My Experience as a Communications Intern for an NGO in Buenos Aires

The Communications “Internship”

It was a compelling Ad on LinkedIn that caught my eye, and wooed the money right out of my credit card.

Now hiring: Film & Photography Interns in Buenos Aires!

I was fresh out of University on the brink of starting my career, hoping to broaden my digital publishing and multi-media skills before stepping into the competitive job market.

I clicked the link and waited for the too good to be true moment. It directed me to a website that promotes internship placements all over the world. This particular page described a non-profit organization in Buenos Aires that offered a Communication program where I could use my editorial skills to help recruit volunteers from all over the world, promote their projects, and in turn, make a difference in the lives of many underprivileged Argentinians. Since I had already fallen in love with Buenos Aires when I briefly visited in 2014 (ahem, and a particular Argentinian family), I took it as a sign to kill dos birds uno stone, and  filled out the application. (But not before I scavenged the internet for reviews and emailed a bullet-point list of questions to the CEO of the company.)

Well, after my 10 weeks at the job, I can confidently sVGMateay it wasn’t a classic internship: there was no mentorship or resources at your fingertips with professionals in the industry to guide you. It was a position where you made the decision whether to work hard to see real results or to simply whither, only to look good on paper. You could put in 5 hours a week, or you could put in 40 hours – that was completely up to you. Oh, and you had to bring your own resources (camera, tripod, mic, editing software).

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Day Care
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English School
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Soup Kitchen

Liz lucks out

I was lucky to have started my Communications internship with a group of two newcomers themselves, so I had time to squeeze in and mold into my own unique role that complemented their specialties.

I joined the Comms team during a busy season: every week, we’d head to to 2-3 projects where we’d organize an interview with each director, take video footage and photos, and gather information to write a piece about the place and people. Since I was the only one who spoke Spanish on the team, I went to every project as the translator, where I facilitated the interviews with the directors, and translated the promo videos to include subtitles.

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Matt’s Interview

Elaine the Great  saves little ol’ Liz

I worked with a videographer named Elaine, a recent grad from Arizona, and she was my source of inspiration and mentorship (and saviour, really). I had applied for the  combination of VG Comms and Film & Photography looking forward to broadening my multi-media skills, but upon realizing that I was on my own, I took action. I’d watch my girl Elaine while she filmed, and I edited videos with her on Adobe creative suite software. She even helped me explore the settings on my new Sony camera I bought entirely for the experience. I learned new filming vocabulary (‘we need to get more B-roll and make sure to shoot at DH64 16:9′), and I even produced several of my own videos. Without Elaine and her clunky professional camera and 20-pound tripod, intense fuzzy microphone for crisp sound during interviews, I would have just been snapping photos without their full potential (there is more than meets the eye in photography), and scrolling through Youtube How-To videos. The point is, had she decided to volunteer two months prior, or I didn’t have the drive to follow her footsteps (literally) as she filmed, I wouldn’t have had the ~Digital Comms experience~ I was seeking, which was to learn to make good promotional video content.

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Elaine showing me the ropes.  Photo cred: Lux


Liz’s eyes and wallet fly open

I jumped at every opportunity to visit the projects, all located in Villas, low-income shantytowns, that were peligroso, dangerous, as my Argentinian family would say (who have also, interestingly, never dared to step foot in one).

These trips opened my eyes to the intense poverty that is quickly tightening around Argentina’s throat; one out of four people can’t afford their basic needs to live. Inflation keeps going up without salary raises. Transportation just recently went up 70%. Gas and electricity? Up 600%.

It overwhelmed me at first to see all the homeless, huddled families on dirty mattresses along sidewalks on busy downtown avenues – why wasn’t anyone doing anything about this poverty epidemic? Where were the homeless shelters? I learned later that there were indeed shelters, but simply not enough. A third of the country’s population (16.6 million people) lives in the Buenos Aires province, and it has also been the Promise Land for many Paraguayans and Bolivian immigrants. So, I continued to swallow hard as I walked by women breastfeeding their babies with whatever was left in their malnourished bodies, and continued to give coins and bills to leg-less, blind beggars on the train.

 

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A kindergarten in a neighbourhood that doesn’t exist on Google maps.

Projects in Peligroso Places

As for the prominently fea, hazardous villas?  These neighbourhoods would be home to the 8 projects I’d visit during my 10 weeks in Buenos Aires, each of them containing the most caring, selfless people I’d meet. Some built a kindergarten from nothing in a woman’s one-room home, others ran an English school in one’s back yard, and other individuals helped with the rehabilitation of patients with mental health disorders.

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Daycare. Photocred: Yasmeen

It felt good to see where my money was actually going and I loved exploring the diverse projects I was promoting, to watch them come to life and continue to prosper with the help of international volunteers, VG resources, and community support in an otherwise hopeless place.

I never felt too unsafe in these areas, although I won’t deny their potential danger.  Police and military trucks surrounded these neighbourhoods on the daily while drug abuse and alcoholism lingered in the air, and stray dogs ran rampant throughout the broken streets.

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Kindergarten fun. Photocred: Yasmeen

Liz writes for NGO Voluntario Global

I had the freedom to write whatever I felt was necessary for the promotion of the organization and/or culture, which pleased me very much.  I was also given suggested topics, and I’d accompany my team to the projects to write about the volunteer’s experiences, and focus on future volunteer recruitment.  My articles were posted in their raw form, i.e. only reviewed 25 times over by me, the writer.  Even though I didn’t have the luxury to have anyone edit my work, as it’s critical to have another pair of eyes to look over before publishing, it was sort of nice that my final product wasn’t altered or changed as it perhaps would be otherwise. My coordinators relied on me to provide high-quality, well-researched content, and they trusted that I’d deliver.

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This is what happens when you have 4 ways without stop signs.

There was only one particular article of mine where my coordinator lightly suggested that I change two points as they weren’t “happy” enough, and they would somehow dissuade someone from coming to Buenos Aires. In the end, my argument was strong enough to keep my points, and it was published with minor edits. Let me just ask you:  would calling out the purgatory that is the roads of Buenos Aires dissuade you from visiting? Probably just as much as it would when guidebooks bluntly advise you on the prominent pick-pocketing business in Barcelona, am I right? (I mean, I still went there anyway.) I just didn’t want anyone to think that they are still in Canada and that they are gods as pedestrians. That would not go over well. 😉

Anyway, I loved writing for Voluntario Global, and my coordinator was sweet enough to give me my own page to display all my writing. She’s wonderful, even though she lives in Mexico and I’ve only met her through Skype!

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Chillin’ in the VG headquarters, a.k.a my office

Would Liz recommend Voluntario Global?
(And can she please stop with the third-person titles?)

Yes I would, for the open-minded travelers interested in community development, and for those who want to step outside their comfort zones, and learn about a different culture through a new lens. There’s a project for everyone, and they are in need of volunteers every day from teaching English (it doesn’t even
12963757_10154218886063755_8817035162258753526_nneed to be your first language – when I left, there was a Danish and a French teaching it), to helping in a medical centre, caring for toddlers or babies in daycares and kindergartens, working in a garden project with mental health patients, to of course, working on the Communications team that includes film, radio, and editorial.

As a Comm Intern, you can use your digital content creation skills to help promote a diverse range of important projects that help low-class neighborhoods in the city.

I would strongly recommend, however, that you either come armed with basic Spanish or take the two-week Spanish class they offer if you are a quick learner to make your time here a lot easier and more rewarding.

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I saw places I would have never thought to visit as a tourist; talked to inspiring individuals I would have never met otherwise; I held and spoon-fed babies, daunting tasks I’d never done in my life. Of course, I met the world in the Voluntario Global house – kind people from Columbia all the way to Singapore.

Voluntario Global just celebrated its 10-year anniversary and continues to expand every year. I’m happy I was a part (and a face) of the many accomplishments and successes of the non-profit organization that helps underprivileged families and low-income community members be seen, heard, and be proud to be Argentinian.

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