Aid Worker Summer School: "Do it!", says one trainee

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Emma Mukerjee attended RedR's Summer School in 2015. We caught up with her in Myanmar to see how she's been using her training.

What is your educational / professional background? Why did you decide to take part in the RedR Summer School, and what were your expectations?

After graduating in 2004 with a degree in Media, Culture and Society - including a module on international development - I tried for years to get my foot in the door of big international development organisations in London, but found it too competitive, even for low-level positions. I did some volunteering, but eventually gave up trying and concentrated on finding work with other charities that advocated for vulnerable and marginalised people - which essentially was the goal of my passion, anyway. 

Between 2005 and 2015 I worked for various high-profile charities in London, primarily in fundraising and communications, taking time off every now and again to volunteer on community development projects overseas to try and build up my experience. In 2015, I reached a point where I was so frustrated with being pigeon-holed professionally and fed up with life in London that I knew I had to finally do something about my passion for working in humanitarian aid overseas. I was determined to find a way to break out of fundraising roles - but my options were limited because I couldn’t afford to re-train into a specialism or do a Master’s. 

I quit my full-time job, sublet my room in London and took some time out to figure what to do. I spent weeks online, researching the humanitarian sector, reading everything I could find, familiarising myself with the different components of aid work, and trying to understand how my current skills could be transferable. I applied for countless volunteer roles and internships overseas and painfully tried to tailor my CV. 

I already knew about RedR and must have been looking at training courses when I saw they were running a two-week summer school. It seemed to cover the topics I knew were key, and it addressed the issue of how to get started in the sector. I particularly liked that the course included a CV workshop, and the opportunity to speak to specialists with years of field experience. I was a little reluctant to join at first because of the price, but it really seemed to be the best opportunity available for people like me. In the end, my attitude was that it was worth the investment to find out if this is really the career I wanted to pursue - and get the rare opportunity to find out how to go about it. 

I didn’t think attending this course was automatically going to help me get a job overseas, but I knew it was going to help me narrow down what I was looking for - and I was excited by the prospect of learning more about the sector, and what my role in it might be.

What did you find most useful about the training? Is there anything you feel we could improve?

I loved that every day focused on a new topic, and that they were structured in a sensible, chronological sequence of understanding - such as learning about the sector, then the Sphere standards and then entering into the world of log frames, proposals, report-writing, security and safety, the competency framework, and so on. All the topics covered seemed to be very relevant, but also reassuringly easy to understand. Also, the group activities were interactive and made learning fun. Practical exercises are the best way to absorb information, and it was a great way to get to know the rest of the people on the course. 

Where are you currently working, and in what capacity? 

I am currently in Myanmar working with an INGO as a Programme Support intern. I’ve helped with proposal-writing, communications, writing final reports for donors, and had the opportunity to coordinate an early recovery livelihoods project directly in the field. I’ve learnt about cash transfer programming and drawn up standard operating procedures for the organisation. 

I can’t say that RedR’s training helped me get the internship, because the (very long) process had already begun by the time I got to the summer school - but I know that the organisation was pleased I was attending the course, and I think it showed my commitment to learning more about the sector. They acknowledged that RedR had a great reputation, and knew the training would be beneficial for me - and, hopefully, for them.

Can you give us a concrete example of something you learnt during the training which you’ve been able to apply during your internship?

Pretty much everything covered in the summer school training has been useful, and I’ve seen all the topics I learnt about be used and applied throughout all the stages of programme development, design and implementation. The training topic I have used most so far is report-writing. But what I have found most useful is just being familiar with all the topics of the humanitarian sector, and the language used. To understand what people are talking about, even if you haven’t worked on the project, is a massive benefit.

What would you say to someone who’s considering taking part in the Summer School?

Do it! If you are at the stage of your studies or career where you you’re thinking about entering the humanitarian sector, this is a great place to start because you’re learning about real-life subjects that, although not very sexy, are totally necessary: like log frames, proposal-writing and report-writing. It’s also a great opportunity to find out what humanitarian work is really like by meeting face-to-face with people who work in the sector. You can ask questions you wouldn’t be able to otherwise. It will also help you figure out if you really want to pursue a career in the sector and be aware of what the potential risks and challenges are with this kind of work. It’s also reassuring to meet other people on the course who are experiencing the same barriers to entering the sector as you, and a great opportunity to talk through the challenges with each other and gain a new insight or perspective. Whilst the summer school didn’t help me get the internship, it has absolutely without a doubt enhanced my internship with the skills and knowledge learnt and my professional performance throughout this contract has led to two job offers. 

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