Youth Speaks: Interning & Volunteering

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Our blog this week is part of the Youth Speaks series. Alysha Chelliah has just recently completed a summer internship at a small INGO in London and shares a very personal account of her experience.

I am 19, done with my first year of university, and recently finished interning for a small INGO in London. The INGO operates a charity shop in London, whilst also fundraising conventionally (grants, donations) for education programs in Asia. Following from Muneezay’s post ‘Thinking about… aid work’, I reflected on my own position as an intern at a small INGO. It’s true, the lines between intern and volunteer can sometimes blur- but that only provides an interesting array of experiences and make it memorable.

From July 2014 till now I committed a large portion of my summer to this international charity by working in the shop and also the office four times a week.

The day-to-day activities varied significantly, but on the whole my tasks included: sorting donations, tagging clothes and, on occasion, acting as shop manager. In relation to the charity itself, I was writing grant applications, and regularly updating database of grant making bodies. Some CV-worthy achievements included: working on a fundraising project and helping facilitate the signing of a partnership agreement between the charity and a local restaurant.

Nonetheless, many of my friends questioned why I liked working here (more specifically: why I spent so much of my summer as an unpaid worker). The answer comes from all of the reasons above. I learnt everything from report writing to customer services and ended up spending my summer with friendly people in a lovely working environment. Since it is a small charity, it barely took any time for me to feel integrated and start referring to it as ‘my charity’ and ‘our shop’, despite the fact that I was working only temporarily.

Looking more specifically at my tasks from, sorting donations, working the till, and thinking about fundraising, they have changed how I view the charity sector. Having only previously raised money for charity through one-off events, I never realised how much goes on behind the scenes. I know now its highly dependent on immaculate research, meticulous report writing and up to date social media activity!

In the end, there are a lot of differences in what you gain from working from 9.45am-6.30pm three times a week, rather than volunteering for a few hours a week. Despite having to do monotonous tasks (e.g. tagging 15 boxes of kids’ clothes), interning at a charity shop has undeniably given me a mix of experiences- both personally and professionally. I have had to work constantly for most of my day, but doing it free of charge made me become aware of my own commitment and shaped my own work ethic.

What I value most is the amount of trust placed in the team of dedicated interns and volunteers. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t questioned why they trusted me, a 19 year old, with some of these responsibilities (putting price labels on clothes is one thing, but opening/closing the shop and approaching businesses on behalf of the charity is another). However this is a testament recognising your staff’s strengths and pushing them that much further in order to learn.

As Muneezay has pointed out, the line between interns and volunteers may not always be clear. However, working for a small charity has been great as I got to learn about the third sector and acquired a range of skills by being in a tight-knit working environment. Of course, this is an outcome of the expectations and guidance provided by the charity but also me realising, at some point, how beneficial this experience can be. I may have unknowingly stumbled upon this opportunity, but am greatly appreciative of being given the chance to intern here. I value the opportunity to have gained new skills and would recommend it to anyone who is looking to get exposure to third sector work.

Alysha is studying Philosophy & Psychology at Durham University, Class of 2016.

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