Shruti volunteered with Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) from December 2019 to January 2020. In this blog, she lists down seven of her major takeaways from her time at YUVA.
‘Transformation is often more about unlearning than learning.’ Richard Rohr
Every educational institution is emphasising on the ‘internship experience’ for students to get acquainted and to build an established relationship between academic knowledge and its practical implementation. As a student of humanities with a specialisation in Sociology, I was required to undertake an internship with an organisation working in the social service sector. After a lot of research on various non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Mumbai, I finally found the organisation that interested me the most- Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA), a non-profit development organisation working for the development and empowerment of marginalised groups and communities through various initiatives in areas of poverty alleviation, urban policy and governance, community development as well as environment and sustainability issues.
I was very intrigued and decided to dive right into the world of their work. When I started my internship, I was a blank slate; confused and not knowing what to expect, which was really daunting and unnerving. However, I must say that the various opportunities offered to me by YUVA really instilled a sense of confidence in me and helped me become more competent. In order to engage effectively with the community and various groups, certain skills are very important which are either predisposed or learned during the process. I would like to share seven skills I honed through various activities during my internship with YUVA which served as a bridge between my knowledge and the ground realities.
1. Communication skills
I was always aware that strong communication skills are a prerequisite in any organisation. The gamut of activities and initiatives undertaken by an organisation needs to be communicated effectively to the stakeholders as well as beneficiaries. During my internship, I got an opportunity to work on my written and oral communication. I understood the process of organising and articulating content according to the platform and requirements of the organisation. While penning down my thoughts for the blog, I focused on my personal experiences and reflections to enrich it, however while documenting the event reports, I kept the tone official and formal.
I was given the responsibility to support the development of content and design for the fundraising campaign which aimed at helping children in distress. I helped in developing content for YUVA’s social media platforms as well. Through this task, I learnt to use a design application which I did not know of before. This task enabled me to understand the importance of using social media platforms in reaching out to others. I realised that only strong writing is not enough and it is also important to present the content in a manner which is visually appealing by working with different templates such as posters, animations and infographics. I was also responsible for documenting the proceedings and preparing event reports of workshops and trainings of the organisation that I attended, which taught me how to best communicate the information which would intrigue people to know more about YUVA.
2. Interpersonal skills
My second important takeaway from my internship is that building meaningful relationships with people can help in accomplishing goals and widen our networks. My very first task was to assist the organisation in carrying out the baseline survey in the Behrampada community in Bandra. There was an elderly woman in the community who was ready to provide information but was apprehensive of how it would be used. She said, ‘You are asking for my personal details, how can you assure me that you will only use it for official purposes?’ My main role at that time was not to convince her to give me the data but to address her apprehensions patiently and give her the confidence that she was seeking. This enabled me to establish a rapport with her and gather the required data for the survey. I understood that relationship building is more than just talking to someone and also means actively listening to others, showcasing empathy and respecting each other’s opinions and thoughts.
3. Soft skills (adaptability and taking initiative)
I always wondered how are some people so much more efficient as compared to others? After working in YUVA, I learnt the value of honing my ‘soft skills’. Our personal qualities and attributes also impact our quality of work, which is why these internship experiences are effective in helping us become self aware and work on our own personality.
Once my internship commenced, I was involved in various types of tasks such as field engagements, documentation, communications and capacity building activities. I learnt how to transition from one task to another smoothly and also cope with the requirements of every task. Soft skills are of utmost importance while working on the field. I might have all the technical skills of working in the community however if I lack attitudinal attributes such as trustworthiness, empathy and respect, I will never be successful in achieving my goals and establishing rapport with the community members which is something I developed due to my internship. I also showed keen interest in learning by taking initiative and actively participated in all the activities of the organisation such as attending mohalla committee meetings and sessions on child sexual abuse with the girls in the community.
4. Problem solving skills
It is only normal for problems and challenges to arise on the field however, what sets a person apart from others is the problem solving ability. Due to certain political developments, the situation in the community had become very tense. When I visited households in the community, some of the members were not confident to share their personal details with me due to confidentiality concerns of their data.
I realized that my main role was firstly to allow them a space to vent their concerns. I spoke to them about YUVA and their initiatives in the community. I assured them that this information is confidential and told them that they have every right to their privacy. The tension was palpable and I could empathise with their pain and fears. In these situations, I learnt that firstly we ourselves need to stay calm and maintain peace through dialogue and effective communication. I was also careful that I don’t speak in any manner which will increase their tension or hurt their sentiments. Even though the women were not keen on sharing their details for the survey, we could manage to establish peace in the community by understanding each other’s perspective.
5. Critical thinking and research skills
Along with working on my technical and soft skills, my internship with YUVA enabled me to critically analyse policies. Reading assignments on the legislations for domestic workers and construction workers as well as the project report on Convergence of Agricultural Initiatives in Maharashtra (CAIM) enabled me to understand the issues faced by the target groups, evaluate the gaps in these policies in relation to the target groups and learn about the initiatives undertaken by YUVA to address these issues through advocacy.
I strongly believe that the ability to think critically and analyse the situation from different lenses is a very resourceful skill in an organisation because it helps in strategising effective solutions. I learnt certain essentials of being a good researcher as well. I gained a deeper understanding about research tools such as survey and focus group discussions and implementing ethical considerations such as acquiring consent from respondents to collect and record their information, keeping their information confidential and reporting data with honesty and integrity.
6. Capacity building skills
The most valuable experience for me has been attending all the capacity building workshops and trainings organized by YUVA. I learnt that in order to enhance my potential, I must also constantly upgrade myself with new knowledge and skills. The workshops were very enriching because they covered a wide range of issues right from child rights and child participation, sustainable development, homelessness, mental health, gender issues, policy advocacy and environmental issues such as climate change. I learnt that even though all these themes were different in the nature of their discourse and focus areas, they were ultimately connected with each other because they discussed at length, the impact of these problems on various groups and communities at the grassroots and the strategies that can be adopted by YUVA as an organization at the individual, community and advocacy level.
Some of the workshops which I was a part of were the State Consultation and Workshop on Sustainable Development with the participation of children, youth interaction between students from Monash University and youth groups of Mumbai, workshop on carbon and energy footprinting and study circle sessions on policies and climate change. Personally, being a part of these workshops helped me expand my knowledge, analyse the interrelationship between various structures and agencies in society and understand the impact at the grassroot level.
7. Work ethics
As a student of social sciences, I have developed my theoretical understanding however I lacked the technical know-how and ethical considerations working on the field with various groups and communities. I was involved in a wide range of tasks which helped me in theory linkage through practice based activities. Prioritising tasks and setting goals enabled me in deciding my course of action through which I managed to complete my tasks on time.
The strength of an organisation lies in their teamwork. In all activities, I had certain responsibilities which I fulfilled by collaborating with others. During the Eco-saviour campaign which aimed at cleaning garbage and spreading awareness about this issue in Behrampada; I participated in the execution of the event. All of us divided our duties and worked together to successfully carry out the event. My colleague Asma and I conducted sessions on child sexual abuse with the girls in the community. We worked together as a team right from deciding the topic, planning the content, mobilizing girls for each session and conducting the session due to which we could achieve our goal and execute the task smoothly. I learnt that every task is important and ultimately contributes in achieving a larger goal envisaged by the organization.
I can say for sure now that my internship transformed me into a confident person and equipped me with all the skills required to understand social problems better. The wealth of knowledge I gained and the wonderful professionals I have worked with at YUVA has greatly impacted my life and made my journey memorable.
Shruti Ravi, Intern, YUVA