Stephanie Pompelia, ILR BS '08
Stephanie shares her first impressions upon arriving in Nairobi, Kenya to intern for the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC)
The ILR Credit Internship Program has expanded its scope in recent years to offer students unique opportunities to experience industrial and labor relations in an international setting. They have established unique partnerships with the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland for example. Students now routinely are placed in various offices, agencies and departments of the ILO. Stephanie is a shining example.
Expectations are the only things I didn’t pack when I prepared to leave for Nairobi, Kenya for almost six months where I would be working as an intern for the ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC). Okay, so maybe I had a large overall expectation—that this was going to be an amazing experience. Other than that though I knew almost nothing about the journey I was about to set out on. I had never been to Africa before. I had never even taken a school course on Kenya (or Africa for that matter). The only Swahili phrase I knew was, habari yako (how are you), but I could never even remember it. I was setting off looking for an adventure and on the advice of two friends that had spent time in Nairobi telling me I would fall in love with Kenya (it so happened that the man sitting next to me on the plane told me the exact same thing).
I found out in mid-November that I had the opportunity to go to Kenya through ILR’s Credit Internship Program. I was so excited. I can remember when I was younger dreaming of one day working for the UN in some capacity, and here I am at 21 fulfilling that dream. I would work January through June for the Time Bound Programme (TBP). It is a four year ILO IPEC program, funded by the US Department of Labor, aimed at working to eliminate the worst forms of child labour. It is estimated in Kenya that there are 1.9 million children between the ages of five and seventeen working. The majority of these children are in the agriculture sector. Other major sectors that employ children in Kenya and that the TBP is targeting include: child domestic work, commercial sexual exploitation and street working children and the informal sector.
The TBP works with implementing partners who are already established in Kenya and working on eliminating child labour to achieve the program’s goal of targeting 22,000 children for withdrawal and prevention from the worst forms of child labour. These implementing partners are from a wide range of community based organizations, faith based organizations, unions, employer associations and the government. One of the aspects that impressed me about the TBP is that the ILO did not come into Kenya and say along the lines, “Listen, this is how it is going to be done.” Instead, they sought partners who already had a passion to see the goal of the program be fulfilled and is working with them in order to achieve the best results possible.
I am helping with a variety of projects around the office, but my favorite thus far is going on site visits. I find it can be all too easy when sitting behind a desk to forget the real reason that I am doing the work that I am. However, when I go out in the field and see the faces of the children that this program is helping (as well as the faces of children that still need intervention), I am instantly reminded of why I am here. At a recent meeting, a representative from the Federation of Kenya Employers made the comment that to be in this line of work you need to have a passion for the work and the children. I could not agree with him more; it is so evident to me already in the little time that I have been here that everyone I am working with has that passion and is eager to do something with it.
Another great part of being in Nairobi through the Credit Internship Program is that not only am I having the opportunity to apply what I have learned in the classroom and seeing how it works in the real world, but I am also a student spending six months in a totally new environment. I am blessed to have arrived in the summer during the non rainy season (though that will change mid-March). I am growing quite spoiled by all the beautiful flowers, the warm breeze and the more so tropical landscape. I am excited to be able to travel a little and hope to not only explore Kenya, but also a little bit of Uganda and Tanzania.
Not only am I falling in love with the pure beauty of the country, but the people here are amazing as well. I personally did not know a single person when I arrived in Kenya, but managed to have a few “friend of a friend” contacts. These friends of friends have turned into my own friends as they invite me to join them for coffee and introduce me to people that they know. One girl even took off from work the day I arrived just to pick me up at the airport so that I didn’t have the stress of grabbing a taxi and trying to find a flat in a city that I was completely unfamiliar with.
There are always the new experiences that can be quite an adventure when you arrive in a foreign country such as language, food and transportation. I am lucky because everyone speaks English, although the more traditional language is Swahili. I have started Swahili lessons in attempt to learn a little of the language and now everyone in my office has the unofficial rule that they won’t say hello to me in English in order to help me practice my Swahili. I have grown to like quite a few African dishes, but still find it odd that milk doesn’t need refrigerated and ugali (which is a staple food here) does not taste anything like mashed potatoes no matter how much it looks like it.
Transportation probably has been my most adventuresome adjustment. It is impossible to find maps of the public routes, so I have been trying to learn by just asking. More common than typical buses are matatus, which are glorified 15 passenger vans that for the most part follow the bus routes. However, they have a lot more character, usually blasting music, decorated with interesting pictures and also have somewhat of a free spirit. I believe all of the stories I have from my matatu experiences could easily fill a book.
All in all, my experience thus far has been incredible. I cannot imagine being anywhere else doing my credit internship. I am excited to see what the next four months bring, both in the work place and while I am out exploring the country.
- Stephanie Pompelia, ILR BS '08