Here we are. July 2020. It’s the end of the first month of my first remote internship experience, and this past month has been a new experience to say the least.
Something interesting about this specific internship that has been directly impacted by the pandemic is that I had previously seen a posting for the WHE internship back at the beginning of the Winter semester. I was super interested in the possibility of being able to travel to an East African country, as well as participating in work regarding the empowerment of women in developing nations. Unfortunately, I had seen the posting too late and was unable to apply. So when I was later made aware of another opportunity with WHE at the end of June, I thought it would be the perfect chance to fulfill 0.5 of my EL credit. However, there was one primary difference from this position to the one previously offered: the internship was now remote.
Despite this large difference, I was still extremely interested in the internship opportunity solely due to the fact that it would still allow me to work with an international partner, which I knew would be an extremely valuable experience foreign to any academic endeavour I had previously encountered. As a result, I applied and accepted the offer once it was given, and found out that my team and I would be responsible for constructing a new website for our partner, Mikono Yetu.
Understandably, remote internships have been on the up-and-coming for the last few years with our rapid developments in technology and move towards mobile work. I’ve watched my mum work from home approximately 2-3 days out of the week since I was in high school. I’ve taken online classes throughout my university experience. I know what it’s like to participate in video call meetings with a work-casual blouse on top and my favourite pair of pajama pants on the bottom. While I definitely learn better in a hands-on environment within a classroom, transitioning to online learning isn’t something that’s new to me by any means.
That being said, it would also be remiss of me to say that this has not been a huge change, and that new changes will continue to happen as I move into my fourth year at Western. Reliable Wi-Fi access, a working laptop camera and non-staticky audio has never been so important. Working with others in different timezones and being able to coordinate has never been so difficult.
In terms of the actual concrete progress my group and I have been making, it has been quite slow so far. One reason as to why is that the previous site for Mikono Yetu is currently inaccessible, which is a shame since it would have been a helpful example for my team. Despite this issue with access, my groups and I are in hopeful spirits, and the gift of a clean slate allows us to proceed with our projects with open minds. In addition, an open mind has allowed me to try my best to view any challenges as opportunities. This includes opportunities for constant learning when it comes to challenging my preconceived notions and familiar strategies as a student in Canada.
One example of an insightful interaction from this past month occurred on my team’s first meeting with the executive director of Mikono Yetu, Maimuna, in which my team and I wanted to gain a sense of what was desired from the new website we were intending to build. Since the bulk of the information I knew about our partner was their production and distribution of Fiti yogurt, I asked her about her primary audience for the website. Did she want to appeal to a North American demographic? Or did she intend to utilize the website to appeal to the East African communities that Mikono Yetu is directly impacting? Her reply surprised me — neither, but also both. Maimuna explained that she wanted the website to appeal to anyone that would potentially be interested in the work Mikono Yetu has been and is currently doing. Additionally, instead of focusing entirely on Fiti yogurt, she wanted to ensure that the site would also shed light on and promote the many other programs that their organization had to offer.
This interaction was so enlightening because it showcased that due to living in Canada, I am a proponent of an US vs. THEM mentality. In other words, I am familiar with acting on the basis that North America is the centre of the world and that other nations, along with their interests and concerns, are entirely separate from ours. I think it’s about time to reinforce the idea that we’re so much more connected than we, living in North America, are conditioned to think, and that engaging with organizations doing such amazing work for human rights, such as Mikono Yetu, are the bridge to making us aware of these connections. Going forward with this internship, I’m beyond excited to continue learning and to experience the many valuable insights I will encounter along the way.