An intern’s international buzz

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Mind blowing… This really is the only way to describe my internship experience with Equitas and the International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP). When I first asked Laura, IHRTP coordinator and intern in 2007, what the program was about, she spoke passionately of the intensity and the eye opening yet intimate opportunities that the internship encompassed. At the time, I didn’t know what to think. How can over one hundred people, I asked her, create connections that are so exceptionally vivid and as long lasting as she described? She just laughed and told me to apply to find out. Our journey as interns officially started just two months ago. It was May 7th 2012, as Laurence would always say before someone else would point out that it was Jaya’s birthday just two days earlier. We had passed the interview process, orientation was over and finally here the seven of us were, bright and early at 8h45 in the office. It was so early that the lights hadn’t even been turned on but we were excited, and had an amazing reason to be so, as we soon found out.

Rachel Lau, (2nd from right) and fellow interns
“Yes!” we laughed as we settled into our routines both at the office and then at John Abbott three weeks later. We didn’t fall under the category of stereotypical interns in a large corporation. We were encouraged to be involved in the program, the process, the logistics and the coordination. We didn’t fetch coffee and make photocopies all day long – but wait…Frédérique and I were in charge of the Participant’s Lounge, where we did actually make coffee every day, twice a day for all the participants, Equitas team and resource people…oops. I think we laughed for an hour when we realized the irony of it all. I remember our first weekend at John Abbott, just a few minutes after midnight when all of us, though tired, were sitting on the couches in the entrance of the Stewart residence waiting anxiously for the last participant to walk through the doors. As we sat there, two other participants who had arrived earlier in the day, both from Africa but one Francophone and one Anglophone, came to sit with us to get to know us and share their stories. The only problem was that they couldn’t communicate with each other. “Français?” – no “English?” – non “Swahili?” – yes! And in a second no one could keep up with the jittery excitement in their voices as they threw themselves into their newfound realization that they could, in fact, converse. There are no words to describe how awestruck I was. As the weeks went on, it became obvious to me just how special the IHRTP was in gathering all the global and cultural stereotypes that I had formed before having them thrown back at me, ground up like powder. One of the first few times I picked up a large group of participants at the airport it was raining slightly and all I knew is that I was greeting people from the Middle East and Asia. One name popped out at me, Alaa Murabit from Libya, and I thought to myself how interesting it will be to meet someone with completely different values to myself, who is probably much more conservative and reserved – assumptions I made to better prepare myself for her arrival. And the first thing she said to me when she walked through the gates? “Hey, what’s up. I’m Alaa,” with a perfect North American accent. By the end of the second week, it felt like I had known her for a lifetime. When I think back on the IHRTP and how much we, as interns, have all grown both individually and as a team, I feel blessed. Before we even had the chance to properly get to know each other personally we were thrown into the deep end, having to trust and rely on each other professionally while growing into pillars of support and shoulders to cry on for those who needed it. Now, eight weeks, over one hundred participants and a whole lot of tears later, the 2012 IHRTP is over and we are all settling nicely into what Chris refers to as the ‘IHRTP blues,’ that period of time when we all return from Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and we realize that our normal, habitual routines have been waiting for us all this time. It saddens me to think that my little life in Sainte-Anne is over. I had grown so accustomed to our little rooms of four in the basement of John Abbott, our weekly nights out by the lake and our impromptu soccer tournaments. Only during these past few days, after reluctantly saying good-bye to all the participants one-by-one, have I truly had the time to sit and reflect upon the magic of the program. It is a place where a participant from the Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Rwanda can sit at the same table, where Muslims are not considered terrorists but people. We laughed with them, we cried with them and it is so odd to think that in the span of two months we have created a network of new friends situated around the world. There is an unspoken agreement between the interns that we will never forget the bond we created both among ourselves and with the participants. We will always remember how Mohammed and Esaïe schooled us in every soccer game and we will always remember how Edex, Dinesh and Ronnie danced the night away with us at the International Evening. Yet, I cannot help but wonder whether or not I will see any of the other interns after today or if everything else is going to intervene first. I think about the participants everyday and I hope that those living in conflict areas stay safe. This morning, on our last day as we sit around our conference table at Equitas’ downtown office, once again staring only at our computers, I can think only of what Ariane said yesterday that struck me, something that defines the program perfectly. She said that it is like as if we were on a high for two months, an IHRTP buzz. That is really the only way to properly explain what it is like to be part of this electrifying opportunity. And I hope to be back next year. – Rachel Lau, IHRTP intern 2012    

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