Back-to-school: ESB Summer Intern Spotlight

Summer is over in the Northern Hemisphere and with it comes the end of the internship period for some of the talented young professionals who spent the past months supporting the work of OCHA’s Emergency Services Branch (ESB). As seasons change and the holiday mood is replaced by an even busier schedule, we turn our focus to ESB’s summer interns, who share their experiences and hopes for the future as they move on to their next adventures.

Elise Fouqueray

As she packs up her life one more time to embark on a new adventure in Côte d’Ivoire, where she will soon start her new job with ACTED, Elise looks back at her time in Geneva where she supported the UN Environment – OCHA Joint Unit (JEU) with communications and advocacy activities. For Elise, the humanitarian sector was “something new” before joining OCHA, and the opportunity to do an internship in this area of work presented itself as “a challenge” she was happy to take on. This internship helped Elise “put humanitarian work into perspective and discover a field of expertise that got me to rethink my whole career plan”.

As challenging as it was to understand how the UN system works, particularly after having worked in smaller organizations, her experience exceeded expectations and guided her towards a career in the sector.

Of her time in Geneva, she highlights the support of the Intern Board “a great organization whose role is to welcome new interns and make sure they receive the support they need”, but also the help she received from her team “everybody was extremely supportive and made an effort to quickly integrate me into the projects that interested me the most”, she says. “I had the opportunity to take a significant number of trainings and attend very interesting meetings during my internship”.

As an “outsider” to the humanitarian sector, Elise can only wish she had read more about OCHA and the humanitarian system before her first day at the office – “it would have saved me some panic research time at the beginning of my internship!”.

What she likes the most about Geneva is…A walk by the lake in spring/summer time; the ICRC museum on cloudy days.

Elise Fouqueray interned with the UN Environment – OCHA Joint Unit until June.

Adelaida Sozmen

Before heading back to Paris to complete her Master’s in International Security at Sciences Po, Adelaida takes stock of her time with ESB’s Civil Military Coordination Section (CMCS), where she is currently doing her internship. For Adelaida, doing an internship with the UN was a priority, given her field of studies. However, with so many options available, it took her some time to decide on the best-suited opportunities. “There are so many options out there – but it was the internship opportunity with CMCS that made me think ‘This sounds exactly like what I want to do’”.

“Being aware of the difficulties in creating dialogue between humanitarians and the military, I was particularly interested in learning more about the work of CMCS and in having the opportunity to better understand the coordination efforts of the UN in this area”.

A few months into her internship, Adelaida has already learnt “how chaotic and unhelpful responses would be without coordination and how challenging it actually is to establish effective coordination mechanisms”.

Still surprised about how quickly summer in Geneva has ended – “I wish I had brought more winter clothes!”, and by how expensive everything is in the city – “As an intern, even going for a drink can mean having to revise your budget for the month” -, Adelaida feels incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity. “This internship has been my first real office experience and my colleagues have shown me just how important the office atmosphere is – I am so thankful for how supportive and patient the team has been with me!”. For Adelaida, the OCHA Intern Board has also been a key support circle during her time in Geneva: “They make everyone feel welcomed and involved in activities outside of the office, which is great for all of us who are far from home and want to take the opportunity to discover the country as much as we can”.

What she likes the most about Geneva is…Relaxing at Parc de la Perle du Lac and enjoying the views after a long day at the office.

Adelaida Sozmen is currently completing her internship with ESB’s Civil Military Coordination Section

Adam Ward

Adam did his internship with ESB’s Surge Capacity Section (SCS) in support of the GenCap and ProCap projects. He had recently completed his Master’s in International Law and Security at the University of Manchester, and decided to do an internship with OCHA to gain practical experience in his field of studies and better understand how a UN organization works from the inside. “Thanks to my internship, I have realized how much goes into the UN operations on the logistics side – you often read about operations in the field and the political arena, but never about all that goes on behind the scenes that makes the rest of it possible”.

While he had great support from colleagues and newly made friends in Geneva, Adam found Geneva to be a challenging city for a young professional. “The main issue was affordability. Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in the world and the lack of financial support by the UN made it difficult at time, especially with regards to accommodation”. How did he deal with it for six months? “I often relied on the kindness of friends, my ability to live a quite Spartan existence and a deal of luck to get by”. During his time in Geneva, Adam was very involved in the Fair Internship Initiative “I feel the lack of financial support to interns is preventing the UN from getting some of the most passionate and qualified individuals”.

In the near future, Adam seeks to gain field experience in the humanitarian sector. “Working in the head office seemed vital to me to understand how things unfold on the ground.” –  he tells us. “However, during my time with OCHA I met many well-respected colleagues, and the one thing they all had in common was extensive field experience”.

What he likes the most about Geneva is… A swim in the lake with a view of the alps and Mont Blanc after work.

Adam Ward completed his internship with the Surge Capacity Section (SCS) in June.

Rhys Hange

Rhys writes to us from the capital of Uruguay, where he is currently doing a semester abroad as part of his Master’s in Global Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the Kuhne Logistics University. He moved to Montevideo soon after completing his internship with ESB’s Activation and Coordination Support Unit (ACSU), where he supported a project to improve Airport efficiency in disasters.

After some years working for a logistics company, Rhys made the decision to go back to school and obtain his master’s degree. At university, he became interested in humanitarian logistics. An interest that he could put into practice during his summer internship with OCHA. Although he found it challenging “to quickly learn how to write and speak the “UN style”, Rhys rates his experience very positively. “My supervisor gave me a large degree of independence, but provided direct feedback and assistance when needed. I was also encouraged to learn as much as I could, and attend as many UN events as possible”, he tells us. “In addition to learning a great deal about the UN and the humanitarian community, my internship helped me sharpen my organization and project management skills, which will serve me well both at school and at work”.

We asked Rhys what is next for him – “I plan to travel around South America once the semester is over and before I head back to Hamburg to finish my Master’s – after graduation, who knows?”.

What he likes the most about Geneva is… Hanging out with other interns at the UN Beach Club and Jonction, and biking to small villages around Geneva.

Rhys Hange completed his internship with the Activation and Coordination Support Unit (ACSU) in July.

Robert Menzies

Robert started his internship with ESB at a key time for OCHA Geneva: just as the third Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW) was starting. He joined in support of the team leading the Conflict Analysis Task Force, but was also of great help to the overall running of the event as part of a larger team of volunteers. During his six-month internship with ESB, Robert had the opportunity to work with two sections: the Global Approach to Preparedness and the Field Coordination and Support Section (FCSS). “I was very lucky to intern with both sections and have the opportunity to work on preparedness initiatives and advocacy issues, as well as to gain experience in training and learn more about Search and Rescue operations and earthquake response”.

Robert explains why he decided to do his internship with OCHA: “Following my graduation, I was very keen to learn about the humanitarian sector and especially within the UN system. In my studies, I focused on international law and international relations, and was very excited to experience how the UN works first-hand. OCHA plays a key role in humanitarian response, so having the opportunity to gain insight from incredibly experienced staff was an offer I could not refuse!”. During his time with the organization, Robert says to have received great support and guidance from his supervisors and other colleagues, but also from fellow interns “who formed an extended network and made my time in Geneva all the better and more fulfilling”.

“If I could do it all over again? I would look for accommodation earlier, go to more side events, conferences and talks as well as connect more with all the amazing staff members – you will never be down the hall from people like this again unless you are very lucky!”.

Robert has just finished a research fellowship at the UN University Institute for Comparative Regional Integration Studies, and is working as a home-based consultant for FCSS. In October, he will be starting his Master’s in Peace and Security Studies at the University of Hamburg.

What he likes the most about Geneva is… Bains de Paquis without a doubt! It has everything Swiss – from fondue to a great view of Lake Geneva and the Jet d’Eau!

Robert Menzies completed his internship with the Global Approach to Preparedness and the Field Coordination Support Section in July.

Grace Baban

Two years ago, and after more than seven years working for Handicap International in the Philippines, Haiti and South Sudan, Grace decided to put a pause on her career to pursue a Masters in International Humanitarian Action at the Universities of Groningen and Bochum. During her first international assignment in response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she interacted with UNDAC and INSARAG teams in the field and became interested in their work. Years later, and as part of her studies, Grace got to learn more about UNDAC. “I decided then that I would try to get an internship with the section in OCHA responsible for UNDAC and INSARAG.” A year later, Grace had the opportunity to do a three-month internship with FCSS. “I got to support the INSARAG Secretariat and even had the chance to be part of the Global UNDAC Induction course in Morges, Switzerland”.

Despite the challenges of quickly adapting to “HQ-life” after a career spent mostly in the field, Grace speaks dearly of her summer in Geneva “Internships are what you make out of them, and I am glad I made the most out of mine, even though I didn’t gain anything financially. I know the experience, contacts and friendships forged will be very valuable in my future endeavors”.

What she likes the most about Geneva is…The Palais de Nations “At the end of the day, when most people had already left their offices, I would often take a walk in the hallways of the Palais. I couldn’t help but fill with awe and wonder with my surroundings. Coming from a small city in the Philippines, I couldn’t help but just be grateful for the entire experience”; and the Broken Chair Monument: “It was a project of the organization I worked with. Looking at it every day made me glad I dedicated 7 years of my professional life to it”.

Grace Baban completed her summer internship with the Field Coordination Support Section in August.

Anisha Choubey

Anisha took a break from her student-life in Washington to do a summer internship with OCHA in Geneva. During her three months with ESB, she supported FCSS with communications, including the launch of the UNDAC Talks, as well as other tasks, such as training. She chose to do her internship with OCHA because she was after “a hands-on internship experience with people adept in crisis management situations. OCHA brings together such a diverse group of people with equally impressive skills that I really wanted to be able to learn from them, while contributing to a great organization”.

Back in Washington, Anisha is currently completing her last year of graduate school at Georgetown University and has recently started an internship with the US Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, focused on East Asia Pacific and South and Central Asia. In the future, Anisha hopes to continue working in this sector and have a job resolving conflict in the world!

What she likes the most about Geneva is… The old town and the Jardin Anglais.

Anisha Choubey finished her internship with FCSS in August.

Nadja Gueggi

As the end of her internship nears, Nadja is busier than ever. As part of her internship with FCSS, she provides key support to the team in the response to Hurricane Irma. Over the past months, Nadja has acquired a comprehensive view of the work of the team: she has been part of an UNDAC Induction course, supported the revision of the UNDAC Field Handbook and witnessed the Section’s mechanisms in action in response to the Mudslide in Sierra Leone and Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean.

“From a very early age, I have been fascinated by disaster management and humanitarian actors. During my studies and first professional experience, I have taken great interest in the coordination of humanitarian actors”, she says. “From the beginning, it was clear to me that if I were to work for the UN, my first choice would be OCHA”.

While she started with a skeptical view of the UN-System as a whole, this internship has helped her shape a more positive image of the organization. “My perception of the organization has definitely changed for the better. I have realized how fundamental the work of OCHA is and how it contributes to improving humanitarian assistance worldwide”.

Looking back at her past months with FCSS, Nadja already knows what she will take back home from her time with OCHA: “Many good memories of warm-hearted and caring colleagues. Many inspiring conversations. Very interesting work, and the feeling of having made a difference, even if a small one”.

What she likes the most about Geneva is… Doing a picnic by the water at Perle du Lac or Jonction after work.

Nadja Gueggi is currently doing her internship with FCSS.

Hanna Maas

When she decided to join OCHA for a six-month internship, Hanna knew what she was getting herself into. As part of her Master’s in Geography of Environmental Risks and Human Security at the United Nations University, she had the opportunity to be exposed to the humanitarian system and take part in the TRIPLEX 2016 exercise in Norway. “The opportunity to attend the TRIPLEX exercise fed my curiosity to learn more about the humanitarian system, and about disaster management in particular”. Although she knew about OCHA, Hanna’s perception of the organization changed during her internship: “I knew the UN system is known for being bureaucratic, but I had perhaps not realized just how much and how this might sometimes slow down important processes” she says. “At the same time, I was happy to learn that the section I worked with was much more operational and oriented towards getting things done than I had imagined”.

During her six-month stay in Geneva, Hanna also served as the president of the Intern Board. “The Intern Board is an intern-led body that tries to ensure the wellbeing of other interns and build a bridge between interns and staff”. Although this was a challenging task, Hannah was motivated to help address some of the challenges interns faced, which were also her own. “As you can imagine, it is very hard to live in a city like Geneva without getting paid. This was a huge challenge for me.”, Hanna says. “I heard a lot of stories of other interns struggling with my same issues”. At work, her main struggle was “to remember all those names and acronyms” on her first few weeks at the office.

“I take home a lot of valuable advice for starting a career in the humanitarian sector from professionals who have been in this ‘business’ for a long time”, Hannah tells us. “But most importantly, I take home the countless encounters with inspiring and interesting people during all aspects of the internship, making not only very valuable contacts along the way, but also a lot of new friends”.

What she likes the most about Geneva is… La Pointe de la Jonction and Bains des Pâquis!

Hanna Maas did a six-month internship with ESB’s Field Coordination and Support Section (FCSS)


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