Experiences, Learning

Last Day

On my last day at work, I was handed a box. It was understood that by five fifteen the contents of my cluttered desk would be in it and my ten months working for Oxfam International would have come to an end.

I started with the paper tray which since the first day had slowly piled up giving visual evidence of the poor organisation the placement was supposed to cure. The stack was helpful, therefore, in giving a chronological journey through my time at Oxfam and an opportunity to reflect.

I found CONCORD Europe’s paper on policy coherence for development from my first week underneath posters I had designed for the European Development Days, where I saw celebrities from the development world debate the post-2015 agenda. I came across my press pass from the EU-Africa summit and mountains of media reactions, erratically scribbled on by my boss. It was only ten months, but everything seemed so long ago.

I remember in September I had been anxious. Unpaid internships, I had often been told, could range from the tortuous expectations of coffee runs and anti-social hours to the twiddling of thumbs waiting for the boss to pass down even the smallest menial task. I had been misguided.

At the age of twenty-two and new to the office environment, it would’ve been unreasonable for me to expect a large amount of trust from day one. It is because of this that, at times, I did feel underused. As my placement went on, however, it emerged that rather than being unappreciated, I was simply being lazy.

At the half-way point in February, I was effectively told that; if you can’t do the menial very well, you probably won’t be asked to do the more creative jobs. First lesson learned.

Around that point, my work load started changing. No long was I solely scribbling synonyms for press reactions or watching over the office’s social media. I was given more freedom on more traditional media work, penning a number of opinion pieces and blogposts. Policy advisors started asking for help with research on issues including tax justice and climate change. Work started to feel diverse and I actually started, well, learning something.

And the back drop to this was the ever-changing Brussels life. The bureaucracy which often bores the British started making sense and actually become quite exciting. Brussels, which presents itself as a mundane, very European political centre, started to seem like the centre of the world: Obama visited, as did the heads of state of almost every African nation. The world’s second largest elections were announced there and European diplomacy seemed to be based around its institutions. The work I was doing was directly entwined with this.

The pile of reports and papers was eventually placed in the box, which in turn is now stored, out of sight in my attic. Although hidden, they represent the most notable change that has occurred since September: knowledge. Corny, yes, but true.

I do not believe that Media & Communications is the best fit for me, but I believe work in development or the European Union (or both) is. Internships offer that opportunity.

The development world is intriguing, particularly large non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam. At times you may find yourself confused with internal politics; even I – the young, inexperienced intern – felt disenchanted with some of the issues they followed. But I have been lucky to work with passionate professionals who were always willing to debate my concerns. And now, I return to university to finish my degree with the a heightened feeling of good karma and a brain filled with opinions on Europe’s role in the developing world.


Ethical Student Internships: My experience

Written by Molly Whyte, cross-posted from Student Hubs

While I’ve long been certain that I want to pursue a career that makes a positive impact on society, if you’d asked me back in the autumn of last year what exactly that would entail, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you.

When I applied to the Ethical Internship Scheme during my first year at university, I saw it as an opportunity to gain valuable experience in the third sector. I hoped the process would narrow down my career aspirations and provide an outlet for my interests in education, culture and international development. One month into my placement with United World Schools (UWS) and I’m happy to say that this is definitely the case.

UWS, a small charity founded in 2008, uses a low-cost, community-focused model to deliver basic education to marginalised children in remote areas of South-East Asia. UWS seeks both top-down permission and grassroots collaboration to build schools and train local teachers. They support the continuation of indigenous cultures and traditions, as well as recruiting help from committed international volunteers. Currently, there are 14 UWS schools in Cambodia, with plans to expand and replicate the model in countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal in the coming few years.

Alongside providing general support to the UWS team working on school, corporate and volunteer partnerships, my role is centred on communications (which complements my position as Publicity Officer on the Southampton Hub committee). I edit and proofread newsletters and PR resources, as well getting to interview some of UWS’ partners and write case studies on their experiences.

I also currently manage the UWS Twitter account (@teamUWS) and work with members of the UWS Council to plan awareness and marketing strategies. I’ve enjoyed learning more about fundraising too, and recently submitted UWS’ application to The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2013.

So far, my expectations of the Ethical Internship Scheme have been met and exceeded. My experience with UWS has given me a real insight into the workings of a small charity, and I now better understand the skills needed to effectively engage both existing and potential supporters. I benefit from working with highly experienced people from a diverse range of career backgrounds, as well as getting to attend the Student Hubs training sessions that run alongside our placements throughout the summer.

Overall, I’m grateful to be constantly learning and already feel more prepared to start a social impact career when I graduate. I’m now looking forward to continuing to develop my communications, marketing and fundraising skills as I carry on my internship until the end of August.


Written by Sarah Simpson

This past January, I made my first trip to India, together with 20 other students from around the world. For three weeks, we worked with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai researching urban public health issues in the slum communities of Mumbai.

My project group sped around town in rickshaws and trudged through sludge and dust to study urban health in Shivaji Nagar, located in the M-Ward which is home to some of the largest slums in India. These 600,000 residents live near the Deonar dumping ground – a man-made mountain of debris and trash.

During our first day, we toured Shivaji Nagar, attracting lots of attention from the community, especially the kids who followed us everywhere. While walking through the slums areas, we were introduced to the “Mahila Mandals,” or traditional local women’s groups, that act to address public health issues caused by the breakdown of government services. They are community-based women’s organizations that seek to improve sanitation and health in the slums. Through broken English, translators and gestures, we learned firsthand how the health of these communities is complicated by many issues ranging from waterborne illnesses to infectious and communicable diseases, and is compounded by inadequate nutrition and overcrowded and poorly constructed living conditions. Historically, Mahila Mandals came together during times of celebration, sorrow or crisis; however their roles in their communities have evolved with the times. Our group decided to focus our research on finding out more about this evolution.

Instead of using a needs-based or problems-focused approach we decided to highlight the community’s assets by writing a case study. We did this by using a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats) to help investigate how to best utilize these important community assets. Over the course of two weeks, we traveled to different slum areas and interviewed six Mahila Mandal groups, including both registered and unregistered groups of varying size and membership. We found that not only do Mahila Mandals work to solve issues with sanitation, but that they also promote immunization of children, maternal and child health education, small business funding schemes and resolve domestic violence issues.

To help solve their community sanitation problems, the women frequently collect money for the cleaning of sewers and public toilets. Keeping these facilities clean decreases the exposure to the disease causing vectors and organisms that cause malaria, diarrhea and other maladies. Other community roles include the set-up of Anganwadis or child development centers, which provide childcare services. Children are fed and educated here, ensuring proper childhood nutrition, while alleviating some of the burden of care from their parents. Many of the women involved in these groups are also community health workers with ties them to the local urban health center. As part of their duties, they ensure the vaccination of children, which is especially instrumental in keeping infections, such as polio from re-emerging. Tuberculosis also continues to be a huge public health issue in India, and these women ensure through directly observed treatment programs the prevention of non-adherence to treatment and development of resistant tuberculosis strains. In addition, they also provide training to women on the importance of pre- and post-natal nutrition, family planning options and support for domestic violence incidents.

Their impact is limited mostly due to funding and support from the local community and government. Unregistered groups in particular, are only able to generate funds through community fundraising, which only enables them to solve immediate problems. During our case study interviews we were constantly asked for donations, and we regretfully had to explain over and over, we were students just there to study these groups. And many times, they would say,

“Then what is point of all this? What can you do for us?”

This presented some important ethical questions to consider, as TISS invited us to research these problems and recommend solutions, however, how will these recommendations be implemented after we leave? As this internship program continues, bringing more and more foreign students to trudge through these communities, will they finally have had enough of this “intrusion” and no longer welcome them? However, they still welcomed us into their homes, fed us despite our protests what little food they had to share, and truly made our experience in India unforgettable. Despite not having funds to give, as a thank you for taking the time to speak with us, I created a photo-journal, which we presented to each group we interviewed as a token of our time with them. Since leaving India, I felt compelled to share my experiences, however due to our research not being “approved” by a research board and consent limitations, it’s been frustrating to find ways to properly do this.

At the end of our study, we contended that if more government funding could be mobilized for community-based participatory research programs, communities would more able to identify, support, and mobilize existing resources to create shared visions of change and encourage greater creativity in solving community issues. Along with funding, there is a need for an infrastructure for delivery of care. Apart from services provided by the Mahila Mandals, NGOs, and private clinics and pharmacies, health services are practically nonexistent. Services such as provision of specialized information, physical exams, diagnostic services, hospitalization, medications, follow-up care, prevention, and surveillance need a proper infrastructure that includes specialized and trained personnel. None of these social services can be provided or created by the slum residents themselves. Other services such as access to water and electricity are also desperately needed in these communities.

Support from the local community is also important for the conducting of Mahila Mandal activities. We found that many of these groups consisted of mostly “grandmothers”. This seemed to be due to established gender roles, with younger women discouraged from participation, staying in their roles as “house-wives”. We learned that this is just the tip of the economic, religious as well as cultural hindrances that prevent women from actively participating in these groups.

Most importantly, these groups present a great opportunity to organize women around common issues, challenging and overcoming caste and class hierarchies. They not only provide opportunities for dialogue and discussion, but they also contribute to the capacity of members to understand and find solutions to their community issues and challenges. These groups are prime vehicles for enhancing the position of women in Indian society, as their participation in these groups provides an opportunity for women to take an active part in public affairs.

Overall, community organizations, like the Mahila Mandals, are important for sustainable improvement not only to public health, but for social change as well. While poverty reduction, self-empowerment, and elimination of disparity are important and worthy goals for improving health care in these communities, the speed of development and size of urban slums render achievement of these goals enormously challenging.

Our internship presentation can be found at: http://prezi.com/i0lbgveimbyc/copy-of-indian-urban-slums/

Experiences, Learning, Platform, Projects

Mahila Mandals: A community health study