Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Development debate

Larissa Strong left a comment on this blog about the Sara Minogue article dealing with the negative experiences of some JHR interns. The comment is so insightful that it deserves our full attention. Another perspective in the ongoing development debate:

Hope you don't mind the late comment on your post, actually on the Sara Minogue article. I just came across it and was looking for response to it when I came across your blog.

It is quite the article. It certainly does give one pause. For me particularly as I run a few of these programs that send young Canadians out into the world on their first international, professional experience. I have seen internships like this fall flat but I have seen young professionals go to the same placement the next year and make a total success of it.

Some things that Sara should take into account:
1. The funding provided by the Canadian government is specifically for young people between the ages of 18 and 30 who have not had international professional experience. It is meant to be a launching pad for careers. Those with careers are less interested in working for free for six months.

2. You want to know why it is typically white people, specifically white women, who do these overseas internships? Because they are the ones that apply! In droves! Even in Toronto we often have trouble finding a diverse pool to recruit from. If you have a solution for this, let me

For more information on this issue, check out Barbara Heron's In Desire for Development: Whiteness, Gender, and the Helping Imperative

Now some words of advice for future interns:

Have a plan. At least have the outline of a plan that can be refined upon consultation with your partner. Have measurable result that you agree upon for the time that you are there.

Be aware of culture shock. That was reading clearly in Sara's article. She wasn't dealing which then affects how you relate to your colleagues and how you do your work. Once you are aware that you are in culture shock, you can figure out how to deal with it. Anyone who says they
don't get culture shock would be fooling themselves.

Finally, you better believe that the last sentence of her article is true. The interns definitely get the most out of this. It takes a lot of work to take on an intern. Typically these African NGOs are bare bones at most and don't have the capacity to take on more work. The more experienced organizations have figured out how to make interns work well within their structures. Others need interns who are self starters to figure it out.

So if the interns benefit the most why are we sending them. Well, my personal theory is that these international experiences help create a more internationally aware citizen, a global citizen if I may. They will then be able to make more informed decisions because of their
expanded perspective in their future career and lives that will hopefully make the lives of those around the world better. Could be as simple as recycling, buying fair trade coffee, voting, not telling racist jokes, whatever. If the partner organization in the South reaps some kind of benefit from the experience, then bonus. More importantly, the intern has the responsibility to recognize their privilege and not make things worse.

In close, I would like to say that I can identify with Sara however I was never a pale, thin girl in a new dress. I was the fat, red faced girl who had just hiked up the four flights of stairs and was happy to be there, in solidarity.


Kate said...

great comments!!!

Larissa Strong said...

Hey! Thanks for the shout out. I reread what I wrote and think wow, I was really on my soapbox yesterday.

I am sending your link to three more interns heading to Ghana in the coming days. The more open discussion we have about this, the more we can learn from each others best practices and mistakes.

I forgot to say in my original post, I hope you are having a great experience.