Mercy Corps Scotland was set up in Edinburgh in 1990 as Scottish European Aid is an international non governmental organisation with headquarters in Edinburgh, Portland, Oregon, Washington DC (USA) and China. Currently working in thirty five countries around the world, the organisation delivers emergency relief, rehabilitation and long term development programmes in countries stricken by poverty and conflict, natural disaster, or major social and economic upheaval.
My internship with Mercy Corps Scotland began on the 4th of December 2007 where I worked as the “Voluntary Operations Assistant” in the Programmes department from 9am-5pm for the duration of three and a half months. The organisation comprises of thirty three staff members including ten volunteers. The various departments of the organisation are; Fundraising, Climate Change, Finance, Human Resources and Programmes. Within the Programmes department are seven staff members plus two volunteers. The Departments country portfolios includes; East and West Africa, The Middle East, The Balkans, South and East Asia, the Caucasus and Latin America, with assisted funding from the EU, DFID, Sida, USAID and various other major donors.
My role as Voluntary Operations Assistant was primarily to provide the department with whatever assistance they required, meaning anything from administrative duties to proposal reviewing. The workload varied according to how many proposals deadline the department had to meet. Some months were very stressful and others pretty quiet. During times like this, my duties could range from reading through proposals guidelines, making a summary of the guidelines and assuring that Mercy Corps Scotland was eligible for grants, researching donor information, updating the department database and archiving documents into the organisations digital library, writing publications and reports, writing summaries of various current or completed programmes, answering questions about the organisation and its programmes, making enquires to potential donors on various actions and not overlooking the administrative bit which consisted of answering phones, answering/writing emails, filing, scanning and photocopying. I also on more than one occasion assisted the Finance department in updating budgets and any related task assigned by the team, also I got to sit in on international calls from the field offices which was very informative as you get to learn more about the ways in which projects are being implemented, etc.
Overall, I am very happy with time spent at Mercy Corps Scotland, the employees were all very nice and accommodating and they instantly made me feel welcomed from the very beginning, I was taken around and introduced to all departments and given a basic summary of their role/tasks within the organisation. I have absolutely learnt a great deal through this internship, which has further reinstated and proven that I made the right decision in choosing international development as a career path. I have also acquired a considerable wealth of knowledge concerning various international institutions, for instance, into how these institutions function, make decisions, what criteria they seek, to mention a few. These institutions are the EU, UN, DFID and a couple more. The only negative with the internship was that it was mostly administrative based and I would have liked to be more involved in the proposal writing process.
Edinburgh in its entirety is a very beautiful and picturesque city with a rich traditional culture and patriotic citizens. The people are very friendly and always willing to lend a hand, however, the city is small and everything is within walking distance. Finding accommodation was relatively easy, I was recommended by the department to use gumtree ( www.gumtree.com ), where I posted an ad and got a lot of offers, some offers were legitimate and some fraudulent. You get to spot the fraudulent ones when being asked to send money through western union. I finally got a place in Leith, which turned out to classify as one of Edinburgh rough areas. I finally moved to Stockbridge after a month in Leith. The nice and relatively cheap areas of Edinburgh are Stockbridge, Meadows, Orchard Brea, Broughton, West End and Morningside. The rent ranges from £260-300 a month for a room in a shared flat, some rent are inclusive of bills and council tax and some are not, so be sure to ask how much the bills will come up to if bills are not included in the rent. Also, one can not live on the 20 000kr alone so be sure to have 10-20 000kr extra, just in case.
My recommendation for anyone thinking of taking up an internship offer from any of the FUF network, my advice will be to GO FOR IT! It is the best experience ever, and not only do you get work experience but you get to meet genuinely nice people who are dedicated to what their work and you also get to experience a different culture.
By Helen Aki Forsberg