After a two-day-training at the headquarter of UN’s World Food Programme in Rome, four pairs of students enrolled in Dutch universities will depart for a six-month internship at WFP in Gambia, Zambia, Madagascar or Tanzania. They will have the opportunity to apply their academic knowledge to help local WFP workers solve strategic and logistic problems and contribute to the development of countries and their inhabitants. TNT GEP will provide them with an insight into corporate social responsibility programs and public-private partnerships. In March 2010 all participants meet again in Rome and have a debriefing with TNT and WFP. They return to Holland with many valuable contacts and a life-changing experience.
If you would like to know more about doing an internship at WFP or read the weblogs of the participating students, check out the website: www.tntgep.org. Do you think you are ready for this challenge? You can apply at the website, the deadline of application is April 26th 2009
In September 2008 three couples of students left to have this life changing experience. One of the students Laurentiu Tirca, now in Madagascar, is working as a member of the Vulnerability Assessment and Mapping unit, which executes food security surveys and proposes measures to target vulnerable groups. Spotting a recruitment poster in his campus at the University of Groningen made him apply for the Global Experience Programme because of his interest in development issues. According to Laurentiu: "Coming here, I got a really good idea of what development work is like and how I could fit into it in my future career".
TNT GEP started for Laurentiu with attending the assessment centre where, in the end, six people were chosen after a series of tests. After being chosen, the intern started with two days of preparation training in Rome at WFP headquarters. Afterwards he went to Madagascar in Africa to start his work. Momentarily, his internship there involves assisting the VAM team with data analysis, using SPSS to draw conclusions based on surveys. "This in order to identify the vulnerable target groups and to recommend measures for intervention", he states. Leaving the safe boundaries at home for Madagascar is quite a step. Adapting to the way of living is essential and the cultural differences are large. "I was a bit shocked at first, seeing for instance that it’s difficult to walk outside after dark since there is no street lighting – and in many parts of the city, no pavements", Laurentiu Tirca says.
The experience of working in Africa and working with African people has taught him many things. "Differences do matter, and the same words do not mean the same thing everywhere. I found it harder to work with African people than with European ones, because the former are much more indirect in what they expect of you, which sometimes can be confusing. Also, I found that they pay a lot of respect to the fact that we are European. Sometimes they put themselves below us and wait for us to take the lead, even though they are much better prepared professionally and much more experienced. This is good in a way, as it is an opportunity for me to show initiative." "Moreover, Madagascar is different from mainland Africa", he states, "as it has a mixture of African and Asian cultures." According to Laurentiu Tirca people are more serious, diligent and always on the move. Therefore he believes that the country has much bigger potential to develop than the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Another student selected for the TNT GEP on the national selection day in April 2008 was Janno van der Laan, who is now doing an internship in Zambia in the mainland of Africa. "I work at the country office in the logistic department and at the moment I’m developing a new WFP project", he says. Why did he apply for the TNT GEP? "From the first moment it seemed to be tailor made for me. I am passionate about Africa and want to work in the field of development assistance. I graduated in both development studies and international relations." Furthermore he states that working in Africa with the world’s biggest humanitarian aid agency is the perfect way to get to know the field, since he has the chance to see how development assistance works in reality.
After the introductory days in Rome with the other TNT GEP participants, he headed for the development assistance tasks waiting for him in Zambia. In a following conversation with the people in his working department he could decide what he wanted to do. A new project called Purchase for Progress directly caught his attention and interest. "This project is designed to buy our food directly from the small farmer", he explains about the project. Furthermore he states that it is a challenging project. "I have meetings most of the days with experts in the field, who make me feel sometimes inexperienced and dumb. But I just do my best to keep up."
Similar to Laurentiu Tirca, Janno van der Laan had to adapt to the African way of living in Zambia. According to him the differences are so immense and visible that he has not found his position completely yet. "It is difficult for me to accept that I am white, and therefore have a different way and standard of living than the average Zambian. Instead of living in my villa behind a big gate I would love to be amongst the people and sit outside a hut in the sand at some fire, experiencing the way people live around here. The gap between the rich and poor is so big here that I hardly seem to be able to overcome it somehow." From his perspective Africa is like a wrinkled face. "Each wrinkle telling its own story."
Besides the difficulties of adapting, Janno has so far learned a lot about working in Africa and working with African people. "Things are more straightforward here, rich and poor, you live and you die, in between you enjoy life. Nothing complicated. Living here brings you back to the bare basics of life, life in its raw form. On this continent there seems to be more tears and more joy at the same time. Because life is short and you never know what tomorrow holds in store for you, people tend to experience the now much more intense. For me there is a well of wisdom hidden on this continent", he says about the society and the working sphere.
The experiences of Laurentiu and Janno are those of a lifetime. The insight they have gained and the challenges they have met facing Africa as young European students will probably influence the rest of their lives. Do you want to have this experience by yourself? Just go for it…!