Musings on Interns

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In June 2006 I waited at the Prince George airport to meet our new interns. I knew their names and a bit about them from the interview process they’d been through, but I had a feeling of anticipation as I thought about how we were all going to get to know and learn from each other in the upcoming months. Our approach to internships at One Sky is perhaps a bit different than your typical ‘young person gets work experience’ program. We expect interns to dig deep and to recognize how their personal development is integral to the work that they do in this world. Along the way, we put the interns through a series of experiences and evaluations that push their personal boundaries along the route to becoming more effective social change agents. Personal growth involves taking risks, to stand on that edge, take a deep breath and take a step; and all of our interns this year – Allison, Ryan, Matthew and Kathryn – rose to the challenge with integrity and grit.

One of the highlights for me was a night hike up into the Babine Mountains that we introduced this year. I picked up Allison, Ryan, Matt and Kathryn at around 11 pm and sensed a certain…resistance…to spending the whole night hiking up a mountain in the dark. We picked up Mike along the way, parked the car and started up the trail. The first few hours went by quickly and we reached the alpine at about 1:30 am. At this point, we ‘raised the bar’ – setting the group the challenge of hiking to the peak of one of the mountains rising up on either side of the pass. The mountains loomed like huge, dark shadows on either side of us. We watched our four flatlanders sit down to discuss their challenge…and were privileged to witness a fascinating insight into group dynamics and decision-making, concepts of leadership, communication, personal and group motivation, and goal setting.

At one point in the discussion, it looked like our group of interns were ready to head back down the trail – the mountain was too high, too steep, the risks too great and the group too tired. But at some point, some magical point in the conversation, things began to turn around…I’m still not sure what combination of factors created the change, but at the end of that moonlit discussion sitting on rocks and bushes high in the alpine, we decided to go just a little bit farther up the pass, and reassess. So we went a bit farther, reassessed the terrain and our risks, and decided to go a few hundred metres more. As we got closer to the mountain, our perspective on the terrain began to revise itself. What looked impossible from far away began to look possible. What looked like sheer cliffs from far away turned into manageable slopes once closer up. We were tired, but setting small goals kept us working our way up the mountain. We encouraged each other, gave support where it was need, reassessed risks and made collective decisions – and finally, celebrated our success when we made it to the top of the mountain. We still had a long way to go – in fact the longest part of the journey was still ahead of us – but the exhilaration of what we had accomplished together kept us moving together as the sun gradually rose to light the alpine meadows and our aching feet brought us back to the parking lot at 11am – almost 12 hours after the start of our journey.

Our lives on this planet are made up of a series of journeys, physical, mental and spiritual …Allison, Matt, Kathryn and Allison have been on a ten-month journey with One Sky. Along the way, mountains have been climbed, valleys descended into, rapids maneuvered - with the exhaustion and exhilaration that comes with negotiating tricky terrain. Allison has been living in Bamako, Mali working with the Mali Folkecenter to improve their communications on renewable energy projects. Ryan is with the Limbe Botanical Gardens in Limbe, Cameroon helping out on GIS related projects with the goal of providing better information on the state of Cameroon’s forests for government decision-makers. Kathryn is in Freetown, Sierra Leone working on environmental education projects with the Conservation Society of Sierra Leone – including writing an ecotourism plan and putting together a cd of environmental songs produced by local musicians. Way up in Kono, Sierra Leone, Matt has been working with Michael Aruna and four farmer’s groups to teach them organic agricultural techniques and set-up farmer’s cooperatives. 

It’s been a privilege for me to get to know Allison, Matt, Kathryn and Ryan and to learn from each of them. They challenged me in diverse ways, and – I hope! – helped to develop my own skills as a social change agent. All of them will be back in Canada in April – I can’t wait to sit down in person with each of them over a cup of tea in the cozy One Sky office, to hear their stories, challenges and learnings from their time overseas. I want to thank this year’s interns for joining us on our “One Sky journey” and to appreciate the dedication and courage that they bring to their own personal journeys on our shared planet. 



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