Charlie Melvoin visits a refugee camp in Mbarara, Uganda.
This blog post is part of a series written by the interns of WFP. Check back often to see more posts from the intern desk.
When American college students think 'summer internships', they think photocopies, coffee runs and mail rooms. Among the talented and bright-eyed students of the Yes We Can generation, there is the curious understanding that an internship – by its very nature – entails becoming a near-invisible figure in a tense office where whatever skills you possess go unused.
You can imagine my shock, then, when I received my first assignment at the WFP Country Office in Kampala: Draft a letter to the President of Uganda. “You mean I practiced sealing envelopes and pressing ‘Copy’ for nothing? You’re actually entrusting me with legitimate responsibility?”
I was simultaneously nervous and excited since, by any internship standard, we had skipped baby steps and hit the ground running. After unsuccessfully Googling 'How to write a letter to the president of a country', I took a stab at it on my own, and quickly realized how much I would learn from writing and revising under my boss, the Country Director.
Soon after, I was designated the WFP Uganda focal point for climate change, and spent the following weeks researching a topic that I had known little about but aspired to become a quasi-expert on. I worked to compose a UN Joint Action Framework on Climate Change in Uganda, and had the opportunity to get out of the office and into the field. Travelling through rural regions of the country, I saw the tangible impacts of climate change and gained insight into how policy decided in Kampala and Rome is executed on the ground.
I had briefly backpacked around Africa a few years ago, but true immersion requires living and working in a country. While I learned about the change in Uganda’s natural environment, I learned from the change in my work environment as well. I found myself constantly engaging in cultural exchange with Ugandan nationals and the diverse assortment of international staff that the UN draws together.
As I came into the office for the last time, placed my regular chai and chapatti order from the canteen, and sorted through mounds of climate change documents on my desk, I thought, this is what a summer internship is supposed to be. Does it relate to my college major (American History and Literature)? Not in the slightest. Will it relate to my career path? Who knows. Did it enrich my work experience and expand my global outlook? Absolutely. Find me a mail room with that sort of impact.
Charlie Melvoin was an intern in the Country Director's Office in Uganda and likes mint chocolate chip ice cream and fighting hunger.