, and above all it addressed the issue of simplicity. I told Wilma that, to me, time was the most important thing that I could not afford to lose. As a typical teenager, she paused another: “Why time”? My answer of “time is money” was both an attempt to avoid answering more of her questions, but also a realization that Wilma had triggered something deeper that I had not thought about before. Indeed, she was helping me clarify issues to myself.
You are probably wondering why I am sharing this exchange with you. You see, time is a very crucial aspect in our lives. In fact, once mismanaged or lost, it can never be taken back. So, as I reflect on my internship, it is important for me to I speak on how I used my time during this period and see what lessons I drew from both managing my time and also the experience I gained at UN-Habitat. With the outbreak of the pandemic, time has had an added meaning for a lot of people, certainly for me. Afterall who knew that I would do my internship remotely in a geographical time zone that is more than eight hours earlier than where I live and yet benefit enormously from the mentorship? But then again, never say never.
At the very start of the internship, I was quite anxious as I did not have a clue of what to expect. At the same time, being my first internship with such a reputable international organization like the United Nations, I was also very excited about the opportunity. So, who am I and what are my career goals? I am an international student from South Sudan pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Global Development Studies with a minor in communications here at the University of the Fraser Valley. I grew up in a large family where cousins are referred to as brothers and sisters, uncles have the same authority over you as your biological father and neighbours can disciple a child if he got out of line. In Africa, it truly takes a village to raise a child. Therefore, as a young female from the African continent, I am very passionate about the socio-economic issues of Africa.
My career goals are driven by the need to bring about positive change to society specifically in areas around education, women and gender equality. I strongly believe that for us as young people to thrive in this world, we need a level of education that can place one in a position to be able to cater for their needs and the needs of others. As a global development student, my career goals are thus inspired by the ideals of the United Nations especially the aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals. It would be an honor to contribute to these goals in a practical way someday.
My internship experiences this summer is one I am excited to share with you all. Being my first time in a formal, though virtual, work setting, there was a lot to learn. First it is important to point out that professional standards at the United Nations are quite high, but I was able to cope quite well. In fact, a key feature of the work was that one needed to be able to communicate clearly and effectively. As a communication minor student, I took this requirement quite seriously, although in the end it turned out not to be much of a challenge. Because of this, my virtual meeting skills and ability to navigate online platforms like zoom and teams, has greatly improved from the time I started.
Professionally, I have had the opportunity to analyze and use raw data as well as contribute to report writing and research skills. Additionally, I have participated in the UN’s work with the Youth by putting them at the forefront of key issues and ensuring that their voices and opinions are heard and taken into consideration. Similarly, I have learnt the impact of covid-19 and how it’s being dealt with on a global scale. I was involved in the work on a plastic recycling project for Mathare which is an informal settlement is Kenya. The challenge was the concerns of how the youth in Mathare could work while observing the covid-19 protocol. Further, the plastic recycling project has revealed the need for a more sustainable environment and the importance of creativity that is, how to recycle plastic into a finished product that can actually be sold to generate money which can support the youth not only in Mathare as this knowledge is transferable to any society.
While completing my internship with UN-Habitat and United Nations Association-Canada, through the Mathare Plastic Recycling project, I have learnt that it’s important that while working with the United Nations, we should eliminate the word HELP and replace it with SUPPORT. This is simply because the word help comes off very misleading. The UN believes its work is to support people and protect their creative work. This internship has broadened my understanding on a lot of things and I have had the chance to network with a number of people as well as understand cultural diversity and respect them. The virtual aspect of the internship has presented its unique challenges, of course, especially where navigating times zones are a norm. Due to the time difference between Canada and Kenya, I found myself having to stay up late in the night to attend meetings at 3:00 am sometimes (figure 3). This was one of my greatest challenges because the hours were really brutal, but again it was doable. The virtual internship has taught me to be able to give myself deadlines for instance. Sometimes I would be given an assignment to complete and sometimes I would simply be told that this was needed as soon as possible. This is where I learnt to give myself deadlines and complete the task fast. Even though I would have loved to be in Nairobi in person doing this internship I appreciate this virtual opportunity but it wouldn’t be fair to leave out the fact that I have learnt to be politely persistent while asking for tasks and assignment. I mean there’s just so much one can do online which is okay. At least I can say I have truly experienced what it is like to work in a pandemic situation.
I have also had the privilege to work with Dr. Cherie Enns on a blog for the Day of the African Child. The blog was meant to bring awareness and shed light on the day itself and this involved the combined work of some African UFV students, an Alumni, Dr. Cherie and I sharing what the day of the African Child meant to us and why the University of the Fraser Valley should care for this day which is on 16th June every year. You can find this blog on the UFVChasihub. page.
I also had the chance to contribute to Girls Framework Workshop where I involved my teenage siblings from Africa to participate. The Girls framework is a child friendly document analysing the rights of girls in Africa by the African Child Policy Forum. This document is written in a comic version where conversations by the children around issues to do with girls’ rights are held in a manner that is normal creating safe conversations around learning their rights. This brings me to the role of short story telling hence why I started this particular blog in a story manner. Story telling is a powerful way of connecting people from all walks of life. Story telling is aligned with Aspiration 5 of Africa Union’s Agenda 2063 which is titled, “Africa with Strong Cultural Identity with Common Heritage, Values and Ethics. I strongly believe that Aspiration 5 is relatable to any community not necessarily Africa. Even the Western world can find a connection and learn through storytelling, therefore I encourage anyone reading this blog to consider story telling in any form for the powerful way it connects people.
The past 3 months of this internship have been everything I had hoped to gain and even more. I have experienced what it is like to virtually work for an international organisation UN-Habitat. I have learnt how decisions around issues of climate change, creativity and sustainable cities are made and the global impact of Covid-19 as well as the importance of research. I can confidently say that my knowledge on a number of things has broadened for instance my digital skills have expanded, it has enhanced my communication ability of communicating in a formal setting as well as respecting all cultural differences. I have learnt a great deal of self-discipline when It comes to meeting deadlines and setting priorities.
I am grateful to Dr. Cherie for her continued mentorship and guidance throughout this journey and presenting me with such great opportunities where I have not only been able to share my work but also learnt and contribute to something that can bring a tremendous change in a society like the Girls Framework. I am thankful to Douglas Ragan Programme Management Officer Specialist, Children and Youth Human Rights and Social Inclusion Unit at UN-habitat and his amazing team as well as Brooke McLaughlin for making this internship worthwhile. I hope someday I will actually work for the United Nations. In all these achievements, one thing has remained crucial – time. We should all value time, as I told Wilma. None of these would have been possible without effective time management. It is certainly the one thing I can never afford to lose. To my readers I will leave you with my favourite quote I learnt of on my visit three years ago to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City which is, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined” – Thoreau. (Figure 2, Pg.4) (Adrienne Wiess, 2016)
Adrienne Wiess, G. W. (2016, March 6). Entreprenuer. Retrieved from Entreprenuer: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/289617
African Child Policy Forum. (2021). Framework For The Analysis Of The Rights Of Girls In Africa. Addis Ababa Ethiopia.
Thoreau, H. D. (1854). Walden. Boston.