Internship immerses students in development work | Aga Khan Academies

Internship immerses students in development work

Genesis at the AKF officeWhen Genesis Kayemba, a year 12 (second year Diploma Programme) student at the Aga Khan Academy Mombasa spent six weeks on a summer internship with the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in the rural town of Arua in northern Uganda, he came to an exciting realisation. He was the only person in the AKF branch office who spoke the regional language and had a thorough understanding of the local culture. That was because he came from that area. The local knowledge he brought to his practicum allowed Genesis to engage fully in executing the work of the agency at the grassroots level.

“Arua is my home town and I looked at this internship as a window of opportunity to discover more about where I come from and the people that live there. I also took this internship as an opportunity to help my own people,” he says.

While interning with AKF, Genesis gained a number of new skills, including literacy in his mother tongue. Highly energetic and dedicated, Genesis decided to learn how to read and write in his home language, which he initially only spoke. He was able to master the skills in a very short time and is happy to recount that he used his newly acquired abilities to further the work of the Foundation.

AKF programme students in Arua“I became very good at translations. These translations were used to benefit the teaching tool called Reading to LearnI’m proud to say that this teaching tool has been a success in the local teaching context.”

Training students to become agents of transformation

As part of their mandate to embed students like Genesis within their local context and help them develop a strong service ethic, the Aga Khan Academies (AKA) in both Mombasa and Hyderabad are partnering with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and other agencies to provide senior students with field-based summer internship opportunities. The AKA established this internship programme to help realise its vision of empowering graduates to become future leaders and agents of change in their communities. This close collaboration with on-the-ground development agencies is a unique characteristic that distinguishes the Academies from other International Baccalaureate programmes.

These alliances enable Diploma Programme students to participate directly in grassroots community building and to experience and live the real world of work for several weeks between their grade 11 and 12 years. The Academies work closely with participating organisations to build a mentorship model that allows the service internships to be mutually beneficial to the interns and the organisations in which they are placed. While interns gain tremendous insights into potential future careers, these placements are also meant to allow students to make meaningful contributions to the work of the AKDN and external participating NGOs.

Exposure to wide array of initiatives

The AKDN and other partner agencies serve local communities across East Africa and India in a number of capacities. Interns are able to choose from a wide variety of initiatives including rural development, women’s empowerment, sanitation, child health, education, agriculture and disaster awareness. Internship assignments include both rigorous field and office-based work.

Natasha, one of the interns, leading a class“We want to take them out of their comfort zone. We want them to realise their potential and make them recognise their own capacity to contribute to the larger good,” says Zohra Lakhani, the Student Leadership Programme Manager.

Making meaningful impact

With the goal of motivating students and harnessing their passions, the AKA internship programme in both Mombasa and Hyderabad strives to match internship opportunities with the career interests of students. Ideally, the aim is to place students within their home locales – not only so they can be near their families and feel connected to their communities but also to allow them to become part and parcel of the change process that happens within their own environment.

Natasha working with EGIS studentsA total of 41 students from Hyderabad and 24 from Mombasa completed their internships last summer. Both the participating students and staff from the partner agencies reported the experience to be rewarding and enriching. Interns reported feeling a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment at the conclusion of their work. They said that simply engaging in these projects and getting hands-on experience in the few weeks of their practicum was truly meaningful to them. It made them appreciate the challenges and hard work required to improve the lives of people. They recounted that they developed essential skills, confidence and understanding that is so crucial to making an impact.

For Natasha Treunen, who interned in Mombasa with Educating Girls in Science (EGIS), an AKA outreach initiative, the experience was transformative.

“I didn’t realise the great impact EGIS had on the local community until I engaged in it during my internship,” she states with passionate conviction. “Not only were we creating awareness on the importance of sciences, but also we encouraged the girls to embrace the subjects and apply concepts learnt in class to address issues in their local community.”

Binoy with villagers in GujaratIn the state of Gujarat in India, under the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, Binoy Pattharwala and Sahil Charaniya worked with the local youth in tribal areas where some of the poorest communities live. The interns explored several issues of concern pertaining to the youth, including their socio-economic conditions. Both these interns have a strong interest in addressing issues of poverty in India. However, they did not understand the complexities and difficulties involved in breaking the cycle of poverty until they were submerged deep into their internship experience. The two interns also faced personal hardships when fulfilling their tasks. According to Sahil, in order to complete their assignments, they had to travel via overflowing buses and trains to areas abounding in snakes, lizards and insects.

“It is difficult to imagine anything else [that] could give me such a practical exposure to the real world," Sahil states solemnly. Having struggled through the challenges he encountered, he felt he came back with “priceless life lessons”.

Asna (far right) and Tanaz (far left) with a My Choices clientAsna Bhaidani and Tanaz Hudda, two Academy students dedicated to advocating for social justice issues, found fulfilment in working with My Choices, an organisation in Hyderabad that promotes the empowerment of women through education and social programmes. The students worked on fostering awareness and also participated in a marketing campaign to promote social change.

Lucy Mwandawiro, Project Coordinator for EGIS and an internship supervisor in Mombasa, states that while many tasks appear small before the students embark upon them, they quickly realise that the work takes much longer to accomplish. This is an important lesson they take home.

“Quality work takes time. Again it is these small steps that lead to great success in the long run,” she states earnestly, while radiating pride and ambition for her interns.

Says Zohra Lakhani, “The Academies' vision is to foster home-grown intellectual leadership in order to drive society's future development. Through the AKDN internship programme, not only are we strengthening partnerships within the agencies and providing an opportunity for Academy students to have a meaningful learning experience, we are fostering a means for students to feel connected to their home communities and be empowered to contribute as leaders in their own right.”

By Perviz Walji

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