I find myself at the end of a six-month internship with EduCARE India. As I was saying my final goodbyes, finishing up the last monthly report and making travel arrangement, the Project Director, Mr B, asked me if this internship met my expectations. And I had to say no. Not at all.
Any undergrad, recent graduate or anyone at the “entry-level” of their career knows the importance of experience and how hard it can be to get that experience on your CV. Most of us know that to get that elusive first job, you need to put in a lot of unpaid hours. I had volunteered and interned with many organisations before EduCARE India, both international and domestic. So I’m used to that kind of role. I’m used to coming into the office one day a week and being given some simple tasks to complete. Or sitting in on team meetings to listen and learn. I’m used to being given a little responsibility, even whole projects to oversee, under the watchful guidance of a supervisor.
EduCARE appealed to me because they had a diverse portfolio of projects, offered on the ground experience and focused their efforts at the grassroots level. As I tried to get an idea of what my six months in India would look like, I eagerly read blog posts about successful women’s empowerment projects in a remote hill village called Naddi. I was excited to meet the project managers and pick their brains about what challenging things they debated in their Young Women’s Associations meetings. I search Pinterest and Google for feminist movements and personalities, specific to India, so that I could contribute and prove a useful team member in their operational projects.
I was prepared to watch, listen and learn, as I always had, from those who had done it all before. I wanted to find out what worked and what didn’t, from those who has tried it all before. I arrive in Naddi, with a blank notebook and an eagerness to learn as much as I could from those around me. To gain experience from the experienced.
I spent less than one week in Naddi then was sent 35 km downhill, to a little village clinging to a busy highway, called Rait. Venture beyond the main road and its shoe-box shops and you’ll find quaint clusters of mud rendered homes disperse amongst small wheat or rice fields. For EduCARE India, it was a new centre, which had only been operational for about a month, and whose most senior team member had been living there for little more than three months. A team of seven novice interns from different backgrounds were sent to live and work in a little house in the south of this village. Our goal was to establish the centre, engage the local community and begin projects. It dawned on me that this wasn’t going to be the usual internship.
I’ve spent the last six months learning by doing. I have gained experience, not from observing and copying those who are more experienced, but by experimenting, trying and - at times - failing. I have had the opportunity to develop plans, implement those plans and watch as completely unplanned and unplannable things have happened. There have been challenges and frustrations and obstacles and triumphs. I made mistakes, and witnessed first-hand the consequences of those mistakes. I also found ways to overcome those mistakes and get things back on track. No other internship or volunteer experience has ever given me so much freedom and autonomy over my own projects. With this flexibility comes responsibility, and an overwhelming motivation to make things happen.
Early in my internship, in a project management training workshop, the incredibly knowledgeable Ben Flemming told me “everything you planned to do here, you won’t do. And that’s ok.” At the time I thought that was nonsense.
“Ok” I thought, “so I might not be able to do everything, but surely I’ll achieve some of my goals”.
But as I’ve undertaken this internship, I have seen my plans constantly evolve and adapt. What I thought I could do, couldn’t be done, and other things that I never even considered possible, proved achievable. I have learnt so much professionally. And personally. Just not in the way I thought I would.
It’s true; this internship didn’t meet my expectations. At all. Instead, it presented me with something completely different but equally useful.
If you’re considering an internship with EduCARE India, a word of warning. Expectations can be dangerous. They can let you down or mislead you. Better to go in with an open mind, and a blank notebook, and learn as much as you can – yourself.
|Katherine with Suman in the migrant camp in Rajhol|
Katherine Woolnough - Australia
Young Women's Association project manager, Rait