Experiences from my internship at YUVA
I’m currently a high-school student at Oberoi International School, going through the introspection and [university] application heavy, highly uncertain phase between the 11th and 12th grade. The phase where schools start demanding your undergrad major selections, counsellors want to know your “one-true academic passion” for LORs, and your parents start whispering about ambition and scholarships. When I was going through the list of potential summer internships I was drawn to YUVA by its name itself, and I don’t mean because it has the same syllables as mine. It’s not often that the words ‘youth’ and ‘action’ are put right next to each other, and while the newer generations are acknowledged as decent advocates, it was appealing to have a platform offer the chance at making substantial change as well.
This impression drove me to dig deeper into the mission and vision of YUVA, where I learnt that the organisation not only works to help marginalised communities access their rights, but also design this as an empowerment journey, that the people can themselves own and take forward. The description of an intern’s work included ‘communication, ideation, engagement, writing,’ all of which are skills I strive to have and was given the opportunity to develop, bringing up the last one with this blog post. It was for these reasons that despite having ‘CV-required’ internship experience already, YUVA sounded like a community that I genuinely wanted to give my time to, and learn from.
The first assignment I was given was related to informal sector workers in India, and had two sections to it: research their rights, wants, needs and relevant legislation and then create a campaign deck which can be used to share this information with students my age. To guide me, I was sent a considerably sizeable list of videos and articles to go through, and I do think my supervisor was a little concerned about the amount of content I was given to read. However, alongside this, she wholeheartedly endorsed that I further branch out, find my own resources, and keep at this first stage until I was satisfied with my knowledge intake. While I was given scheduling deadlines, there was no enforced upper bound or ceiling to my study intake. Typically, the goal of an ‘employer figure’ seems to only be the handed in task, but this autonomy to keep reading made me feel as though my personal learning and growth was also given priority. I admittedly over-indulged and got extremely wrapped up with an abundance of figures and opinions, but a short call with my supervisor helped me succinctly streamline my final deck.
A few years ago I learnt about the ‘laissez-faire’ leadership style, and I remember having extremely little faith in its efficacy, until becoming subject to it. There’s a sense of invigoration in being given responsibility by an appointed, full-time employed adult, and having them trust your competence. It was made evident to me that I wouldn’t be interrogated about progress three times a day, but instead would have casual follow ups, and an open invitation to reach out for help. My second task involved some more reading, this time of various annual reports, and a compilation of their written, aesthetic, and COVID-19 specific features. There was no dictated format to my work and I was given time to identify key elements and present them in a manner of my choosing. For someone quite as indecisive as I, this method of accountability can be a little trying, but it taught me to trust my instincts and not be afraid of some constructive feedback.
Belonging to the spectrum of ‘international’ schooling, it’s simple for an internship to correlate to checking off a resumé necessity, just another stepping stone for privileged students such as myself to make our way to a dream university. What I’m most grateful for from my stint with YUVA is that it uncovered an ignorance I had, masked in the polite form of an occasion to learn. I participate in Model UN, passionately read historical and political commentary, rage-text an Instagram groupchat with whatever latest systemic frustrations, and overall appreciate having political awareness and an opinion. However, I’ve learnt that awareness derives majorly from observation, and I had been oblivious to unfairness happening right in my local community. Why is it that the domestic help in the gated complex I live in don’t have specified contracts of employment? How come the people who laboured to make my accommodation live-able struggle to find homes of their own? Despite having spoken about ‘substantial change’ earlier, my biggest personal gain was just knowing more about the plights of a community that I wasn’t previously conscious of.
Day one of the internship, I filled out a form where I mentioned that my academic inclinations are economics, politics, governance etc. and that a range of careers from journalism, to humanitarian aid, and even diplomacy spark interest in me. The voices I listened to over the last month, be it my work supervisor, past interviews with informal sector workers, or even the opinion of our domestic help at home, have helped me confirm that I do, indeed, want to pursue this field of study, and I definitely want to be consistently engaged in the form of simultaneous advocacy and operation that YUVA carries out.
It’s reassuring to know that there are people, like those at YUVA, who deeply care about and put time and effort into making the world less adversity-filled for others. I would say making the world ‘easier,’ but I’m still bitter at how unfairly some groups are treated, so we’ll take baby steps for now. Thank you for reading, and I hope that you’re encouraged to help out, maybe we can even begin taking teenager steps soon.
Yuga Banerjee interned with YUVA in June-July 2021