While studying abroad on the Maryland-in-London program in spring 2012, I interned at Afghanaid, a UK charity devoted to development in Afghanistan. Not only did I gain practical skills related to the field of non-profit management, but I also benefitted from learning about similarities and differences between the non-profit sectors in the United Kingdom and the United States.
The UK office is a satellite of the head office in Kabul, Afghanistan. There are only two full-time staff members in London (typical for smaller-scale British charities), whereas the Kabul office has about 400 (98 percent of whom are Afghan citizens). The main responsibilities of the London office are advocacy and fundraising. My duties ranged from event-planning to donor outreach to administrative assistance.
In March, we held a high-profile fundraising gala that showcased Afghan gemstones in order to promote awareness of the country’s natural resources. Because I started work only a month before the event, I was responsible for taking care of last-minute logistics, such as coordinating gift bags for attendees and ordering wine and decorations. “Precious Afghanistan” featured an ethical clothing fashion show, jewelry designs utilizing native stones, a raw Afghan gemstone exhibition, an Afghan-style bazaar, and delicious drinks and canapés.
I was assigned to work on the Afghanaid Spring/Summer 2012 newsletter while my supervisor was away from the office, which required me to think creatively and independently. I used the previous issue as a template and Adobe InDesign to format the layout. By communicating with staff in Kabul about newsletter content, I obtained various policy documents to “translate” into reader-friendly content. This opportunity enabled me to think critically about what stories donors want to read and what facts will influence them to make a contribution to a cause.
My last project at Afghanaid was to create a video storyboard about the organization’s beekeeping projects. Afghanaid specializes in training citizens on methods of sustainable agriculture, including beekeeping. Bees are easily cultivated in Afghanistan, and honey is quite a valuable local commodity. To develop the storyboard, I compiled photos and video clips from my supervisor’s time in Afghanistan and worked with a translator to write English subtitles. Then I sent the materials and video outline to our freelance videographer.
Working at Afghanaid truly made me feel like an active contributor to the world of international development. Participating in a work placement in another country gave me the chance to interact with foreigners on a professional level, whether in the office or over the phone. All of my previous lessons about cultural differences came alive, especially when I had to run errands to the Afghan embassy in Kensington.
By far, I learned the most from my supervisors and fellow colleagues, who all had Master’s degrees and previous development experience. They consistently emphasized that development is not about merely investing money in countries and projects. It is about creating meaningful change for those who need it and want it. And that is something no classroom can make you fully understand—you have to get out there and experience it for yourself. My internship at Afghanaid was a great way to break into the field, as it allowed me to learn about international development from the perspective of the United Kingdom and benefit from working closely with others in a small, friendly office environment.
1 October 2012
This post is one of a series that I contributed to The MIDCM Column, a blog written by students in the Minor in International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland.