2017 Summer Intern

The Schull Yang International Experience Award, supported by Joseph Schull (BA ‘82, MA ’85) and Anna Yang (BCL, LLB ’88), helps undergraduate and graduate students gain first hand international experience related to their fields of study. The award provides full or partial funding to assist students with tuition, travel, and other expenses related to their international experience. The Schull Yang International Experience Award is part of the McGill International Experience Awards. For more information, click here.

The Internship Offices Network is pleased to announce the selected McGill student for the 2017 summer internship at the United Nations World Food Programme in Cuba, and the recipient of the Schull Yang International Experience Award.

Danielle Girard, BSc (AgEnvSc) Environmental Science

Danielle is an environmental science major who is passionate about issues relating to international development and agricultural systems. Additionally, having grown up in Uruguay and Ecuador, she has a strong interest in Latin American politics and society. This summer, Danielle will intern at the World Food Programme in Cuba, the food-assistance branch of the United Nations. During this time, she hopes to learn about the dynamics of a UN agency and the approach to food security and hunger relief in the context of the Cuba Country Programme, as well as the greater context of climate change resilience.

***

This year I will be entering my final year as an environmental science major in the biodiversity and conservation domain. I was originally drawn to the programme’s interdisciplinary aspect balancing sciences with a humanitarian perspective. For this reason, I was also interested in interning at the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to pursue the link between people and their environment, with regards to agriculture, food security, and climate resilience.

During the internship at the WFP office in Havana, Cuba, I hoped to not only learn about these different focus areas, but also to understand the workings of a UN agency and of humanitarian assistance while becoming acquainted with the field, potential jobs, and the experience of working in an office.

The WFP is the largest organization fighting hunger worldwide. In Cuba there is an ongoing country programme for the 2015-2018 period that pursues WFP’s objectives of supporting food security and nutrition-related social protection programmes, strengthening the link between these social protection programmes and agricultural value chains (particularly beans, a national staple food), and enhancing resilience and disaster risk management at the local level to reduce the impact of natural hazards and climate change on food security.

Given my background in Environmental Sciences, my work at WFP mostly focused on the latter issue, with an emphasis on the drought that has been affecting the eastern provinces of Cuba since 2014. It is the most severe drought in a century, and has put a heavy strain on agriculture and livestock production. WFP is doing a lot of work to support farmers and enhance their resilience to drought by developing early warning systems and creating plans to respond to droughts at the local level. Some of my tasks included preparing a presentation about WFP’s efforts to enhance the surveillance and comprehensive management of droughts, supporting the drafting of a series of best practices for risk reduction, and translating informational pamphlets and short stories about farmers confronting water shortages.

Throughout the internship, there was also a strong focus on mainstreaming gender equality. WFP promotes initiatives to increase women’s economic empowerment and representation in local decision making and production. During my time there I was able to participate in a pilot workshop that would later be offered to agricultural cooperatives in other provinces to raise awareness about issues of gender equality. A second workshop for UN staff took place at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to address gender violence, focused at the domestic level.

Some of the challenges associated with entering a new workplace included finding enough work during the first days. I often found myself browsing the WFP homepage and other documents from the Cuba Office. Though I felt a bit impatient at first, it was a good way to learn about the Country Programme and become familiar with different terms and acronyms that were commonly used in the office. After two weeks, I felt like I had enough tasks and some long-term projects to work on during down-time.

Another challenge and highlight was the country itself. An internship experience extends beyond the office, and Cuba is an intense place to spend a summer. Though I grew up in Latin America, in Uruguay and Ecuador, this did not prepare me for the vivid life of the city, alternately loving everything—the people, the music, the ideal image of a city stuck in the past—and struggling with the reality of the situation—adjusting to the lack of communication with the outside world, and the difficulty of getting certain foods and household items that we take for granted.

In addition to all of the information and experiences acquired throughout the internship abroad, through interactions with professionals, the WFP Country office was a very welcoming place. Everyone taught me a lot and helped me with projects when I felt like I was in over my head, which of course did happen. People were understanding and created a dynamic work environment. We even had time for office yoga and the occasional cake to celebrate the approval of a project or someone’s birthday.

I want to thank the WFP office, and all its staff for accepting students with such open arms and making the summer a positive and constructive experience. Another special thank you to Mr. Joseph Schull and Ms. Anna Yang for supporting students every year and in particular for their generosity, without which this international internship experience would not have been possible.

Danielle Girard (right) in the WFP office with colleagues Margherita Giordano (left) and Ivette Garcia (center).