Why did you apply to intern at Amazon Watch?
I've followed the work of Amazon Watch for quite some time, especially as my career goals were forming around rainforest conservation and indigenous rights. I was a member of an EPICS team and Professor Zanotti’s Brazil study abroad trip, which allowed me to work with the Kayapó and learn more about how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) support indigenous peoples in the Amazon rainforest. Amazon Watch is one of my favorite organizations because it works with various indigenous peoples in Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru who are fighting for justice, land rights, and against exploitative activities like oil extraction and hydroelectric dams that affect their ancestral territories.
Describe your typical day as an intern.
My main task this summer was to write a report for Amazon Watch that addresses how large hydroelectric dams in the Brazilian Amazon are contributing to deforestation. Most days I take the Metro to the office at Dupont Circle and conduct research on my laptop – scanning websites for news articles, searching for scholarly work in databases, and reading through reports published by other organizations. I have also had the opportunity to chat with people who study this work in Brazil, including deforestation expert Philip Fearnside. Sometimes we have visitors to the office, including other NGO representatives, film directors, and indigenous colleagues. When indigenous partners are in town their visit is filled with presentations and meetings across the city; I was able to sit in on meetings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Senate! My work on the dams and deforestation report is continuing through the fall.
What is the most challenging aspect of your internship?
The most challenging aspect has been my (lack of) language skills. Although I studied Spanish throughout high school and college, my confidence in speaking is poor, so that made communication with indigenous colleagues difficult. As for my research, I am looking through many Portuguese sources, so I’ve had a crash-course in learning to read Portuguese, with the help of Google Translate!
What is the most exciting thing about your role?
My internship was catered towards my interests from the beginning. When I interviewed for the position I was asked what areas Amazon Watch is involved in that interest me, and I mentioned deforestation and hydroelectric dams – both severe threats to the environment and the indigenous peoples who live in the rainforest. My supervisor suggested I write a report to be published this year that links the two issues. I was thrilled that I could learn more about these complex issues while also having the responsibility and freedom to take charge in creating this report for the organization.
How has your internship prepared you for your career?
Working with Amazon Watch has given me an inside-look into the NGO world and I am grateful to learn more about how advocacy organizations like this operate: how they communicate, who they work with, and the structure of the industry. I think I have a better perspective about this sector and certain aspects that are essential to working in it, like fluency in other languages and the importance of having a network of other people and organizations to coordinate with on advocacy campaigns.
What recommendations do you have for other students doing an internship?I was grateful to have been contacted by my top organization, but I also applied to a variety of other human rights and conservation organizations that I never heard back from. Although it can be scary to send out your cover letter and CV in a cold-call email, that’s what I did and it turned out to be successful! I would recommend contacting anyone that you might like to work for, even if they don’t have internship positions listed. While most internships in the advocacy/non-profit sector are unpaid, I was also fortunate to have the financial support of the College of Liberal Arts through the Job Ready internship program that allowed me to accept an unpaid internship. Being able to pursue a dream internship and be rewarded for it made this summer a great experience!