When Amanda began her SFD internship in Uganda in 2007ß, she was a Tourism Management undergrad at Victoria Island University, and even owned her own small recreation business. After spending some time overseas, she decided this was not the path for her, packed up her bags, and hasn’t looked back since.
Today, Amanda is working with the Enslavement Prevention Alliance – West Africa (EPAWA) where she addresses child trafficking through a focus on prevention, prosecution and protection. In addition to her work with EPAWA, Amanda has made the transition from intern to mentor, assisting a handful of SFD interns with their work internationally.
Like many of our students, you’ve managed to use your initial internship as a springboard for a career in development work. How would you say this first experience as an SFD student affected your future choices, both in terms of work and education?
Combining what I learned from previous service learning projects in Costa Rica and Ghana, my internship in Uganda provided another context for me to be exposed to what I call the good, the bad, and the ugly of development work. It was a time when I realized the somewhat harsh, difficult realities of development work, and grew to learn and accept that most likely, the greatest impact of my internship would be on my own personal growth and learning. I decided that in the future I either wanted to have nothing to do with development work, or I would commit my life to it, so that I could learn how to support and empower local people to create sustainable development in their own lives. I did choose the latter of these options, and even more specifically I chose to commit to staying in one country, so I went back to Ghana where I have been based for the last 4 years. After I completed my undergraduate degree in Tourism Management, I recognized that I needed a stronger foundation in development principles, and last year I completed an MA in International Development. My programme was a hybrid model offered by Eastern University and it provided me with the flexibility to study, while at the same time gain valuable, hands on experience doing my regular work in Ghana.
Have you always been interested in pursuing a career in international development?
While I always imagined myself working in one way or another towards improving society, I never imagined that I would do so internationally. At the time of my internship, I had already owned a small recreation business for 4 years, and planned to return to Alberta to expand the business. As a result of my internship, I changed my mind, and within a short time the door opened for me to go back to Ghana… the rest is history.
For the last three years you have been working to address human trafficking by focusing on poverty. You started with an organization called Freedom Stones and now you work with Enslavement Prevention Alliance- West Africa (EPAWA). Can you explain how you first became involved in this type of work?
I first became aware of the issues related to human trafficking during my masters degree programme. It was an issue that shocked me to the core, and still to this day continues to do so. Never did I imagine how common of a business it is, that people actually buy, sell, and rent human beings, for profit or for pleasure. Since human trafficking is really a symptom of much deeper problems of poverty and cultural patterns of behaviour, my previous experience in the business world has been a great asset to helping develop sustainable solutions that truly address the root issues that have created the environment for this horrific crime to flourish. I am encouraged by the increased attention and focus that is now on human trafficking, and I believe that it will be only a matter of time before modern-day slavery will be history.
What would you say are some of the daily tasks associated with your work at EPAWA?
I’ve just recently started my new position as the development and marketing director. I currently spend most of my days writing proposals and grants for new programmes. We are currently creating a new Transformation Programme called “I am Precious” that we hope will become a model healing and training program for girls and young women, vulnerable to or trafficked for commercial exploitation to be adopted and replicated in various forms nationwide and seen as a holistic/long-term approach to the social problem of human trafficking.
Since settling in Ghana, you’ve gone from SFD intern to SFD mentor. What made you decide to sponsor current SFD interns, and what do you think about the projects that SFD students are working on today?
I’ve always believed the most powerful learning comes when people can apply theoretical knowledge in a real-life setting. Last year I supported an internship team of Brianne LaBute and Aaron Osei Agyeman, who helped Freedom Stones create a partner assessment tool, valuable for determining the appropriate matches for potential partnerships in the future. This year, I’ll be working with another SFD student to conduct research into the gendered realities of life in rural northern Ghana, with an overarching aim to uncover the factors that lead to human trafficking. It truly is a joy to have engaged and enthusiastic students to work with and support our organization’s goals in a way that would not be possible were it not for the grants that they are provided.
Finally, as someone who has been able to build upon their SFD experience in a way that has been beneficial both career-wise and academically, what advice would you give to current or future SFD interns?
I would encourage all SFD interns to focus primarily on connecting authentically with the local people in your host country, to learn from them how best you can support the dreams and desires that they have for their future. Everything you do should be done out of a spirit of humility and respect, recognizing that the solutions to problems may not be as easy as you think they are. Instead of focussing on what you will be doing, concentrate on what you can be learning, and I believe that will go a long way to equipping you to be the kind of development professional the world needs. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about yourself and your own culture, as you are exposed to others who act, think, and feel differently than you do. Lastly, if you want to pursue a long-term career in development work, I would definitely recommend you pursue higher education to the masters level, and do not underestimate the value of volunteering and internships if paid positions do not seem available.