The internship is an important part of the learning experience in the Master of International Cooperation Sustainable Emergency Architecture and an opportunity to branch into a new field. The mandatory, 3-month internship at the end of the course provides the connections and experience our students need to take the next step in their careers. We have agreements with over 30 organisations around the world in all areas of development and emergency practises, including international organisations as well as smaller scale NGOs and research institutions. The impact of the current global pandemic is reflected in the way our class of 2019/2020 is undertaking their internships – as remote virtual internships – and the variety of projects they are working on related to the COVID response in the humanitarian sector.
We asked some of our students to tell us about their choice of internship placement and how it relates to their thesis and research interests, their current tasks and projects, the challenges and opportunities of doing a virtual internship, and how these collaborations are setting a direction for their future career paths.
Here are their answers:
Internship at the Shelter Centre
One of the reasons I wanted to intern with the Shelter Centre, is that they are involved in some exciting self-recovery work currently, which is very applicable to my thesis research (SUPPORTING SELF-RECOVERY IN POST-CONFLICT SITUATIONS: Insights from Syria).
I am working with organization partners on monitoring and evaluation criteria for shelters, representing the organization at webinars on the topics of COVID-19 response, localisation, and alternative material design. I am also translating documents for global shelter meetings, assisting with the initiation of projects with private sector partners, drafting key project documentation and agreements, and reviewing proposals before being sent to donors.
The virtual internship provides opportunities to work with people from around the world and to be part of exciting webinars and online discussions, but its challenges are that it’s sometimes difficult to communicate and collaborate effectively.
Although there are no job opportunities with Shelter Centre, they assist us in finding jobs through resume writing and cover letter writing PD as well as one-on-one career development sessions.
Housing and Habitat Internship at TECHO
TECHO has a deep relationship with the communities they work with and It relates to the social approach to the build environment in my thesis (MIGRATION STORIES & THE SPACE IN BETWEEN: The construction of the sense of home for Venezuelan migrants in Barcelona). There were other important reasons for my choice of internship placement. Being from Colombia and living in the US, it was important to me to learn from an organization with presence in both. TECHO has a presence in 19 countries in Latin America + the US. Furthermore, TECHO does not only focus on emergency housing but also temporary and permanent housing, WASH and community infrastructure projects. Volunteering is important to create social consciousness. TECHO encourages young people to participate through a collaborative approach with the families in the communities.
My tasks and responsibilities at TECHO include the support projects for the design or redesign of emergency housing in the countries that require it and the review of the emergency protocol of the international office of the Foundation, in order to make improvements to it. I am also involved in developing a general protocol model for TECHO partner countries and updating the inventory of housing typologies designed for the attention of emergencies and humanitarian aid. This is complemented by review and update of international regulations, standards and policies related to the above topic.
There are many different projects that I am working in tandem. The most relevant for the time is COVID-19 related interventions in the different countries. Reviewing the general emergency protocol, sharing information in between the LATAM groups to help understand how the teams are helping their communities and how they are adapting to continue their work during the pandemic.
One of the challenges of a virtual internship is the lack of opportunities for field work or in person interaction with colleagues. But its mobility is an advantage, as it helps to learn to work remotely and not being limited by a geographical location.
There is a global housing crisis with millions of people living in informal settlements without access to proper housing and infrastructure. As an architect I believe designers can make a positive impact if we first understand our role in the complex structure of International Cooperation. The Internship with TECHO internacional will provide me with a deep insight into the reality of an NGO and will influence all my professional decisions regardless if it is within the private sector or with NGOs.
Internship at Catholic Relief Services (CRS)
More than my thesis (WAITING IN NON-PLACES: The spatialization of discourses in Mexico’s Migrant Integration Centres), my Shelter and Settlements Internship with the Humanitarian Response Department at CRS is related to the career path I aimed to pursue with this masters program. I chose CRS because their many decades of work in humanitarian relief, in many countries around the world, offered a unique learning opportunity. Also, their community-based approach resonates with the type of work I’ve done in the past and will want to continue doing.
At the moment I’m supporting a few projects: the creation of a Shelter Catalogue for the HRD department, developing IEC materials for a shelter recovery project in Malawi which is also linked to a GCRF research project with the Shelter Cluster and assisting in the design to turn Uganda’s National Stadium into a COVID-19 Non-Traditional Isolation Facility.
The biggest challenge of doing a virtual internship is time management. It’s very easy to get so invested in the work that you forget to make time for yourself. Also, you can miss not having an office to go to where you can meet your colleagues and be immersed in the work. However, I think that most of the jobs in this field of work are done this way, regardless of the current COVID situation, so this is also an opportunity to see how you cope with these issues and to see if you’re fit for this type of work.
This internship is a great introduction to the career I want to pursue. It’s giving me a better understanding of the humanitarian relief field of work, of the way an INGO of this size operates and of the different career paths available for shelter specialists. Also, the work has linked me with a lot of interesting people in the field, so it’s been a great way to expand my contacts network. It’s the perfect space to summarize my learnings so far and prepare for future endeavours while getting to work on very interesting projects.
Abdel Rahman Al-Zoubi
Internship at the Urban Resilience (URR) Department, Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) in Bangkok, Thailand
The ADPC/URR department implements multi-thematic projects across South and South-East Asia. I am involved in two interesting projects; “Urban Resilience to Climate Extremes in Southeast Asia – Myanmar & Vietnam” and “Safer Cities: An interdisciplinary approach to addressing risk through resilience & sustainable urban development – Online Training Course”. The overall objective of these projects; to enhance the resilience of two medium-sized cities to climate extremes and disaster risk, by integrating disaster risk management (DRM) into the urban planning and management process, while equipping key stakeholders with the skills and knowledge to improve the systems and policies of adapting to climate extremes.
Major tasks that I am contributing with; Reviewing international frameworks for analysing city resilience, such as the 10 Essentials Making City Resilient (MCR), the City Resilience Framework (CRF) and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR); Reviewing of the results and methodology used for the City Resilience Index (CRI) in Myanmar, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the methodology; And contribute to the Safer Cities – training course – by searching for strategies on “How to measure resilience?”
I attribute my current position to the interest in the topics of urban resilience, disaster/climate risks, and refugees which led me to conduct my research in the context of DRR in camp/urban settlements. My thesis entitled “Assessing Disaster Risk Reduction in Refugee Camp Design: the Case of Al-Wehdat and Azraq Refugee Camps in Jordan” is very connected to what I am doing in terms of importance for the marginalized communities and urban upgrading strategies.
I find it not easy to fully adapt to on-line working conditions, as I am used to interacting with colleagues within in-office work environments or in-class learning, but that won’t be a major challenge to adapt the new normals. Adding the time difference for the working hours between HQ in Thailand and here in Jordan, makes it hard to communicate with other team members.
I am seeking to develop my career path in urban resilience to climate change, in the context of disaster-prone areas. So that goes along with my learning pathway about International Cooperation in Urban Development, Emergency Architecture, and humanitarian aid.
Pilar Del Amo Garcia
Internship at the ArTeale Foundation
I am working on the pilot project “Empty homes for the homeless”, doing research on how to scale-up the project and find potential collaborators. I am also in charge of the graphics and translation of documents. I found about the project while I was searching for Good Practices in the European Web Site on Integration for my thesis.
I took this project as a case study for my thesis about refugee housing and integration through the reuse of existing assets (INTEGRATING REFUGEES IN SHRINKING CITIES THROUGH ADAPTIVE REUSE: Architectural Principles for Refugee Housing Projects), and after that, I started collaborating with them as an intern.
The internship is pretty much research-based and I have regular meetings online with the team and the beneficiaries of the project, so up to now, it is working quite well. Also, as ArTeale is based in Vitoria, in Spain, I was able to visit them once and work face to face in the office. However, I am missing some steps of the process, like the visits to the flats with the refugees, that I would have liked to participate in.
I think the internship will give me insights about the organisation and management of social foundations and deeper knowledge about the issues of empty houses and refugee/migrant housing, fields that I would like to keep working in in the future.
Internship at the BuildXStudio (Former Orkidstudio)
My thesis (THE EFFECTS OF PARTICIPATION PROCESSES IN COMMUNITY CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS: The Architect ́s role as the facilitator for community empowerment) was based on participation processes between architects and the receiving community. This internship is related indirectly as the office performs many of the projects on this same vision and always keeps in mind the importance of the input and the end-user within the process.
My tasks are quite directed to a particular project for the time being. Within a small team of two, I am researching and developing a new product of a Modular Multi-Use Unit where the company is envisaging to meet the needs of various clients. A semi-permanent, modular and with minimal impact structure utilising innovative materials that make the system affordable and targetted for social needs.
Working mostly on the project through research and communication with my other colleague makes the online situation quite ok, however by time if one does not keep a strong sense and commitment towards the project, the interest starts to diminish and sometimes you feel you are on your own without that constant feedback and discussion of an office environment. However, many more opportunities became real as most of other offices and entrepreneurship are also online and therefore the communication from various countries became more viable.
From the initial stages of the UIC course, I looked at this office as a very engaging and interesting vision which although being an architectural office it has the social aspect at heart and thrives to achieve change wherever they are entrusted to. I always looked at architecture as a tool which can bring change and I believe that through this experience I am finally witnessing this.
Internship at the Shelter Centre, Geneva
I am working with the Knowledge Management team, and part of our work is to manage resources published in the online Humanitarian Library. We gather information such as guidelines and policies that are created by International and National organisations, so that the larger public and other Humanitarian agencies (such as NGOs worldwide) can benefit from knowledge sharing.
My internship is not related to my thesis (CAN A DROUGHT TEACH YOU HOW TO ADDRESS WATER EQUITY? Gaining Insight on Cape Town’s Day Zero Crisis). I chose it because the thesis made me realise that I enjoy research! Shelter Centre’s Library is a much needed resource and looking for and putting together key documents that are needed in line with current events and that are freely accessible has been rewarding. They also have other exciting projects to learn from.
Online internships can be tough if your connection is not good, or if you have microphone or speaker issues. Sort those out and you’re good to go! There are also times when interacting face to face can be missed, but it’s a good opportunity to work on your electronic communication skills.
The internship will influence our future career path by giving us an idea of what goes on in the Humanitarian world, as a large part of it is networking and collaborating, we understand better who does what.
Mohamed A. Gad
Internship at IOM Geneva Headquarters – Shelter and Settlements Team.
My work is primarily on building an extensive database of IEC materials on Shelter and Settlements (S&S), creating a simple and accessible compendium of humanitarian documents for shelter practitioners to help affected communities. This includes compiling and assessing global and country-specific material for the activities of the S&S Sector. Additionally, supporting the S&S team in their work involves reviewing reports and communication material, as well as attending trainings and webinars and sharing my learnings with the team.
Although my thesis topic was on Urban Health and Resilience (TOWARDS PREVENTATIVE URBAN HEALTH RESILIENCE: A Case Study of Cairo’s Heliopolis), I was very interested in this position because I believe there is a strong connection between the built environment and people’s health, this applies to urban settings as well as rural and camp settings. I also believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the major disconnect between the topic of urban planning and health, and is directing us towards creating healthier places for people, whether in the humanitarian or development sector.
One of the main challenges of a virtual internship is that it involves a considerable amount of online communication compared to working in an office and interacting frequently and in-person with your team and other teams. That being said, I believe that there are always ways in which organizations adapt to these difficulties. Online chats and meetings with people from the organization, intern coffee chats, and team meetings, are a few of these ways which bridge that gap.
I also think that the global shift towards remote working has significantly propelled the use of online webinars and trainings. In a way, it also connected people from various teams and organizations. And I think it could be a step towards new means of knowledge exchange and co-production, as well as cooperation between different organizations.
Working in a large organization has taught me a lot on how the cluster system works, and it gave me more insight into the coordination that takes place between different teams, as well as country offices and organizations. I’m learning a lot on disaster preparedness and other shelter-related issues, which is preparing me for the humanitarian as well as development sector.
The internship also exposes me to various learning material on improving shelter in emergency and non-emergency situations in different contexts. Ultimately, I hope that I can transfer what I’ve learned throughout my thesis into my work in the humanitarian field through cross-cutting work between different topics.
Internship at the Shelter Centre, Geneva
I am working as a Project Assistant and currently on the Humanitarian Library team which uploads collections that are useful for practitioners around the world. We are doing an entire series of collections for COVID-19 response. I have already done two collections, “Management of dead bodies during COVID” and “Counter Trafficking of humans during COVID.”
My internship is not related to my thesis which was “PERCEPTIONS OF PLACE WITHIN PARADOXES OF INCLUSION AND EXCLUSION: The case of Unaccompanied Youth Migrants in Sweden”. However it is a great contribution within the humanitarian sector by providing remote assistance.
A virtual internship has some challenges. I do not get to know my co-workers as I would in a regular office where one would have coffee room breaks and chats. I do make sure to keep it friendly and not stick to just work related topics when on skype.
We have an excellent supervisor, Tom, and he makes sure we are exposed to the workings of the humanitarian sector as much as possible. I hope this would be a stepping stone for my future in the humanitarian field.
Feature Image: Courtesy of Lorenza Esquinca