In the second year of my masters, I did my internship at Radio La Benevolencija/Humanitarian Tools Foundation, a small NGO (non-governmental organization) that uses media broadcasts for conflict prevention. I was very interested in how the organization combines academic studies on conflict and trauma with practical and creative programs in (post-) conflict situations, and thought it would be a useful place for me to learn how to apply my academic background in conflict studies in practice.
RadioLa Benevolencija/Humanitarian Tools Foundation is based in Amsterdam, but its activities currently focus on Rwanda, Burundi and Congo, where it broadcasts radio and television soap operas. These soap operas aim to raise awareness about causes of violence by combining education on conflict situations with entertainment.
Though from behind a desk in Amsterdam, I felt quite directly engaged in the activities of Radio La Benevolencija. Initially my task was to write a manual about the activities of the organization and their implementation, and about the ideas and academic theories behind them. This meant I had to immerse myself in some theories on ways in which people process trauma, or on factors that can contribute to for instance scapegoating, stereotyping, to violent group behaviour, and to write about how these theories were applied in the work of Radio La Benevolencija. Once this manual was nearly finished, I started taking over all sorts of tasks that the other employers did not have the time for. I helped in donor administration and funding applications, writing reports, and I attended meetings and had direct contact with partner/funding organizations such as Oxfam. At some point I even had to write scripts, which were played and broadcasted in the Rwandan television soap opera! When the NGO Care requested us to develop a new project for South Sudan, I could develop this mainly on my own, using the prototype we always use for projects. For instance, I had to plan how many actors we could use, what language the soap would be broadcasted in, how to set up a new office on the location, which radio station to approach, and how to fit all of that within the budget that Care made available. At some point I remember thinking: wow, I hope this will turn out right, they are giving a 23-year old without any experience the responsibility to write all of this by herself!
It was a very educative experience to work at Radio La Benevolencija. Because it is such a small scale organization you get to participate in all the diverse activities that NGOs engage in, so you really get a flavour of what the NGO world is about and of what it is like to work in it. I think that in bigger institutions such as Oxfam or the UN I would not have been able to participate in so many activities and to be given as much independence and responsibility as I did now. What I perhaps liked most of all the experiences I got, was that the other day I received the message that several of the proposals which I had written more or less by myself were accepted and had received funding, one of them 1,2 million euro! The job was not only always fun though, it was also stressing to work in this rather chaotic NGO, and I discovered that I do not want to be working in this donor world for the rest of my life. My image of working for an NGO was too idyllic before doing this internship.