Written by: Malak Azer
I first arrived at the Link Ethiopia office in Finsbury Park, London on July 5th 2016, excited and also a bit nervous to start my six weeks internship. This being my the first internship experience, I had no idea what to expect – hence the nervousness. It did not help that the night before, the discover page on Snapchat had a story titled: ’10 first internship horror stories!’ Being the superstitious Egyptian that I am I avoided reading the article for fear that some element of it could somehow foreshadow my coming experience. Say what you may about superstitions, but not reading that article worked- my time at Link Ethiopia was the furthest thing from a horror story as you could get!
I had been in London for nearly one year, studying International Relations at London School of Economics and Political Science. Although only in Zone 2, Finsbury Park was very different from any area I had ever been to within the first zone. It had a much more laid back (although still quite bustling!) vibe than that of Central London, and immediately reminded me of home, with its plethora of fruit stalls, international food markets and cafes, and small clothing shops selling brightly-coloured fabrics, saris, hijabs, and dresses. The familiar sounds, sights, and smells left me feeling relaxed as I walked up the stairs to Link Ethiopia’s office, knowing that I could come back here in the future whenever I felt homesick!
My six weeks volunteering for Link Ethiopia, other than being truly enjoyable, was also an eye-opening experience. I mainly helped the team with communications, and part of that was writing and editing blog posts. Like most first-year university students, I was undecided on the path I wanted to pursue following graduation, but working on the Link Ethiopia blog made me realise how much I loved to write, and led me to place journalism at the top of my prospective careers list. However, since I especially enjoyed working for an organisation that helps improve the lives of others, I would want to make sure my writing and reporting shine a spotlight on the main issues facing our world today and encourage people to take active action to combat such issues. Blogging for Link Ethiopia also led me to think about starting my own blog about Egyptian politics and culture, which I’m planning to start work on very soon.
Whilst researching material for these blog posts, as well as reading blog posts written by past volunteers and sponsors, I learned a lot, not only about myself but about Ethiopia as well- a country in close proximity to my homeland Egypt but one I ashamedly knew very little about. Always having considered myself more Middle Eastern than African, I had limited knowledge of most lands south of Egypt. Nevertheless, my experience here has transformed that! I can now retell a short history of Ethiopia’s days under Emperor Haile Selassie, through to the communist takeover and the present, I know about the country’s traditional food (though I have yet to sample it), its indigenous wildlife, its historical sites, its language, its religion, and its cultural practices, as well as its struggles and successes. Unsurprisingly, I now feel very connected to Ethiopia, despite having never visited the country. That being said, whilst writing a blog post about the tours of Ethiopia run by Link Ethiopia, I felt a strong impetus to sign up and go on one myself, so that may soon change!
Apart from blogging, I also communicated with some of the schools that Link Ethiopia’s partner charity The Kindu Trust works with, and contacted several councils around London to publicise Link Ethiopia’s School-Linking Programme, as well as Link Ethiopia’s Child Sponsorship Programme supporters. I particularly enjoyed communicating information about the Child Sponsorship Programme. The usual concern people harbour about donating to charities is the fact that they often do not have any guarantee that their money will be going towards their intended aim. However, with the Child Sponsorship Programme that concern disappears, since Link Ethiopia provide sponsors with regular updates on the child’s progress, their school results, as well as their future plans. Thus sponsors genuinely get to experience the difference their money makes, which is why I was really happy to be promoting the Child Sponsorship Programme on social media and attempting to find new sponsors for children whose own sponsors no longer supported them.
Additionally, I learnt about SEO sweeps and how to perform those for Link Ethiopia’s website, which was well worth it’s time, since having knowledge of how to generate website traffic and increasing search engine awareness is an invaluable skill to possess in today’s technologically-driven world. It is also one that could help me with my own blog! I also found it enjoyable gaining insight into what having an impact on social media presence entails. Sharing images, quotes, and news articles on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to have them reach the largest number of people as possible is a much more meticulous process than one would imagine! Although I managed to learn, sharing a post at lunch time is when it typically receives the most engagement!
Apart from communications, I also helped the Link Ethiopia team with their fundraising efforts. Primarily, this involved researching various Trusts, and considering whether or not we were eligible to receive grants from them. This was another task that I found to be stimulating. This was because we found hundreds of Trusts that could potentially gift our charity. It was very reassuring to find out that a large number of people are incredibly concerned about the fate of others living in plight, even on a different continent, and willing to expend significant resources to help relieve poverty, pain and aid development. As an International Relations student, I was not accustomed to viewing our world as a compassionate one, but in that moment it didn’t seem so bleak after all!
Overall, my experience was a very positive one. Not only did I gain invaluable experience of what working in London’s third sector is like, it also helped me to self-reflect and discover where my true passions lie. The London team are all wonderful, incredibly friendly people, with inspiring energy and commitment, and I am grateful to have worked alongside them and contributed towards making our world a more giving, conscientious, and globally aware place.