Guest post by Molly Edwards: 10 things I learned when working at APIE
Molly interned with us over for three months over the summer, supporting many strands of our work and getting hands on experience with an international charity. Here are the top things she will take away with her as she goes back to her final year at university.
The recent launch of the Sustainable Development Goals has been the latest step in working towards a prosperous future for all people across the globe. Goal 4 of the ambitious 17 global targets concerns education:‘to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’. This has served to me throughout my internship as an example of what International Development in education might be about, of what every individual can do to help build a meaningful future, and what the true significance of education is around the world.
Rather handily, the Goals are presented in the form of a list to which I have constantly referred during my time at APIE. In the spirit of lists, I have pondered over what it is I will be taking away with me at the end of my time here. These range from an overall understanding and interest in something that I knew only a little about before, as well as unexpected morsels of information that have amused, bemused, and enthused me along the way.
1. Swerve the stereotyping – I was already acutely aware of the danger of stereotypes when I started working here at APIE. My research into the charity prior to interview had revealed to me that they were too, and my first observation was their conscious omission of images of extreme poverty. I had never truly thought through the consequences of self-presentation as a charity, but quickly learned that in the third sector, there is often use of the poverty-stricken stereotype to gain public support. I have been continually impressed by the conviction and determination of everyone at APIE to represent Rwanda as the truly forward-thinking, rapidly developing country that it is.
2. Tell them what they want to know! – It had been a long time since I had written anything of practical use outside of my university essays when I embarked upon my first draft of a grant application. As it turns out, Hamlet-esque pondering and unnecessary elaborative phrasing is rather futile when submitting an application to a board of trustees who have hundreds of submissions to sift through. In this way, working here has been a truly useful exercise in tailoring my writing in a professional context and has enabled me to think differently about content and audiences.
3. Network, Network, Network: ‘It’s not what you know but who you know’ – that old adage. A huge amount of hard work goes in to each individual task but I have also learnt a lot about the large network of organisations and individuals that make APIE’s work possible, and the continual stream of new connections which will keep improving the future of APIE.
4. The devil is in the database: My first task was research based - I had to create a database in which I could store all this information. I hardly excelled in Excel at secondary school (when I believe I last used it), and it seemed that nothing had changed. While I eventually learnt the ins and outs of it – at least enough to end up with something that mildly resembled a database – I am still a strong advocate of the good old fashioned paper and pen.
5. The trials of international communications: My work here has extended far beyond what I initially thought I would be doing, which has brought pleasant – and occasionally daunting - surprises. I found myself researching all aspects of an ICT project, which ranged from the necessary software for individual devices to larger infrastructure to set the whole thing up. Researching such things proved to be at times difficult… in summary, it is near impossible to find out about installing solar power in Rwanda while sitting on a laptop in Brighton. This is why having APIE staff on the ground in Rwanda is absolutely vital to their work and an important part of the sustainability plan I learned so much about.
6. The triumphs of international communications: On the flipside of this, the true power of international collaboration and partnerships has been demonstrated to me on many occasions – from learning about Skype calls between the Head Teacher at Umubano primary School and the Head Teacher at the Wroxham School, to receiving pictures from the students at UPS to help us with a Twitter campaign.
7. The maze of social media: Helping out with APIE’s social media accounts introduced me to digital communications in a completely different light. I learnt a lot about finding what engages the public and how to accumulate interest. Again, it was an exercise in keeping my writing brief, particularly on Twitter where the limit is 140 characters.
8. Job satisfaction: The thing that has made the greatest impression on me while working here has been the absolute satisfaction in completing any task. Each little thing contributes – in however obscure a way - to the greater mission of the charity: to accelerate and enhance learning outcomes for young people everywhere. With that in mind, you know that your work is worthwhile. I learnt so much about the transformative power of high quality education, and feel that my work has really helped make a difference for a worthwhile cause.
9. Collaboration is key: The name A Partner in Education spells this out, but the pivotal role of partnership extends far beyond the name and into the nature of the charity – and not just in its international collaborations. I have really enjoyed working with a small team in the Brighton office, whose knowledge and advice has been invaluable.
10. The importance of International Development: It probably goes without saying that this is one of the most valuable lessons that I will take from my experience at APIE. I have learned that the importance in charity lies not simply in giving aid, but in how it is given. I have learned that collaboration is instrumental in facilitating development, and I have learned, most importantly, that International Development is not a one-way street. Through working at APIE, I have found that we learn and develop as much as those to whom we give aid.