Despite global pandemic, IS student Landyn Imagawa participates in virtual internship with NGO in Uganda

January 18, 2021

By Landyn Imagawa

Covid-19 brought everyone’s 2020 plans to a crashing halt. My plan was to travel to Uganda to live, study, and work, for four months over the summer. With almost all of my expenses paid, countries began closing their borders and I was notified that the trip could no longer happen. This meant that I was no longer able to take courses at Makerere University, nor could I live in the country, learning first-hand about its rich history, culture, and political climate. Fortunately though, I was offered the opportunity to pursue a virtual internship the following semester that allowed me to gain practical experience with a local Ugandan non-governmental organization.

I began my internship in September 2020 with ENVenture, a local non-profit organization based in Kampala, Uganda, supported by New Energy Nexus, an international non-profit that assists clean energy entrepreneurs. ENVenture works to empower Community Based Organizations (CBO) in Uganda by providing them with the tools and training necessary to launch sustainable clean energy enterprises. 72 percent of Ugandans lack access to electricity; therefore, by supporting CBOs across Uganda, ENVenture also makes clean energy solutions more affordable and more accessible to those in need. This is particularly evident in refugee settlements that are located far from neighboring cities where access to clean energy solutions is limited.

In recognition of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and their central promise to “Leave No One Behind”, ENVenture works to bring clean energy solutions to the Bidi Bidi and Kyangwali refugee settlements. In refugee settlements like these, food from humanitarian organizations is supplied uncooked and refugees are often responsible for coming up with their own means of fuel to prepare their meals. A multitude of issues arise from this, such as environmental damage from the deforestation of local forests, a safety concern as conflicts between refugees and local Ugandans can arise, and a health risk due to the large volumes of smoke inhalation from cooking with firewood in close quarters. ENVenture helps to eliminate some of these issues by making affordable clean energy solutions accessible to these communities.

While working with an organization in Uganda remotely from Canada definitely had its challenges, I was still able to gain a unique experience to complement my academic career. I gained valuable experience working with a non-governmental organization in another country, albeit virtually, and the opportunity to learn from those working to support refugees on the ground. Refugee work has been my main focus throughout my international studies degree, and something I hope to pursue in the future; therefore, working and learning alongside those who are fighting for the most vulnerable populations in Uganda was a valuable experience for me. I was able to understand some of the challenges that refugees in the Bidi Bidi and Kyangwali settlements face and how they were further affected by the pandemic. Furthermore, I was able to witness how resilient and adaptable non-profit organizations like ENVenture must be to continue supporting those who are most vulnerable. Finally, this experience allowed me to build connections with people living in Uganda and I look forward to being able to visit in person someday soon.