Milena Casabella is a second-year student in the international development program.

The IDEV Summer Internship Series highlights the experiences of IDEV students participating in internships this past summer. Each year, IDEV students intern with various development organizations around the world. These internships are generously funded by SAIS donors, and offer valuable opportunities for students to gain real-world experience between their first and second years at SAIS.

As I stepped out of the car onto the dirt road, cattle on my right side and tin shacks on my left, I said to myself: this is exactly where I want to be.

My time at Rise Against Hunger South Africa this summer taught me so many lessons that will apply to different jobs in the international development field: the importance of creativity, how to get uncomfortable and ask the right questions, and how to work with what you are given.

This summer was my first time in the country, and it quickly blew me away with its natural beauty, the myriad of different cultures (and foods!), and the seemingly limitless kindness extended towards me by the communities I was working with. Though I was living and working in Johannesburg, the business capital of the country and “Dubai of South Africa,” I was lucky enough to work outside of the city as well and experience more of the rural part of the country.

After a quick, 30-minute drive south of Johannesburg, the glitz and glam begins to fade away, and you quickly become immersed in the natural beauty of the countryside, with miles and miles of free green land on each side of your shoulders. Gradually, the roads turn into dirt, and you reach colorful shacks and cement houses: townships, where the majority of black South Africans live, a legacy of the country’s apartheid system. Even today, 20 years after apartheid officially ended, township areas remain some of the poorest parts of the country. 

At Rise Against Hunger, my work focused on monitoring early childhood development centers in the townships. I would visit the centers and conduct evaluations to see if they were eligible to apply for a governmental social development fund. We used a specific criteria, provided by the South African government, that outlined amenities needed in the kitchen, classrooms, and outdoor spaces. We provided meals that helped the centers save on buying food items, instead working towards buying specific supplies needed to grow their center.  

I also worked to monitor budgetary items, hoping to ensure that the food Rise Against Hunger provided allowed the centers to use those funds on other education or hygiene initiatives. Having worked in food security throughout my career, Rise Against Hunger was a perfect match for me to go out into the field and witness how sustainability initiatives work in practice. There is no course that ultimately prepares you for fieldwork, of course, but some of my international development courses—like the IDEV program’s monitoring and evaluation seminar—prepared me for challenges. Having an academic background in the subject prepared me and gave me more confidence to take on the fieldwork.

Getting to work directly with the beneficiaries of my organization was the most rewarding part of the internship for me—seeing the impact on their lives pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and apply myself to my work.  I look forward to seeing this impact throughout my career.