Summer Internship, Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR), Zambia
BA Theology and Religion, 2017
Last summer (2016), I was fortunate enough to be accepted on an international internship programme at the Jesuit Centre of Theological Reflection (JCTR) in Zambia. Through my association with the International Young Leaders Network and thanks to Francis Davis (senior lecturer in the department of Theology), I received funding for my flights, which significantly contributed to making the trip more financially feasible.
I spent two months in Zambia; seven weeks on the internship and one week of travelling. I rented a small living space on the plot of a local Zambian family in the centre of Lusaka – just a five-minute walk from the office. During my time I feel as though I was able to tap into all aspects of Zambia, work, leisure and tourism giving me an overall well-balanced experience.
What is Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflection (JCTR)?
The JCTR is a faith-based research, education and advocacy team that promotes research and action on social justice issues in Zambia and Malawi. The organisation is orientated towards helping the poor and severely marginalised in society. Due to the largely unreliable government system in Zambia, Catholic organisations are one of the biggest contributors to social welfare issues and development. Although I do not have a faith myself, I have become increasingly interested in the positive role faith based organisations (FBO’s) play in creating better societies. I was working in the Faith and Justice department, which emphasised the importance of integrating the principles of Catholic Social Teaching in all of their work.
What did I do?
Although I was on an internship programme, I felt as though I was given significant responsibility in the department. Generally, I spent time in the office doing administrative work and running errands. My jobs ranged from editing and writing for the quarterly bulletin, to collecting financial quotations from various printing services in Lusaka. I also attended conferences on behalf of the organisation to show support for particular causes. For example I attended a conference marking the collaboration of Transparency International and the Zambia’s Road, Transport and Safety agency. It was interesting to learn and connect with the various initiatives going on in Zambia.
July – August was a particularly important time for Zambia as the country was going through the process of a General Election and Referendum. As an outsider this was an interesting experience because it gave me an insight into how people felt towards Zambia’s political system; voter apathy due to distrust in government was prevailing issue. I was involved in some of JCTR’s advocacy work promoting the Referendum proposal to extend the Bill of Rights to incorporate social, cultural and special rights. One of the initiatives was taking a drama group to the local compounds in Lusaka, to educate the population about the Referendum and the benefits it would bring if people voted yes. Despite the fact the centre of Lusaka has become more developed – particularly in the last ten years – extreme poverty within these surrounding compounds is still extremely strife. Hence it was vital to get people to come and listen to the performance and understand the main messages about the importance of voting yes and how to do this. First hand exposure to this kind of poverty has certainly left an impact on me and caused me to reflect more on how we can address these challenges.
The most significant experience for me as a part of the internship was the opportunity to produce an official policy brief on the education system in Zambia. This allowed me to draw on and adapt the research skills I have developed through studying Theology and Religion. The purpose of this policy brief was to explain some of the persisting challenges in the education system and offer some appropriate recommendations to improve the situation. This was published and circulated amongst different organisations in Zambia as well as the general public, with the hope of encouraging people to understand the importance of education through a human rights lens and inspire transformative action.
As well as working, I was also fully immersed in day-to-day living and leisure activities. Staying with a Zambian family meant that I tried new food, dress and learnt about cultural values and practices that were different from my own. I was also invited by the family to attend weekly mass at their local church and also by one of my colleagues at the University of Zambia (UNZA) Church. It was interesting to draw comparisons between Christianity in Zambia and in the UK and this experience has inspired me to explore this further in my academic studies.
Being on my own, it was important for me to create new contacts in Lusaka. I spent two weekends with some new friends travelling to different parts of Zambia. I was lucky enough to be invited on a trip to Shiwa Ngandu in the Northern Province and also Lower Zambezi national park. Towards the end of the trip, I travelled to Livingstone – Zambia’s most well known tourism spot – and visited the Victoria Falls. It was certainly important to take advantage of being in a completely new country and explore its vastness.
Overall, the internship at JCTR has undoubtedly helped me develop new skills and further informed my decision about a career in research and policy-making. My work at the JCTR reinforced that the knowledge and skills gained through a Theology and Religion degree are indispensible for this. However on a wider note, my experience in Zambia exposed me to ideas and challenges in a new context that I had not considered, particularly with regard to disparities in wealth, poverty, gender inequality, cultural norms and issues of race. Now I have had a taste of Zambia, I am interested in returning to re-connect with the contacts I have made and perhaps embark on a new enterprise.