Internship Experience of a Humanities Student @ M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Wayanad: Data Collection and Natural Resource Mapping
This has been submitted as an entry to the Noticebard Internship Experience Competition.
Name, College, Course, Year
Gauri Gopal, Rural Development and Governance, TISS, Hyderabad.
M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, Wayanad, Kerala
Duration of Internship
One month (20th May 2019-21st June 2019)
How to apply
As a first step, I updated my Linkedin profile and made it a premium account which helped me making connections with the people working in reputed organisations, TISS Alumnae, students from other social sciences institutes in the country.
I really wanted to work in UN, Oxfam and similar international development organisations but none of the openings were available for a short period of one month and time period was not flexible according to our institution guidelines.
From the conversations with my seniors, I understood that field intensive internships would be more impactful and beneficial to have a hands-on learning experience and rural exposure than an office based work.
My area of interest was natural resource management and community practice. Therefore, I started looking for internship opportunities in which I would be able to concentrate on both these sectors.
Then I came to know about M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) from one of my connections. They had their head office in Chennai and many other locality specific centres in different parts of the country. They have an active website and would definitely reply to all your queries.
Location and Infrastructure
For every student, a dynamic, meaningful and vibrant working space is a necessary component for a great learning experience. We were to work at fields related to rural development like livelihoods and community development, skills enhancement for the rural population, Government offices working for rural development missions, natural resource management etc.
Since it is a vast area we were free to choose organisations depending on our interest and on areas in which we would like to pursue our career in future.
Since my area of focus was natural resource management and community development they referred to their Community Agro biodiversity Centre (CAbC) in Wayanad, Kerala. CAbc of MSSRF works in accordance with the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) and focuses on agro biodiversity conservation, development of grass root level institutions and community rights and their protection.
Wayanad is one of the 14 districts in Kerala known for its bountiful green beauty. It is one of the tourism and cultural hotspots in Kerala and has high tribal population. The CAbC is located inside the botanical garden of MSSRF. For all the urbanites who are used to concrete jungles and dusty roads like me the very sight of office itself was rejuvenating and refreshing.
Lush green hills and valleys surround the single-storeyed Kerala modelled office building. There are specimens of almost all flora of Western Ghats in the MSSRF botanical garden which are segregated for the botanical research and study purposes.
Hence it is a paradise to budding taxonomists and botanists. The office also serves as a training centre for the upliftment of the communities and to conduct scientific and social experimentations. It was difficult to find accommodation there.
Even though lot of PG facilities are available nearby office none of them was vacant when I went. Hence I arranged my stay in a hostel nearby.
First Day Formalities
On my first day at the office I reported at the administration collected my identity card and paid my internship fee of Rs 1000 which would be kept as caution fee and would be returned once we complete our internship.
Then I met my guide who is a social scientist and she briefed me regarding the project going on there. I had to work on a project started by the institution partnering with the National Biodiversity Authority in the year 2016 on ‘Strengthening Local- self Governments to integrate Biodiversity conservation in the local developmental plans through participatory action’.
My work mainly focussed on the data collection and natural resource mapping using Geospatial tools in the five potential panchayats identified as part of the project implementation. Since my course also focuses on Governance I was able to utilise this internship opportunity to understand functioning of Panchayati Raj system in a very nuanced manner.
Since Kerala is my home state I did not face any language issue to communicate with the tribal communities there. As part of my work, I got umpteen opportunities to visit tribal hamlets, communicate with eight different tribal groups, witness and experience their cultural fiestas and understand their problems.
In order to encourage tribal children to go to school we conducted a small awareness cum entertainment program for the kids and gifted them school books and stationery necessary for the academic year.
The internship was none less than a culinary tourism experience for me. Even though I belong to the same state, the food experience which I had in Wayanad was rarest of the rare.
I realised that the weeds which are treated like unwelcome guests of our garden have the capacity to fill your plate with delicacies which are healthy and increase the size of your food basket. The very thought of the taste of the curry made from the tender leaves of banana plantain and a vegetable kheer still moisturises my gustatory system.
I felt that it is very important to equip oneself with a lot of information regarding the institution in which you are going to do your internship before its commencement. Otherwise, the first leg of your internship journey would be depressing.
This is one of the problems which every student especially from social sciences and humanities background faces. Neither the institution nor the intern would be knowing what role to be given or taken. A necessity for good background research steps in.
If the intern is aware of the institution’s area of focus, different projects conducted by them, the problem which the institution is trying to address it would be easy to site your interest and pursue a fulfilling internship experience.
MSSRF is a really friendly organisation which gives you lots of encouragement and time to pursue your internship goals, freedom to choose your own methodology with proper guidance. As a rural development student, this internship gifted me with opportunities like conducting Gramsabhas, river mapping using GIS tools, focus group discussions with panchayat officials and community interaction.
Through this internship, I was able to obtain a holistic picture of the current trend in the development sector which would definitely be an aid to hone my skills and achieve my dream of becoming a successful development professional.
About the Author
Loved my student life, love talking to students now. I am a wearer of multiple hats (wife, mom, cook, chauffeur). My job is my hobby! :)