My internship with the United Nations was the first step of my journey towards a more challenging and interesting career. I recently completed an internship with the United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON), and in the future I hope to pursue a career with the Organization. The United Nations has a great impact in the world, particularly in Africa, where it can influence development as well as peace and security issues. I am passionate about matters of governance pertaining to Africa, and I want to be part of a system that makes change.
I grew up in Kenya, but from a young age I was exposed to people from different cultures because my father worked in the hospitality industry. He moved between Chief Executive posts at five-star hotels in the cities of Mombasa and Nairobi, as well as in Lesotho, where my family lived for a few years. I would often visit the hotels and interact with international guests, some of whom were affiliated with the United Nations.
In 2009, while studying international relations at university, I applied to the internship programme at UNON, which is one of the four main United Nations headquarters offices in the world, the others being New York, Geneva, and Vienna. I was so excited when the Travel, Shipping and Visa Unit invited me to assist their team.
UNON is the administrative arm of the global headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), in addition to providing support services to several other Agencies and Funds operating in Kenya. UNEP coordinates all environmental activities within the United Nations system, and promotes the implementation of environmentally-sound policies and sustainable development, while UN-Habitat’s mandate is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all.
The Travel, Shipping and Visa Unit is effectively three sections that handle a massive administrative workload, such as processing visas and the business travel bookings of staff members, arranging the shipping logistics for vehicles and other heavy equipment, supermarket products for the commissary, or household items for employees transferred from a different country. In addition, the unit assists staff with applying for their United Nations Laissez-Passer (UNLP), a valid travel document that can be used like a national passport for official travel purposes. Although some countries allow entry with just the UNLP, most also require a visa.
Occasionally we had urgent requests from employees who needed to travel within a day or two. My colleagues and I would call the respective embassies to expedite their visa applications, and do everything else we could to meet the deadline. Any backlog means a delay in a United Nations official traveling to where he or she can further the objectives of the Organization, so if I help people get from point A to point B, I am making a contribution. This was especially important prior to the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark; I gave it my all to ensure that staff had the necessary travel documents.
The Internship Programme provides impressive training workshops and development roadmaps. Rarely do you find an organization that is so keen to develop its employees’ skills. We learned about ethics; the core values of the United Nations; career management; competency-based interview skills; and how to write a curriculum vitae. Also impressive was the warm culture among my colleagues; many acted as mentors and were generous with their time and advice. Outside of work, the interns at UNON get to know one another during social activities, such as bowling outings and camping trips, so I made great new friends from all over the world.
My next goal is to earn a Master’s degree in development, conflict resolution and security management. I would also like to return to United Nations and use my talents to benefit others. A person’s true worth is the good that one does in this world – and employees of the United Nations can do good things every day.