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2017 Internship Report - Lo Wing Chi Beryl

Name: LO Wing Chi Beryl

Bachelor of Laws / Bachelor of Social Sciences (Government & Laws)

The University of Hong Kong

Position: Partnerships, Communications and Reports intern, World Food Programme (Myanmar)

Duration: August 2017 - June 2018 (9 months)

Sponsorship: United Nations Peace and Development Foundation

Supervisor: Arsen Sahakyan

In 2015, I volunteered in a small border town Mae Sot along Thai-Myanmar border to help the migrant communities fleeing spasms of ensuing violence from Myanmar. Henceforth, I have developed a deep fascination with humanitarian development issues, and a strong connection with this country. When I received the internship offer from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Myanmar after going through a series of nerve-racking assessments, it was indeed a “dream come true” moment that I would never forget in my life.

As a law and politics graduate, I always have a career aspiration of working in the United Nations. I knew the internship with WFP in Myanmar would be a fulfilling yet challenging experience. Nine months later, I am extremely blessed to have such an invaluable opportunity to learn and contribute to WFP in Myanmar, and to grow and thrive professionally and as a person.

Challenging job nature

I am fortunate enough to be assigned to the Partnerships, Communications and Reports unit under WFP Country Office in Myanmar, which has to perform three functions simultaneously - maintaining government and donor relations, disseminating information internally and externally, as well as reporting on WFP in Myanmar’s operational updates. The PCR unit is one of WFP’s most crucial department, acting as the anchor of WFP, connecting donors, media and the general public together by providing timely and consistent information about WFP’s operations and beneficiary needs.

My main duties covered almost everything that involved writing, namely drafting various emergency reports and monthly internal/external briefs, preparing donor reports and project proposals, as well as editing factsheets and news release. It was intellectually challenging to write in a highly succinct manner using precise and appropriate language, especially when there was a huge amount of information to be processed within a limited period of time. Particularly, I gained hands-on experience in handling and responding to the unprecedented Rohingya crisis, which triggered the activation of WFP’s Level 3 emergency response. Against this backdrop, efficiency and accuracy of the updates on the latest situation in the field were required. I managed to produce bi-weekly internal situation reports, as well as ten factsheets and operational briefs in a row within four days, after countless email correspondence back and forth with different units among the Country Office and the Field Offices. I was also involved in liaisons with donors and humanitarian partners to flexibly adjust beneficiary targeting and monitoring, and physical inventory check at WFP warehouses to understand more thoroughly about WFP’s operations.

It is exhilarating to be able to step outside of my comfort zone and I feel truly in my element in the fast-changing and sometimes unpredictable operating environment in Myanmar. I have certainly improved my capacity to work flexibly under pressure. In the beginning I was quite worried as I had never received any training on writing formal documents. Soon I realised i just need to believe in myself and be extra attentive and meticulous in compiling and analysing the information. Luckily my supervisors and colleagues were very supportive and helpful in facilitating the completion of projects and meetings in a systematic and timely manner. I will never forget the joy of completing insurmountable yet urgent tasks to respond to the needs of the conflict-affected people, the frustration and disappointment over certain issues, as well as the hope and despair in the development of the country – they all reinforced my determination to serve.

Peculiar political climate

The more I learnt about WFP’s programming and international development as a whole, I realised that the embedded and complicated political dynamics played a significant part in shaping the actual interventions delivered by the humanitarian sector. Following the election of a civilian government in 2015, Myanmar is undergoing a fundamental transformation in its political and social development. On the same day when I arrived in Yangon, 25 August 2017, which I will remember for the rest of my life, a series of security incidents occurred in the conflict-ridden Rakhine State; which led to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis with mass exodus and displacement of 671,000 refugees into the neighbouring Bangladesh and the subsequent food and nutrition insecurity. What intrigued me the most is the strenuous task of striking a balance between upholding humanitarian principles and respecting national security considerations.

Based on my observations, WFP in Myanmar treaded carefully in handling sensitive issues including the insurmountable access constraints imposed by the host government without compromising on any of the humanitarian principles. After all, given its mandate, WFP’s ultimate aim is to deliver timely life-saving assistance to all the affected populations regardless of ethnicity and religion. Hence, WFP vowed to build a relationship of trust with the host government to negotiate access and gradually ramped up its operations. Maintaining a low profile in its operations facilitated WFP’s operations in Myanmar to reach beneficiaries without delay. I am greatly impressed by the management’s leadership and coordination with WFP Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific and various humanitarian actors, as well as our Field Office colleagues working on the front line to deliver life-saving assistance to the people affected.

Accommodating work environment

WFP in Myanmar offers a multi-cultural environment that embraces diversity and inclusiveness. Apart from the local Myanmar national staff, there are several international staff members in our office coming from Armenia, Australia, Belgium, China, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland and Zimbabwe. My colleagues are all very experienced and open-minded professionals who are willing to offer opportunities, support and guidance and share their knowledge with me whilst collaborating on various projects. I have learnt a lot from the team and truly enjoyed every bit of my work.

In particular, I am deeply indebted to my supervisor Mr Arsen Sahakyan, Emergency Coordinator Mr Dageng Liu and Country Director Mr Dom Scalpelli for all their trust and confidence placed in me, continuous guidance and unfailing support throughout the course of my internship. Their leadership charisma, passion for work, kindness and flexibility are the very inspiring qualities that I greatly appreciate. I also worked closely with programme and supply chain management units over various projects. With the exposure to various internal management meeting and external inter-agency meetings, it is very reassuring that most of the time I was referred to as an Associate Reports Officer instead of an intern. This certainly boosted my self-confidence and motivated me to go the extra mile to uphold WFP’s mission of ‘saving lives, changing lives and feeding dreams’.

Since my internship period started in late August, I did not have the chance to meet my fellow interns from the summer batch. However, my colleagues were very friendly and kind enough to often invite me for lunch/dinner and gathering parties, which made my adaptation to Yangon so much easier. They also taught me the ways to navigate the roads in heavy traffic like a true Myanmar. Their kindness and hospitality warmed my heart and further strengthened our bonding not only as co-workers but also as lifelong friends.

It has been my privilege to be part of WFP team in Myanmar, working alongside with the humanitarian heroes on both the frontline and strategic levels. My internship with WFP in Myanmar is a truly rewarding and life-changing experience for me to see first-hand the operations of the United Nations and to be inspired by so many people. It has given me valuable insights into how operations are being prioritised and strategised in different phases of emergency. I am truly grateful for the opportunities and all the friendships that I have gained in these nine months.

Way forward

Words cannot describe how blessed I am to be able to find a field that can channel my passion into real action. This remarkable experience working in a highly operational humanitarian agency in a developing country has further reinforced my determination to expand my professional knowledge in pursuit of a career in humanitarian relief and international development. Building on the skills I have acquired from this internship, I look forward to continuing my work in this field as I embark upon my career.

This journey would not have been possible without the generous and dedicated support of the Peace and Development Foundation (PDF). Special thanks to Josie, Mabel and Megan for their continuous support and kind assistance.

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