A while ago, I landed an internship at an NGO previously affiliated with UNESCO.
In a world where recruiters are looking for graduate students with 20 years+ of experience for entry-level jobs, a newly grad semi-adult like myself was excited, to say the least.
So I took my luggage and ventured to the depth of India for a good four months.
Having weathered a decade or two of ups and downs of our global financial climate, the NGO has gone from its former glory of 20+ staff to a mere 5. Yet, with a weekly output of 10 or so articles, it still retained a significant amount of efficiency.
There were three 10 by 10 offices adjacent to each other. Across the hall, the door opened to another organization that facilitates sustainable development agendas with governments and non-profits alike.
Everyone was friendly. Everyone helped.
My first few assignments pertained to editing submissions by journalists from India and abroad. As the NGO at hand, these articles were gender-themed, with an emphasis on women’s rights in developing countries.
Eventually, I began crafting my own articles.
Having had four years of essay writing experience under my belt, my background in writing had become both a strength and a weakness. My pieces are opinionated, subjective, personal. I voice my experience through the pen in my hand.
But the NGO didn’t like it.
I wasn’t qualified, as they say, to pen my piece of mind. To better guide me, they gave me themes to which narrowed the subjectivity in my writing and establish a train of events based on interviews and objectivity.
Since I didn’t have any journalism experience, I took this as a given. So I reserved my opinion pieces for myself and my platforms.
Yet with time, I began wondering why that is. Why is it that my lack of qualification as a gender specialist can completely disqualify my experience in a theme I live through every single day? As someone who was born to the gender inequalities of China, lived in the gender inequalities of India, experienced the gender inequalities of solo traveling and worked in fields often subjected to the inequalities of gender biases, why is it that my experience is not even worth the glance over by my fellow comrades fighting the same, recurring fight?
Weeks after, my co-worker told me to take on an assignment for her. Our partner organization contacted her and asked for an opinion piece regarding the conference we held together.
“Write it in my voice,” she said.
I was taken aback, to say the least. She gave me a short interview and went on with her workload.
So for three days, I sat back and typed up an article to which appeared on a monthly publication distributed by the organization, an article that appeared under the name of another.
As with the role of a Journalism Intern, I happily attended conferences held by a range of institutions. From the UN to the Government of India, the functions were held in lavish hotels, featuring countless buffets while holding discussions on world crisis–poverty, inequality, destitution.
These were extravagant experiences! I’d wear my best Kurti and hold onto a notebook for my dear life. Meeting Directors and CEOs and officials became a normal occurrence that I associated with my privilege of being the few foreigners in the room.
In-between presentations on Climate Change & Global Warming, we’d have our morning coffee and breakfast muffins.
Amid talks of Cyber Security, we’d exchange social media information on our $800 phones.
Between Sessions on Hunger and Food Security, we’d fill our plates just a bit higher with one of the many options on the serving trays.
Business cards became possessions before I draft follow-up emails and reluctantly hand them over to my Director for safe keeping. Conversations would turn to my preference for Indian or Canadian cuisine, to which I’d reply our lack thereof rid maple syrup and poutine.
They were happy times, mind you, despite the themes that wearily begged for attention.