The Journey Begins… Virtually

Laptop? Check.

Wi-Fi? Check.

Zoom meetings? Check.

It’s crazy how few things you need for a remote international internship, compared to all the travel and preparation that is usually required. Last month, I began my placement at the Mikono Yetu Centre for Creativity and Innovation, whilst in the comfort of my living room couch.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect at first. Although this was not my first virtual job, I have never had an experience abroad that did not require me to travel outside of Canada. Of course, we have the COVID-19 pandemic to thank for this. It is these instances that make me pause and truly appreciate the strangeness of the era that we are currently living in.

Thankfully, the Western Heads East (WHE) team has provided me with a wealth of information and resources to prepare for my internship. For the past two weeks, I have been poring over the reports, posters, and blogs of past interns to gain an understanding of their progress and accomplishments. Our training has given me a lot of insight into ways to engage in critical and ethical global exchange, as well as the consequences that arise if it is not achieved. In the future, I may write an entire blog post on this topic, as I find it extremely fascinating and important to share — especially in today’s day and age.

Mikono Yetu is an organization that I have long dreamt of working for, ever since I came to Western University. As an incoming first-year student, my fourth-year friend had raved about the spectacular experience that she had in Tanzania as one of their interns. I was instantly awestruck, and decided that becoming a WHE intern would be one of my long-term goals of my undergraduate career. If only I could tell my first-year self, “You finally made it! Yay!”

The more that I research into Mikono Yetu, the greater admiration I have for its mission and values. Mikono Yetu stands for “joining our hands” in Swahili, the national language of Tanzania. It is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) founded with the purpose of promoting gender equality and fighting gender-based violence by enabling women and girls to gain ownership of production resources such as land, livestock, and technology. Through partnership with Western University, they have established many FITI enterprises, which produce probiotic yogurt products that have been successful in boosting community health and fighting disease. These businesses have empowered many women and girls to become “Yogurt Mamas”, who are the leaders and entrepreneurs of their communities. This phenomenon is quite groundbreaking, especially in the context of a traditionally patriarchal society such as Tanzania.

One of the videos that inspired me to become an intern… just wow!

As an intern, my primary role is to serve as a consultant for the organization. I help to review and edit their research papers and strategic plans. I will also assist in creating a tool for conducting a mid-point evaluation on one of their ongoing projects. My first project involved reviewing a policy brief on the “Factors Hindering Rural and Urban Women’s Participation in Industrialized Economy”. Although my task required a short turnaround of 24 hours, I managed to complete it on time through putting in many hours of hard work and dedication. I attribute my work ethic to the many times that I have crammed for my exams during university (oops)!

If my policy brief project is indicative of anything, it’s telling me that this internship will be full of exciting new discoveries and lessons. I truly can’t wait to take you on this journey with me!

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