Master of Development Practice student spends semester with the United Nations

Vidya Nair at work
As part of the Master of Development Practice (MDP) program, students are required to complete an internship within the field of development either in Canada or abroad. Having worked in Southeast Asia in the past, MDP candidate Vidya Nair, was eager to return.

Set on making her way across the Pacific, Vidya began reaching out to potential employers.

"I found this internship by myself,” she said, “I emailed a number of NGOs and United Nations field offices to find a placement related to health – in the regions that I wanted to explore."

This February, Vidya heard back from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and was invited for a four-month internship with the organization’s Malaysian Health Unit.

As per the UNHCR website, the main focus of the organization is the health and wellbeing of refugees and other forcibly displaced people. The Health Unit in particular, sets out to ensure that anyone in need is able to access and afford healthcare options in Malaysia.

Located in the heart of the densely populated Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, a white building with a blue tin roof houses the UN Refugee Agency. Every day, hundreds of people line up outside of the office gates in hopes of getting either documents, assistance with resettlement, aid with family members being held in detention, and much more.

Vidya spent the last four months working with the Health Unit to assist as many of these people as possible. She explained that her primary responsibilities involved daily interviews with refugees – conducted to assess their health concerns and immediate needs.

My start in the Health Unit was intense and a huge learning curve. I’d interacted with different UN agencies in the past including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and UN Women; however, to be in a field office and facing the daily challenges of assisting hundreds of persons of concern along with limited resources was eye opening.

Despite the difficulties of the job, Vidya says that the internship was one of the most rewarding experiences that she’s ever had. Aside from helping hundreds of asylum-seekers get access to the care that they needed, Vidya also enjoyed the personal connections with the people she met.

Their stories are so powerful and unique. Most of the persons of concern that arrive in Malaysia are from Myanmar, thus I’ve been able to expand my knowledge about the country and their culture.

For students looking to get into the relief and development field, Vidya leaves some words of wisdom.

If you really want to work for a specific organization, go out and contact them on your own. Once you get those contacts, continue to network and ensure to keep in touch. Additionally, when you’re back at home, or in Waterloo, volunteering for similar organizations will allow for other opportunities to come your way in the future.

To learn more about Vidya’s experience with the UNHCR in Malaysia, check out her posts on the MDP blog.

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