Sally Hughes: working with the Edith Wilkins Street Children Foundation in Darjeeling, India

Sally Hughes (right) and Ciara Ronayne discuss their placement

My placement with the Edith Wilkins Street Children Foundation to date has been most fulfilling. When I first arrived, I initially spent time getting to know the children as it is most important that they feel comfortable around me, as some children may impart sensitive information that has not been learnt of yet by the counsellor or staff.

Sean Dumphey, a doctor from Ireland, travelled to Darjeeling as he is keen to set up a physical therapy workshop. The people of Darjeeling travel miles everyday up and down hills, sometimes with enormous loads on their backs. This results in direct strain on their body so Sean has come up with a culture appropriate plan to implement in the coming months to give help to the active citizens of Darjeeling.

After Sean had left, Denis McClean, the UNISDR chief of communications, arrived at the foundation. He owns a funding agency named GLAS that has supported the foundation in the past by providing funds to rebuild houses. Denis conducted interviews about the earthquake that occurred in Darjeeling in 2017 which affected the foundation. He conducted an interview with Namrata, the Assistant Director of the foundation, about the safety precautions that they took during the earthquake. Denis then conducted an interview with Ciara and I  about our impressions of our time here so far.

I have written many funding proposals for the foundation in order for them to renovate the foundation as a matter of urgency. Writing funding proposals was quite time consuming and has taken up the majority of my time in the office to date. These have all been written and given to the CEO Edith Wilkins, as many funding agencies have closed applications for funding or India is not on the list.

I was also given the task, along with Ciara, to repaint the classroom in the foundation to make it more appealing to the children and to brighten the classroom. The foundation also wants us to leave our mark as a memory of our time here.

We have been given the task of promoting the foundation on social media and redoing their Instagram and ensure that posts are more fluent than what they used to be. This includes weekly updates and promotion of fundraising events in Ireland.

We have also worked alongside the case worker and counsellor, helping to write case files and improve the English in the documents. I have learned a lot from this work and am interested in it as my possible future career.

The fifteenth Foundation Day took place on 14 April, which was a great day full of celebration. The children performed songs and dances they had prepared and there was a feast with celebrations after. I also performed on Foundation Day. I sang Irish music to give all at the foundation an insight into what Irish music sounds like. I have also taught a music class which consisted of teaching the children fun songs, which I will continue during my time here.

Both Ciara and I have conducted home visits and surveys with the staff from the foundation. Follow-up visits on rehabilitated children is some of the most vital work carried out by staff in the foundation.

On Monday 29 April, Ciara and I travelled to Kolkata with our co-worker Anup as he was completing IT training for the foundation. We were invited to travel to gain a better understanding of poverty in other parts of India where some of the children in the foundation have come from. It was an eye-opening experience as the poverty in Kolkata is much more extreme than what I see in Darjeeling every day. Travelling with Anup, being able to communicate better and understand situations more fully, was most helpful. My experience in Kolkata was most certainly eye-opening into both humanitarian and development work.

To date, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Edith Wilkins Foundation, and I look forward to what is in store for my remaining time in Darjeeling.

Fionnuala O’Connell: working with the Umbrella Foundation in Kathmandu, Nepal

I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal on 2 April after travelling for about 15 hours from Dublin airport. Descending into the valley, I was welcomed by a landscape of hills engraved by terracing stretching across the width of the land, and houses mounted against the slope, almost camouflaged.

In spent the first few days walking the streets of Thamel, taking in a city alive with creativity, vibrancy enhanced by prayer flags, and business of every type, displayed and open. This movement and life has brought congestion and pollution, adding to the atmosphere of a country recovering from about ten years of civil conflict and a devastating earthquake.

At the end of the week I moved to a guesthouse by Swayambhu, i.e. the monkey temple, and like the name, it is a place protected by monkeys, roaming freely and living in harmony with the community. I was introduced to them on my first day there while walking from the market, naively with rice in my hand. When I got held up by a troop of monkeys and with less than a week in, I found myself engaging in a game of tug of war with a monkey without even realising what was happening. I learned an important lesson that day … to never travel with a transparent bag and the realization that there is a time and place for everything, including a game of tug of war.

Interning in the Umbrella Foundation office so far been an amazing experience. It has given me an insight into issues around ethical volunteering and child trafficking in Southern and Southeast Asia. Working closely in an office with the most welcoming Nepali colleagues has allowed me to get a greater understanding of the social, cultural and political environment. This intimate positioning exposes me to the everyday running of an NGO and the challenges they face.

My main tasks involves aiding in the design of a monitoring and evaluation toolkit for a scholarship and income generating programme. The toolkit will include plans and tools to carry out baseline and end-line surveys, beneficiary selection and programme evaluation. Working on this task has allowed me the freedom to practice programme design, and explore different methods, concepts and ideologies around monitoring and evaluation. Creating a sample project proposal for the programme has allowed me to think like a programme manager, outlining steps that will be needed for implementation and considering the different variables that are to be considered, such as availability of resources, human capital, cultural appropriate practices, values, etc. This experience has highlighted the importance of context in creating a programme design, learning that a framework that may make sense in one context is not necessarily applicable in another.

Fundraising has become a constant and fun part of my week with the hosting of a fundraising trivia night every Thursday to raise funds for youth activities. Organising this event on a daily basis, although slightly scary at first, has become second nature. It has allowed me to increase my public speaking and networking skills, but most importantly has prepared me for a life as the ultimate quiz master.

There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Ciara Ronayne: helping street children in Darjeeling, India

Photo credit: Karthik Chandran @ Unsplash

Since working here at the Edith Wilkins Street Children Foundation it is evidently clear the sheer amount of dedication, passion, and hard work all the staff members put in. All of them put in overtime most weeks to ensure the children are being looked after to the best of their abilities. I’ve learnt that there is always work to be done and always a child in need here. After being given about a week and to settle in and become more familiar with the foundation, its staff and the children, we had the opportunity to meet a top donor to the foundation, Denis McClean. As not only a longterm donor to the foundation, but also as the Chief in Communication and Outreach for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Dennis has spent a huge amount of years working in development. We got a great insight into how the staff looked after one of their top donors and it was great to see the in-depth insight to the foundation that he was given. This reiterated the importance of transparency for an NGO, especially with donors.

Work-wise, I have researched various Irish donors and have completed several funding proposals for various aspects of the foundation which need immediate attention. I have also applied for a recreational programme from the Indian District Magistrate. We learned that with the magnitude of children who are directly dependent on the foundation for food, clothing, shelter, medical aid and education, they have no money remaining for the maintenance of the premises and its infrastructure. My classmate Sally and I consulted local contractors in relation to these proposals, putting our communication skills and the language barrier to the test. Having received our estimates from the local contractor, I was able to use my IT skills to draw up a budget and timeframe on Excel to be included with the proposal.

I’ve gotten the opportunity to coordinate the Edith Wilkins Instagram page with Edith and Sally. I have fixed the page’s design, promoted it, and posted updates from the foundation.

Sally and I got the opportunity to accompany our co-worker Anup to Kolkata where he had to complete a compulsory training course for the foundation. Through this, we gained a better insight into the poverty in India. While Darjeeling does have poverty, it is not as obvious sometimes. Seeing the poverty and street children and the living conditions of some people in a big city like Kolkata was an eye-opening experience. Children from Kolkata have ended up in the foundation before, for various reasons such as being sent to the hills for child labour. We had the opportunity to visit the Mother Theresa orphanage, which is similar organisation to the EWSCTF; however, it cares for disabled children. They also run a medical clinic for the poor; we had the opportunity to see how it was run. I found the experience both insightful and interesting.

During my time here so far, I have really gotten to know the rest of the staff. I’ve gotten a real insight into the various duties which each employee has, such as that of the case worker and the counsellor, and have been able to join other staff in the field doing house survey visits. 

The work done here at the foundation is incredible and has been extremely insightful. It is completely different seeing and experiencing some of the things we have been learning about the past three years. Actively being involved in this kind of work in a developing country reminds me why I chose this course. I can see how it really drives and motivates the passion of everyone involved to work hard and provide for these vulnerable kids who have nothing and nobody else to rely on.

Anna Dellow: supporting Tibetan rights in Dharamshala, India

I have had the opportunity to intern with the Tibetan Centre of Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) in Dharamshala, India for my placement. TCHRD is an NGO that aims to expose the human rights violations, experienced in Tibet by the Tibetan people at the hands of the Chinese government, through monitoring and reporting. I am half-way into my internship, and it has been a great experience for me. Upon my arrival, I was given a list of tasks and responsibilities to complete during the placement, along with a warm welcome. I was very excited to start working with this organization and fulfill any project that was asked of me.

TCHRD is an office-based organization with a few field officers, but I would be working in an office with other interns, as well as another student that I came with. The first projects I was tasked with involved updating the organization’s mailing list and email design layout. Despite having a mailing list, they had yet to send regular updates on the human rights situation in Tibet, which would become my responsibility until the end of my internship.

I also had to design the layout for their monthly analyses and translations digest. This was a new publication for the organization, so as a result, I had complete creative freedom for this publication. This entailed the translation of major Tibetan publications published in the Chinese language, as well as relevant social media and published media translations, to inform the public on publications that the Chinese government fails to translate into English. At the moment, the only edition that has been released is the April 2019 publication.

Due to another intern’s early departure, I also had the opportunity to design the layout for the organization’s annual report in English, Tibetan and Chinese. Despite thoroughly enjoying this task, I found it quite challenging due to the language barrier and significant time constraint due to the proposed release date.

I have assisted my colleagues in various posts for the website. This includes posts in relation to the World Press Freedom Day campaign they are running, and uploading the annual reports in English, Tibetan and Chinese to the websites for release.

My most recent project has been to write a special report for the right to fair trial for Tibetans in China. I have begun the research for this; however, this will most likely take up the remainder of my placement as it is intended to be an extensive review and will be translated into Tibetan, in order to inform Tibetans on their rights. I am especially excited for this task as it is a very interesting topic in the international community and will be a formally publicized report on behalf of the organization.

I truly value this placement experience and look forward to the second half of my internship.

Ryan O’Connell: promoting Vietnam’s agricultural produce

My name is Ryan O’Connell, I am 22 years of age and I am from Cork city. Studying International Development and Food Policy in UCC has given me the opportunity to travel and live in Vietnam for placement, an opportunity that I have been eagerly looking forward to since I began my studies. I am doing an internship for an NGO called the Centre for Development and Integration (CDI). Although my job title/description is for a marketing and branding internship, my tasks and duties go far beyond what the title would infer.

My main aim is to increase the awareness and brand recognition of VietFarm. VietFarm is a Vietnamese agricultural standardizing body set up by the Centre for Development and Integration, thanks to the support and funding of Irish Aid. One of my main tasks was to research the requirements and standards of various different markets around the world; to understand what the opportunities and challenges of exporting Vietnamese agricultural products to higher valued markets are. One such market with future potential for Vietnamese exports is the European market, due to the new European Vietnamese Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) which has been proposed and could bring a major economic boost to both economies.

To increase the traceability and transparency of VietFarm products, I have researched and received proposals from partners involved in blockchain systems. This technological advancement could increase the export potential and hence improve the livelihood of producers, as well as prevent the wastage of resources, resulting in greater environmentally sustainable agricultural practices in Vietnam. Another task of mine for CDI is to create more social media platforms for VietFarm in order to engage with a larger target audience. I had to create a social media policy for members of CDI staff as well as a logbook to easily and effectively organise content. I have mainly concentrated on producer case stories as well as short pieces about the benefits of VietFarm standards.

I have also been given the opportunity to by CDI to visit VietFarm producers in Moc Chau. During the visit I had to opportunity to see the training courses take place as well as prepare for events taking place on the farm. VietFarm had organized a farmer’s market, where producers could sell their products and showcase their hard work. The trip also consisted of a charity run through the mountainous region of Moc Chau. My duty was to take photographs of the event. After the run we went to a local school to donate the money raised during the event. Finally, we walked around the school picking up any rubbish that had been dumped.

I have gained vital experience in report-writing, marketing, researching, teamwork and how an NGO is run. My experience with CDI has changed my perception of NGOs. I am now able to fully appreciate all of the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.

Debra Lane: empowering women in Mumbai, India

Visit to slum area Anand Nagar in Chembur, helping with classes and bringing stationery and school supplies

I am completing placement with Stree Mukti Sanghatana (SMS) in Mumbai. This is a women’s liberation organisation, founded in 1975. The key aim of the organisation is to achieve a gender just world through providing healthcare and education to various communities/slum areas across Mumbai.

The organisation runs ten daycare centres for children of working mothers. It also runs an adolescent sensitization program called Judnyasa (curiosity) which is oriented towards school going children, covering gender issues, stress management, sexuality and environmental concerns.

SMS has set up seven family counselling centres that help women who are victims of domestic abuse.

A huge aspect of the organisation’s work revolves around waste pickers. They began this initiative in 1998 with the launch of Parisar Vikas. This is one of the organisation’s key programmes and it aims to recycle waste and create zero-waste cities. SMS have the goal of helping waste pickers through education and providing a rightful place in the economy for waste-picking.

I stay on TISS campus in an apartment which is shared between myself, Orlaith and Niamh. The apartment is very satisfactory with lots of facilities including air conditioning, basic cooking facilities, a bathroom with shower, a water filter, two bedrooms and a seating area. The campus is located roughly 15 minutes away from my workplace. I travel to work in a rickshaw every day.

I work five days a week from 11:30am-6pm in the office which is located in Shivaji Nagar. We take a half hour break from 1:30pm-2pm when we eat lunch. My key tasks are as follows:

  • To complete a report on a cancer screening camp held by SMS in 2016. I must first input the data from each patient into Excel, then analyse the data and finally complete a report on this.
  • To complete a report on the medical camps held by SMS from October 2018 to March 2019. I must input the data to Excel, analyse it, and finally I have to compare and report each medical camp.
  • I’ve also been able to visit these medical screening camps myself which I learned a lot from and found to be a rewarding experience.

Other important objectives include:

  • To use my fluent English to help with writing reports.
  • To use my computer skills in Excel and Word.
  • To provide my own knowledge and different perspectives to help the organisation improve any way I can.
  • To promote the organisation and highlight the profound successes of SMS to date.

Ruby Rose Lawlor: promoting human rights in Uganda

Photo credit: Matthew Essman @ Unsplash

My experience in Uganda and working for the Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU) has been overall an incredible eye-opening, fulfilling and life-changing experience. Even though I am only halfway through my placement, I can see that it is helping guide me through thoughts of what to focus on in the future and what aspects of development I want to focus on in life.

My workload has been steadily growing and the type of tasks given to me have with time been more tailored to my areas of interests in human rights. I began with reading all relevant literature and material published by the HRCU to gather as much understanding as possible about where I would be working for five months. I also luckily began working for them on the same week as their annual conference, the Human Rights Defenders Annual Forum, which gathers all the human rights defenders (HRDs) that they support and protect from all over Uganda together to discuss relevant issues and further build the capacity of their work.

I have also attended two fieldwork activities: one in Masaka, one in Gulu. The training in Masaka was for local leaders in human rights law and the human rights approach. The activity in Gulu (near the border of South Sudan) was a community dialogue amongst the local leaders, police, stakeholders, and general public on the topic of the anti-torture law and the public order management act. These experiences enabled me to learn on the ground what human rights are like in Uganda and also take part in the planning and running of activities with the public and powerholders in Uganda.

Within Kampala I have attended other activities on behalf of HRCU. I take notes of what is being discussed by all participants and compile activity reports on returning to the office with all the information captured. These activities include: a stakeholders networking meeting on legal and institutional environment for promotion of constitutionalism in Uganda; a roundtable meeting on good governance and accountability in electoral democracy in Uganda; the World Press Freedom Day march through Kampala city centre; and the Light For the World ‘Make 12.4% Work’ disability inclusion conference. These have all allowed me to learn more about human rights in Uganda, what is being done to improve them, and further helped me explore where my interests lie for future work through engaging with participants at these activities.

For the past month, I have been developing a template and format for a weekly activity updates newsletter. This newsletter is produced by me at the end of each week for display on the notice board in the office. I also take minutes at the weekly programmes meeting and staff meeting. I have reviewed and edited various reports to be published by HRCU. I also planned and facilitated the team-building exercises and the Work-Life Balance workshop at the HRCU’s critical reflection meeting in April.

Finally, I have been involved in writing website articles for the HRCU website. I have written one on World Press Freedom Day 2019 and am currently developing two topics of particular interest to me and that I feel the HRCU does not focus enough on within their work. These topics are drug policy and harm reduction in Uganda and LGBTI intersectional activism in Uganda. I have organized and attended meeting for research purposes for these topics and am currently writing up these topics into the draft website articles.

Ben Ryan: permaculture projects in Nkhata Bay, Malawi

I am currently on my seventh week in Nkhata Bay working mainly on a permaculture project run by Butterfly Space, a not-for-profit lodge, which trains teachers to run an after-school club. This project is active in fifteen schools across the district; these are split into three clusters of five schools so that hopefully, over time, they will develop an interdependency and can rely upon each other for seeds, tools, information etc. I’ve visited most of them already (by car, by bike or on foot) and you can see some of the pictures above.

A lot of my work involves assisting in the organisational aspects of the project since there are several visits each week, photographs needed from each school, survey information to be updated, and old documents to be reviewed and updated if necessary. Josie (the project manager) will be going back to the UK for a few months and is showing me the ropes to take over as interim project manager while she is away. In June and July there will be a number of school visits to see other permaculture sites, and nearly all schools will also host a community open day; in August there will be a teacher training hosted in Butterfly Space.

I am also working with Africa Direct on some smaller community projects, one of which is a developing a small-scale moringa farm with three Malawian women – Alice, Ivy and Jane. The project is called Umoyo Moringa and is based in Bewlyero village outside of Nkhata Bay. The project has been running since last year and is getting to a point where the moringa is nearly harvestable. The goal of the project is to eventually develop a co-op around the farm and become one of the main producers of moringa in the Northern region, since most moringa is transported up from Southern Malawi. Moringa itself it dubbed as ‘one of the world’s new superfoods’ since it is highly nutritious, as well as relatively easy to grow, harvest and produce on a small scale.

Africa Direct is also involved in a small building project in one of the fifteen schools involved in the permaculture project. They wish to avail of the network already established and help develop these clusters. Currently we are reviewing information collected from surveys given to each of the schools and using supporting photographs to assess the needs of each school and see which school would most benefit from this project.

Everything is going well. I found a place to rent within the first two weeks of arriving. There’s a lot of multilateral relationships between small local projects and everyone helps each other out. I quickly met a lot of people living around, locals and foreigners, and have a group of mates to hang out with after work.

Niamh Colbert: educating young people in Mumbai, India

Photo by Parth Vyas @ Unsplash

My work placement with SNEHA commenced on 02/05/2019. Since then, I have been involved in numerous activities, including field visits and attending community sessions.

The community sessions that I have attended have been based on two different topics. The first session was conducted for boys and girls in Dharavi from ages 10-15, where the topic of gender-based and sexual violence was discussed. The second was based on emotional resilience and was conducted for girls aged 10-16 in a community centre in Bandra.

It has been a very interesting and enlightening experience, accompanying SNEHA’s facilitators during these sessions. It has given me an insight into how NGOs design programmes for educating the youth within vulnerable communities.

I assisted my supervisor to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Hospital in Kalwa on the 10/05/2019. We met with the Dean of the medical college with a proposal to collaborate on a health project for adolescents.

I have also been lucky to have contributed to a refresher module on nutrition and health for the youth of Mumbai. Independent research on the following topics were necessary for my involvement and contribution to this task: anaemia, tuberculosis, malaria and dengue. This has enhanced my knowledge on my own topical areas of interest and the prevalence of such disease in India’s slums, particularly during the monsoon period.

I was primarily in charge of the tuberculosis portion of the refresher module and associated activities to further engage and challenge the children. After researching the topic heavily, I designed several module activities, including flashcards on the symptoms, causes/consequences and treatment of the disease. I also included several other mind-jog activities and video clips, all of which will be transcribed into Hindi and included in the ‘Nutrition and Health’ refresher module.

I created an anaemia training PowerPoint presentation for SNEHA staff. This will be translated into Hindi and made into flip charts for home visits.

During my few weeks with SNEHA, I have also been involved in a civic action project, where myself, along with another volunteer, have travelled around communities in Dharavi and Kalwa to interview change agents about different projects.

The projects undertaken by change agents aim to tackle the following issues: open spaces becoming dumping grounds, unsafe and/or broken toilets, garbage and blocked gutters, health posts, and poor traffic signals. My involvement lies heavily in the documentation and editing of the interviews. I have also been given the task of photographing the change agents and the community areas. These images, along with relevant quotes and background summaries of each project, are to be included in a final brochure.

In addition to this, I have undertaken numerous editing, referencing and research tasks.

Kirsty Nash: working with Wells for Zoë in Mzuzu, Malawi

An academic requirement of the degree in International Development and Food Policy in UCC is to undertake a work placement with an NGO in a developing country in our third year. I am currently undertaking my five-month work placement with Wells for Zoë in Mzuzu, Northern Malawi. Wells for Zoë is a small, personal organisation, focused on providing clean water to rural communities in Malawi, but also has many other community development projects in education, sustainable agriculture, horticulture, and forestry.

When I heard about all the work being done by Wells for Zoë, I was very interested in the organisation’s bottom-up approach of working with communities to assist them to develop themselves. I was overjoyed to be accepted as an intern with Wells for Zoë. It is a significant opportunity to gain an insight into what is being done on the ground to help the rural poor in Malawi, and gain a deeper understanding of the types of issues I have been learning about throughout my studies. I have been involved in many aspects of development work since starting at Wells for Zoë, and have gained experience in both the administrative responsibilities of the organisation in addition to assisting with the various field programmes.

A core task of my internship is to increase the organisation’s online and social media presence, of which I have been updating on a daily basis to keep the public informed of the organisation’s ongoing projects and initiatives. In addition to this, I have been writing blog posts for the organisation’s website. This task has allowed me to accompany my colleagues on various field programmes, including pump installations, preschool and school visits, functions, training workshops and tree-planting projects – taking photos and videos of the projects in action and writing blogs about the visits. As well as this, I assist in the assessment and documentation of various factors of the community, including assessing the nearest water source, nearest school, crops grown, number of people who benefit from a project etc. This information is then inputted into Excel spreadsheets and added to the organisation’s database.

In addition to this, I have become involved in the educational department of the organisation. As the organisation pays fees for and supports girl students through secondary school, we facilitate extra Saturday classes to assist with their studies. A crucial policy of the organisation’s development approach is a thorough follow up procedure. I have been assisting with the assessment of the grades and educational progress of the girls. In doing so, we can further look into the background and personal problems that a girl may be facing, which might perhaps hinder her school performance. As well as assisting with this academic aspect, I have also been trained and involved in the facilitation of reusable sanitary pad workshops and life skills classes for the girls supported by Wells for Zoë.

My experience with Wells for Zoë so far has been an incredible introduction into the sectoral operations of an NGO in a developing country. Having the opportunity to engage in both administrative and field work, I have gained knowledge of how both elements of administrative and field work are necessary in the execution of effective development projects. I have also gained a well-rounded insight into how development projects and initiatives are carried out, using the organisation’s ethos of a grassroots bottom-up approach within all aspects of their developmental work.

For further information on the type of work I have been involved in with Wells for Zoë, visit my blog: