Summer Internship with Self Employed Women’s Association of India – Kanika Sood from NLU Jodhpur

Daily Winner for: –  28th August 2013

Name of the intern: – Kanika Sood

Institute: –  NLU Jodhpur

Organization interned with: – Self Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA)

I worked with The Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA) in Ahmedabad with their head office. Now for starters, let me try to give you a brief background on how I felt before I joined and how I felt after.

As a first year intern, I had stars in my eyes. Who doesn’t at that age? I wanted to make a difference in the world. I believed in a beautiful where I would be treated like an asset; like an actual employee. I would be given work and hell, be recognized so that even THE Ela Bhatt (the head of SEWA; she was selected for the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development 2011 for her lifetime achievements in empowering women through grassroots entrepreneurship. In 2012, Hillary Clinton said, “I have a lot of heroes and heroines around the world and one of them is Ela Bhatt”) would want to meet me.

Like most teenagers who are pseudo-intellectual and hipster, I completely and absolutely believed that I wasn’t meant to be in the corporate sector. I was going to be a part of such Organizations and make a difference in this world. Sigh.

How I wish I hadn’t had such high hopes and expectations. Even from myself.

So, this is how it all started. In November 2011, I got a call from my father saying that he had managed to get me an internship with SEWA. I was on Cloud Nine, I was going to work with one of India’s oldest and largest Cooperatives supported by the World Bank! So I was SO ecstatic. I couldn’t wait to get started.

And get started I did, in December. I think my first day was probably one of the worst days of my life. I arrived at the office, which was pretty much in the middle of nowhere. I went to the third floor, where I was to work with the school they have. My first impression of the office was this – About 20 women were working on extremely expensive Dell computers. And all of them were extremely busy. So I just waited outside rather awkwardly, hoping somebody notices me. I did get noticed eventually and I went in to meet my boss. I was rather overwhelmed by her. She started talking to me, but five minutes into the conversation, she got a phone call and then I just sat there for the next 15 minutes, even more awkward than before, if that was possible.

Eventually, she looked at me and got straight to the point. I was told that I shouldn’t expect a penny, and that she would give me a certificate ONLY after I worked for 4 weeks including Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. By the end of her monologue, my mouth had dropped open and very dramatically, I could see my life pass by in front of me. I felt like I had just signed my death warrant. As if that wasn’t enough, I wasn’t given any of the five available desktops in the office and was expected to get my own laptop for work. So my first day just involved sitting in my cubicle with absolutely nothing to do! Then, at lunch another shock hit when they told me that I was supposed to carry my own food (basically, roti and sabzi; and that non-veg was a strict no-no). I wasn’t even given the evening chai that all the others were. Further, they all spoke only in Gujarati that I could understand but couldn’t reply in. There was only one other “intern” of sorts, who was American, but she worked in her own independent capacity directly under Dr. Ela Bhatt. So I was the only intern there of my age group, with nobody to hold a conversation with. And while I thought that was my worst day, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

And so the first week went past and I was basically ignored. My laptop was the only reason that I kept my sanity. I spent my days reading Harry Potter fan fiction. Boredom was killing me slowly. It didn’t get any better when I got calls from my friends telling me how many new friends they’d made and how much fun they had at work. I would nearly scream out of frustration. And they even forgot to tell me where the bathroom was, which meant the first two days were agony. It was only when I managed to gain confidence did I go ask one of the helpers there in broken Gujarati. She seemed rather amused. Well, as long as she had a good laugh on my expense. My embarrassment was the only interesting thing that had happened to me all week. Such was the story of my life.

Week two got slightly better, they finally remembered I existed again and I was given work to essentially summarize the modules that the women were taught with and put up on the website. It was boring and monotonous work that I could have done when I was ten. There was a point where I even asked for work but to no avail. The people there were just too busy.

Week three was when one of the younger women there took over me and started giving me slightly more difficult work then typing out English in MS Word. I was asked to interview all the trainers there that had gotten trained at SEWA over the years and used their experiences to teach other trainees. Those five days where I interviewed the women was what turned my internship experience from an awful to a so-so. Their stories were heart-wrenching. Some had been in deep throes of poverty, others victims of domestic abuse and dowry demands and the rest that were widowers or spinsters. They had faced rejection from the society and being uneducated gave them little or no opportunity to break away from the cycle they were in. However, training from SEWA in basic skills that could establish their own ventures and/or allow them to work outside saved their lives. Villages were SEWA has done successful work had grameen banks established by these women and they carried out and were successful in their own ventures allowing them to supplement their family’s income. All the women I spoke to were happy and owed their success and some even their lives to SEWA.

Week four was when I slipped into oblivion again, with no work. I spent time on the internet and read a lot of e-books. Till of course, it was my last day at work that was by any standards, the best day of my life. I left with my certificate and knowing that I would never go back there.

While, I completely respect SEWA and the fabulous work they do for Women Empowerment, they still don’t know how to give work to interns. With no stipend, there is no incentive or drive on either side to work. I learnt a couple of lessons along the way however. One, that I would never ever again intern there. Two, that I would never intern without at least a few people of my age or even better my friends. Three, I would do a lot more research about the place of work itself rather than just blindly following the brand name.

Sigh, all in all. I did not have the best first internship in the world. But I learnt a lot, and in the end, I hope the experience has changed me for the better.

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