About the Author: Brian Vandamme (the one in the middle) from University College Cork, Ireland, talks about his internship at Temple Garden Foundation, Cambodia, and how he ventured into community development.
My internship began following a one-year stint at not for profits (NPOs) in New York. Soon, I decided to venture into the development field which, in my perspective, is a proactive response to the migration crisis. I had spent some time in Ireland volunteering for a local NPO (volunteering experience counts for so much, I believe, as it shows intent). I applied at Temple Garden Foundation (TGF) in Cambodia as a communications & management support intern. TGF is a sustainable development NGO/NPO which aims to empower people living in poverty in rural Cambodia to build better livelihoods for themselves. I applied at TGF because the specifics of the role seemed perfect for me to gain field experience and Cambodia was a place I had always wanted to visit. My work experience must have worked in my favour because they reverted soon after I applied. To the best of my knowledge, the position was first advertised only in Cambodia as TGF aims to employ Cambodian staff wherever possible. When no suitable candidates presented themselves, TGF broadened their search, using global job-posting websites for development organizations. The list of applicants was narrowed down to five candidates who were the best fit, including myself.
Each of my three interviews was about 45 minutes to 1 hour long. Each interview followed a similar structure but was conducted by two different people at TGF – the country director and the Chair of the board of trustees. I was asked to talk about myself, my previous work experiences, etc. and was given a detailed summary of the work that TGF did, the role I would be occupying, and general information about the work environment in Cambodia. Then, I was provided information specific to the role and was asked to share my previous experience with those aspects of the role. I was also given an opportunity to speak about my expectations from the role. The main concern for the interviewers was whether I’d be comfortable in moving to a developing country where I didn’t know anyone, in conditions that might be less comfortable than western Europe. I explained to them that an experience in a developing country was exactly what I wanted and gave details about my personable character which had made moving to other countries an easier experience. This allayed with their concerns and they offered me the role.
As an intern, my responsibilities were to keep various people informed about the work that we did and to assist the country director with reporting and donor relations. For communications, I used my design skills to create visual media, both digital and print, for distributing to the board of trustees, donors, and the public. These included 2-page information sheets, PowerPoint presentations for board members (to be used when pitching to potential donors), and newsletters to keep our donors updated. I was also responsible for social media and web-based updates on Facebook, Instagram, and TGF’s website. I was responsible for online content creation (including web and social media design), physical content creation and design (photography, poster design), and foundation-wide monthly reporting to the board of trustees and the donors. To create content, I used to travel with the program staff to our field office which was 70kms away and document their work in the Chi Kraeng district of Cambodia where they delivered life-changing programs in water & sanitation, health, child education, and income generation. The documentation work entailed taking photos and videos as well as interviewing staff and beneficiaries. For management support, I assisted with data entry for monthly reporting which used to be reviewed by the board of trustees. I also assisted with donor interactions which included taking donors on site visits so that they could witness the impact TGF, and their donations, were making in the area.
My experience at TGF has been fantastic so far. I am allowed to follow my own nose regarding the structured work I do but can look for guidance from the country director, whenever needed. Now, I’m working as the communications and management support officer for TGF. I’m receiving positive feedback from the country director, and the board, and I’m loving my work. I receive a living wage and have my health insurance covered.
I would advise anyone looking for experience to get creative in highlighting their knowledge and skills in the field that they are interested in. A graduate’s resume can usually look a bit sparse; so links or sections from blog posts, excerpts from academic papers you’ve written, pictures of activities you have undertaken, etc. can help in impressing a recruiter.
Editor’s note – If you also have an interesting story to share, you can now participate in Your Internship Story Contest 2017 and win cash prizes and goodies worth INR 1 Lac!