Prior to joining Refugees International Japan (RIJ) I was mostly accustomed to the field of academia, having worked at different universities researching topics ranging from labor, migration, to the effectiveness of the implementation of government policies. This included policies on economic migrants, and refugees fleeing war or environmental catastrophes resettling in their new host countries. I had decided to apply my research to a more practical position in the form of an internship. Choosing to move to Tokyo was difficult, with only a few months of Japanese under my belt. But choosing RIJ was easy, a small NPO with clear goals, nonbureaucratic structure, and full transparency in funds. I supported RIJ as an Organisation that funded projects for people displaced by conflict around the world and provided initiatives to rebuild their futures and make valuable contributions to their local economies.
During my time at RIJ, I not only achieved what I had intended to get out of an internship, but a lot more so. As a small Organisation, RIJ allowed me to fully understand how NPOs work and operate; from finding innovative ways to collect funding to trying to reach out to as many people via social media platforms. To name a few of my responsibilities; In my first week at RIJ I was able to participate in my first ever Live and Silent Auction, I helped set up the event and insured it ran as smoothly as possible. At the event, I was lucky enough to listen to the author of “Father Missed His Plane” Vincent Lee speak about his journey, first surviving as an internally displaced person in Cambodia and later a refugee in Australia. He spoke about how on the ground projects, like those RIJ funds today, for refugees and IDPs really helped him and his family. This was a very important moment for me because it is easy to get lost in the ‘background’ of it all and his speech really solidified my belief in supporting NGOs and NPOs that fund refugee-centric projects is not only important but a civic duty or a moral obligation.
This “support” does not necessarily mean monetary support, I found that by highlighting refugee stories, accomplishments, and projects that helps provide them with opportunities to improve their livelihoods, I was doing my part as best as I could. At RIJ I wrote over 30 LinkedIn articles shining a light on projects the Organisation is proud to have funded ranging from Baby Kits for new mothers at the refugee camp in the Karen State of Myanmar, Vocational and Language Skills courses for Somali refugee youths in Kenya, to Healthcare and Aid for elderly Afghani refugees in Pakistan. I was also responsible of updating project statistics which included the breakdown of ‘how much a certain amount of financial support’ can offer refugees in terms of aid, services, or initiatives. This showed me that a small amount such as you spend on your morning coffee can be truly life changing for someone else. I was also given the task of redesigning promotional material such as postcards. As someone that is not artistically gifted per say, I found that I really enjoyed the process even though it was well out of my comfort zone. I ended up enthusiastically creating 10 new designs to be used for future RIJ events. These are a few of the many tasks and flexible roles I had during my time at RIJ which allowed me to learn so much in the short amount of time I spent as an intern.
The office culture at RIJ was also admirable, I had colleagues and superiors around me always ready to help and redirect me. Considering my not-so-great Japanese language skills, I needed them a lot during my tenure. I felt that this work environment was especially important to me as an individual moving to a new cuntry for an internship. A difficult language and unfamiliar culture can be overwhelming, but the people at the office always checking up on my wellbeing made resettling a lot easier. The chances to network with professionals from other global NGOs/NPOs was also present, whether by virtue of them attending RIJ events or visiting our offices for a meeting. I found this type of exposure very helpful as a recent graduate open to opportunities in Tokyo and elsewhere.
While at RIJ, I made some mistakes but was always given the chance to learn from them and develop skills to make me a better colleague and more capable employee for future employment. I was an intern at Refugees International Japan for a little while, but my support continues beyond my last day at the office.
Lana Ahmad, 2019 RIJ Intern.