Lauren Pucci (MPIA'12)
Last summer (2011) I was frantically searching for an internship to get practical experience in the field of disaster relief and humanitarian aid. The competition for this type of work is fierce. Dozens of qualified and experienced professionals apply for a limited number of positions. In the midst of this search, a colleague of mine from years ago contacted me to learn if I knew of anyone who may want a summer internship drafting an information package in Sri Lanka with a Czech humanitarian organization named People in Need (PIN). It is a well-known organization in Europe, working in 18 countries. I was immediately interested, not only in the opportunity, but also in the location.
I sent my CV, underwent two interviews and waited. Two weeks later, PIN requested my information to process a visa. Soon after, I was sent a plane ticket to fly to Colombo, Sri Lanka. After landing, I met my driver and began the six hour journey to the site. To date, it was one of the bumpiest, white knuckle journeys I have ever experienced. After thirty six hours of travel, I arrived in my destination of Vavuniya, scene of the flashpoint during the war. The town itself visibly shows the scars from fighting; not only in infrastructure, but also in the presence of Internally Displaced Persons camps. I was given a half day to rest and then began a three day introduction to PIN and Sri Lanka before traveling onwards to my final destination of Batticaloa in eastern Sri Lanka.
The areas that PIN operates are all formerly LTTE controlled areas; therefore, they have only begun to establish a formal governing structure with the central and national government of Sri Lanka. My assignment was to document and edit an information package on PIN’s Collaborative Approach in eastern Sri Lanka. Since 2009, PIN has implemented a governance building project by linking the local authority with the communities in eastern Sri Lanka. The target of the project was Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD). It is an accepted, non-controversial topic that allows NGOs to push for greater change without controversy. Though it may seem like a trivial concept to the West, this is essential in a post-conflict environment vulnerable to reverting back into its previous methods. Buzzwords from my human security class at GSPIA were constantly used in both my research and conversations with professionals.
Within a week I was meeting with our donors at the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) based in Trincomalee. It was at that meeting where the extent of my work was finalized. I was tasked with doing extensive research and data collection for case studies and a book that focused on building good governance practices in eastern Sri Lanka. My training in policy analysis at GSPIA was extremely useful in that I was also asked to create a position paper that could be presented to Sri Lankan policy makers. As the funders described the assignment, I had a good grasp as to what they were looking for and offered my suggestion in how to draft it.
For the remainder of the summer, I found myself traveling into remote villages in eastern Sri Lanka to gather information on demographics, quotes and experiences to include in the case studies. At the same time, I interviewed staff members using a voice recorder to learn the project history. Later I would take this information to my office where I drafted my report while dealing with power outages, lack of AC in humid, 90+ degree heat and lots of insects. I even had a run in with a tarantula the size of my hand one evening.
The expatriates and aid workers I met while in the field were absolutely amazing, both on a personal and professional level. They were a colorful group of strong personalities coming from all corners of the globe. Their diverse work experience included Chad, Afghanistan, the Sudan and Haiti and this is only naming a few. Having the opportunity to spend time with them gave me a new found respect for those choosing a career in humanitarian work. Now back in Pittsburgh, I continue to work with PIN as an editor in correspondence. No doubt the contacts I met while abroad are going to help me with my job search as are the skills this experience has given me for my future endeavors.