By Ayaz Syed
Disclaimer: The views are those of the author's alone and do not represent the views of UNA-Canada.
Change can often be difficult to navigate, whether it’s moving to a different city, or starting a new career. But while it can seem daunting, it can also be a good indicator that you’re moving forward. Feeling unsure of yourself in a new environment doesn’t mean you’re incapable. I’ve started to realize that often it means you’re learning the ropes and gaining new competencies – that you’re experiencing something new – and that’s exciting! This September was marked by the start of my final year studying Public Policy and Political Science at the University of Toronto. Simultaneously, it was marked by the beginning of my 6-month internship with the United Nations Association in Canada (UNA). Through UNA-Canada’s International Youth Internship Programme, I’ve had the privilege of being assigned a Junior Professional Consultant placement with the World Food Programme in the Philippines as a Communications Assistant.
We’ve all experienced the disruptions resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, one of the most fundamental of which has been the digitization of professional careers, and the internship has not escaped this transition. With the first two months of my internship completed online, navigating these changes, and working professionally in an all-online environment has required learning new skills, while honing existing ones. A transition which became immensely enriching just one month in.
A Digital Exploration of the Philippines
Becoming a Junior Professional Consultant has provided me with the unique opportunity to experience meeting people from different walks of life and seeing the sights and sounds of the small archipelago off the coast of Southeast Asia in a way I did not expect. Even while interning from Canada, I’ve seen rivers flowing through the Cagayan valley and watched as corn fields moved and fisherfolk and farmers engaged skillfully with their crafts. This unexpected engagement with the Philippines was achieved through the responsibilities of working as a Communications Assistant. Along with creating digital assets and utilizing user experience principles for distributing information from datasets through easy-to-understand visuals, or assisting with editing and writing reports, a key component of my responsibilities thus far has been video editing.
During these first two months I have been creating and editing interviews, beneficiary updates and overview videos pertaining to aid implementation and distribution projects. So even while working remotely, I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with those in the field, interviewing families or going on video calls along with sifting through gigabytes of footage to create relevant, informative, and uplifting videos which have allowed me to explore the Philippines and engage with people there in a way I never expected.
Balancing Academia and the Demands of the Internship
With a 10-hour time difference between Toronto and Manilla, navigating the duality of being a student and an intern has required an efficient use of time, and understanding how to work in an improvisational manner. Improving my scheduling techniques by creating daily to-do-lists for the next day, ensuring I track my work and making sure I stick to the parameters that I’ve defined for when I can study and practice skills relevant to my academic responsibilities during my downtime has allowed me to successfully navigate these last few months. The key to this success has been the support and guidance provided by my supervisors, Jamie and Maitta, who both ensured the process of joining the team at WFP went smoothly and aided me with how WFP Philippines operates. As the role of a Communications Assistant is decentralized by nature, I am engaged with members of WFP Philippines from within the communications department and from outside of it. The result of which has been collaborating with members throughout WFP Philippines to create visual assets for projects such as posters, logos, brochures and additional graphics for print; directing, editing and filming videos; as well as disseminating complex information through easy-to-understand visuals and text for reports, some of which have been received by the state departments of particular countries.
While it remains a fast-paced environment, with new projects surfacing daily, interning with WFP Philippines through UNA Canada’s International Youth Internship Programme has been an incredible privilege. Seeing the results of my work immediately and watching how it is utilized, presenting my work to directors and the team, and engaging with fieldwork through alternative means have all resulted in a very enriching experience. While at times any changes that require learning new skills or familiarizing yourself with the nuances of new company and cultures can seem daunting, I believe it is paramount to take a step back and appreciate what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished and what you’re learning. It’s a sign that you’re moving forward.