Mussarat Maisha Reza, Intern 2016-2017
When I first heard Alaa’s TED talk on ‘What my religion says about women’ in 2015, I was mesmerized by how she speaks with so much finesse. The work she had done in conflict-ridden Libya was phenomenal. I have always been fiercely passionate about women’s rights and gender equality but felt like it may not necessarily be my cup of tea given my academic background in Science. I then found out that Alaa was also a medical doctor and that struck a chord with me; that my passion in science and for gender equality may not be non-convergent paths. Working with Alaa then became one of the goals in my bucket list. Just a year later, I saw the call for internship applications and that happened to be while I was writing my PhD thesis. I knew this would undoubtedly be a prime test of time and stress management but I was not going to let this opportunity slip. Upon getting selected, I could not control my excitement that I would be working under the mentorship of Alaa Murabit, a UN high level commissioner.
These six months have been exhilarating to say the least. I stepped into a whole new world (no pun intended) exploring subjects and issues that I have never worked on before or had any experience in. I was given the opportunity to perform a vast amount of literature review, research and writing on a broad spectrum of issues: ranging from leadership and nation states, health securitization and countering violent extremism. I also enjoyed writing speeches and interviews for Alaa, which encouraged me to dissociate myself from my own mind and think and write like someone else. Alaa often challenged me to write on topics that was not my forte, which moulded me into a deeper and more critical thinker who learnt to look at issues from different lenses. Given the full liberty to explore the realm of different world issues, I exploited the opportunity to write opposite editorials that enabled me tread on unexplored terrains with confidence. It was a milestone for me when the lady who inspired me from behind a screen, co-authored an article with me in the Elders, titled, ‘How women are breaking the cycle of violence, insecurity and poverty’. I gained valuable experience writing several policy papers, pretending to be policy makers, which, were my favourite assignments from this internship. Alaa harnessed my strengths and amplified them and was the fire that re-shaped my weaknesses. Receiving personal training on speech delivery, body language, tone with poise and perfection was a lifelong lesson that will benefit me tremendously in future.
I have not only learnt from the training that I have undergone with Alaa but also by observing her and how she carries herself. I admire how she performs her tasks with perfection; from applying peanut butter and jam (the jam is in the centre while peanut butter lines the edges- it is non-negotiable) on a bread to how she interacts with high level UN officials. Her compassion won my respect when she drove out at night for 30 minutes to pick us up when the taxi driver in Bonn left us panicking at a neurological rehabilitation centre instead of the actual destination.
As challenging and rewarding pushing my comfort zone was, this internship also opened my eyes to the harsh realities of this world. Working on a report on human trafficking (sex trafficking and labour trafficking) was something that made me uncomfortable and broke my heart. It pained me to write about the statistics and analysis of this multi-billion dollar industry. I understood how much more compassionate and pro-active we need to be to protect the vulnerable, while counting my blessings.
The shining gem of this mentorship programme was definitely the team of interns that I met and worked with. From the U.S. to El-Savador, I have developed strong bonds with this incredible team of highly intelligent, driven and passionate young leaders in their own fields. Our different areas of expertise enabled us to have exciting discussions and debates with our varying knowledge and experiences. The week that we spent in Bruchaussen, Bonn together, cooking, sharing our life stories while undergoing training under the same roof as Alaa is something I could write a little story book about. We mastered the art of fitting 7 people in a 5-seater car while we sang Coldplay songs (that was our karaoke sessions) to and from the conference centre. I hope that the bond we have developed will continue flourishing for life.
Some of our assignments required team work and that was a really interesting experience for me given our different time zones. I live in Singapore, which is 13 hours ahead of EST (morning for me, is night time for people in the EST time zone and vice versa). Most of the interns lived on the other part of the globe, so time management despite our daily hectic schedules was key. However, technology and google docs saved us as we chatted on skype while monitoring each other’s cursors as it moved along the documents to ensure that we were on the same page (again, no pun intended).
I have seen my amazing growth curve as a writer on a myriad of issue and different genres and also as a speaker and am proud of what I have achieved so far. In the ocean bed full of shining pearls, I have only managed to collect a few of them in these six months but these pearls hold precious memories and knowledge that I will carry with me for a long time to come.