It’s been two months since I arrived at HelpAge International’s UK office, and so far I’ve been kidnapped, shot at and faced an IED explosion! I should mention that this was during a simulation as part of my Hostile Environment Awareness Training (HEAT) course, but still, it’s been pretty action packed!
The aim of the HEAT course is to provide first aid and security training for people travelling overseas to work in potentially hostile or challenging environments and it is a requirement for all HelpAge staff undertaking such a placement. Therefore, a couple of weeks ago, I hopped on the train and headed up to Kettering in Northamptonshire, where I spent four days at the HEAT training centre along with a group of thirty other NGO workers preparing to travel overseas.
The first couple of days on the course were classroom based and covered a variety of different topics including: first aid, vehicle and travel safety, and how to respond to security risks such as civil disorder, hostile border checkpoints, kidnapping and hostage taking.
On the third day came the challenging part; a simulation of several scenarios designed to put the skills we’d learned to the test. Our mission was to travel to a refugee camp in a conflict-torn nation in order to assess their humanitarian needs. We were divided into teams of five; each team tasked with completing a risk assessment and designing a plan to ensure the safe and successful completion of the assignment. Early that morning, armed with our first aid kit, a radio and plenty of waterproof clothing, we jumped into a 4×4 and headed off into the Northamptonshire wilderness, where, throughout the day we encountered several (rather terrifying!) situations. The simulations included; an IED explosion, an active shooter situation and a kidnap, amongst others. The actors were brilliant, and the explosions and injuries were very realistic (no shortage of fake blood and gruesome prosthetic wounds!). The course carefully trod the line between creating a frightening and adrenaline-filled experience and providing us with the opportunity to learn from our mistakes in a safe environment.
My four days in Kettering were challenging, but extremely rewarding. I met an incredible bunch of people working in a variety of different areas across the charity sector and it was very valuable to learn from other people’s experiences in the field. It was also very humbling to meet people who have spent time contributing to humanitarian relief efforts overseas, risking their lives to provide life-saving support to communities affected by crises. While I’m hopeful that most of the skills I’ve learned won’t have to be put into practice, I now feel much more confident in my ability to deal with any travel security risks.
In addition to this training I’ve also been involved in one of HelpAge’s biggest campaigns of the year #ExposeAgeism. In many countries it is considered acceptable to deny older people their rights just because of their age. The campaign wanted to expose this and show how ageism negatively impacts our rights and opportunities as we get older. Older activists across the world organised a variety of events in their communities to get people talking, to challenge ageism and to influence decision-makers. These included marches, workshops, flash mobs, government lobbying and plays that explore the theme of ageism. It was brilliant to be able to support these campaign activities and learn about the work of campaigners across the world, advocating for the rights of older persons and calling on governments and societies to take action.
I’ve also had the opportunity to support on several other interesting projects; including preparation of a research report on funding for international campaigns, mapping of HelpAge’s global advocacy decision-makers and influencers, support to the Global Violence & Gender Advisor on preparing for a gender training workshop and the preparation of a report to the UN Economic and Social Council.
My time in London so far has flown by, and over the next couple of months I’ll be starting to plan for my placement overseas. To hear about the second half of my internship in the London office and follow my preparations for Tanzania, check in at the end of January.
I can’t quite believe that a month has passed since my first day on the Jersey Overseas Aid Internship Scheme! I excitedly accepted the position of JOA intern back in May, and ever since, had been eagerly awaiting the beginning of my internship and what I hope will be an invaluable year of learning and development, that’ll help launch my career in the international development sector.
To provide a little background; over the course of the year long internship scheme, I’ll spend two months in the JOA office, four months in the London office of INGO HelpAge International, then 6 months in a HelpAge office in a developing country, where I’ll have the opportunity to gain valuable experience working on one of their international projects. HelpAge is a wonderful charity that works to promote the well-being and inclusion of older women and men in low and middle-income countries by advocating for changes in the behaviours and attitudes of individuals and societies towards old age. HelpAge International’s network spans 75 countries and they currently partner with JOA on a project in Tanzania, with the goal of improved health and well-being for older men and women.
When applications for the internship scheme opened a couple of months ago, I jumped at the chance! After graduating from university I spent a couple of years working overseas, teaching English with the British Council in China and India. Following this, I returned to the UK determined to pursue a career in international development. However, despite being fortunate enough to land a job in a London-based INGO, I found that I didn’t have the work experience or qualifications I needed to progress my career further. The international development sector can be a tricky one to break into and I found myself caught in the so-called ‘entry level catch-22’ – unable to get an entry-level job without work experience, but requiring work experience to apply for my first job! For this reason, the JOA internship represents an incredible opportunity; it provides the chance to gain essential experience that’ll help you get your foot in the door and exposes you to a variety of areas of development work in order to help you to decide what aspect you are most interested in/best suited to.
After receiving a warm welcome to the JOA office, my first week was spent getting to grips with the workings of the organisation and JOA’s relationship to its partner charities. In addition to learning about the long-term development and emergency humanitarian projects that JOA are currently funding, I also had the opportunity to attend several meetings with key JOA stakeholders and partners. By day two, I’d already had the opportunity to meet the JOA Commissioners and Minister for International Development – quite the itinerary for my first week! I also attended an interesting event on Impact Investing, aimed at encouraging sustainable investments amongst the Jersey Finance community. This topic is relevant to the work that JOA is currently undertaking on financial inclusion in developing countries.
I’ve joined the JOA team at a really interesting time. This year, in order to become a more effective donor, JOA has decided to concentrate its development funding in three main programme areas – financial inclusion, dairy and conservation livelihoods, and to narrow their group of target countries. They are in the process of building a strategic plan around these programme areas and I have been given the opportunity to support the JOA policy officer, Hilary, in mapping the development context, governmental strategies and donors of these target countries. Therefore week two saw me scrambling to recall what I’d learnt about research and report writing at university – skills that had been in hibernation since I graduated several years ago!
During week three, I continued with my research project into JOA’s priority countries. I’m enjoying having the opportunity to sink my teeth into a long-term research based project, and feeling as though I’m contributing to the work of the JOA team in a meaningful way, as opposed to just being given busy work – which can sometimes be the case with an internship! In addition to this research task, I also learned how to review project reports and budgets. I assisted the Project Officer, Ed, with the report review for one of JOA’s multi-year projects with partner charity CAFOD, which aims to improve sustainable farming methods in indigenous communities. This task was challenging, but provided me with a good understanding of project reporting requirements and proved how beneficial it is to gain work experience from the perspective of a donor organisation, as well as an NGO.
Week four brought with it some interesting new learning opportunities, as I forayed into the world of JOA comms and assisted in putting together the social media strategy for 2019-20. I also got involved in reviewing some JOA bursary applications and attended a presentation by two Jersey residents, both recipients of the JOA volunteering bursary, who had recently come back from volunteering in Zambia at a school. I’ve particularly enjoyed learning about the work that JOA does to support the local population in their aspirations to volunteer overseas.
With several more exciting projects/events on the horizon, I’m excited to continue my journey with JOA and HelpAge. I look forward to keeping you updated over the course of the year, and sharing my experiences in London and beyond! I’ll update this page with a new post at the end of October, so if you’d like to find out more about my internship, watch this space!!