This article is part of a series published in advance of International Education Week 2018 (Nov. 13-16, 2018) that illustrates the educational and career benefits of international experience — whether travel study, study abroad or international internships — among UCLA students and alumni.
Student: Kawsar Nasir Ahmad, UCLA 2019
Major/ Minor: Psychobiology major/ Global health minor (pre-med)
Program: Internship with Enabled Children’s Initiative: 10 months
As an eight-year-old immigrant whose family constantly moved throughout the United States, I was unable to formulate or become a part of a dynamic Afghan community. Fortunately though, during my freshman year at UCLA, I was introduced to the United Afghan Club and challenged myself to bring a childhood desire to fruition: to broaden my knowledge of my motherland and engage with aspects of the diaspora created by the war.
In the two years since my freshman year, I became president of the United Afghan Club and led multiple initiatives. This includes my most cherished event of all, our annual banquet that celebrates Afghan culture and fundraises for organizations that lead amazing work in Afghanistan.
Our work has been recognized by the Ambassador of Afghanistan to the United States. Meeting the ambassador led me to meeting impressive Afghans who helped me create a plan for how I could contribute to our motherland at this stage of my life. Luckily, I was encouraged to apply to and work with the Enabled Children's Initiative, a significant, groundbreaking nongovernmental organization (NGO). Ever since then, I have learned the importance of raising each other up and making the community stronger while simultaneously celebrating a culture as strong as its mountains.
As an Afghan American immigrant, I have always aspired to help not only my immediate community, but also my community abroad. Being born and raised in Uzbekistan was a humbling experience for me. I saw that despite having little, my parents always helped those who were disadvantaged. The Enabled Children’s Initiative (ECI) does exactly that. This volunteer organization helps orphans and displaced children by fostering community, education and care.
The war in Afghanistan has left thousands of individuals despondent and hopeless, creating a great need for organizations such as ECI. Starting from a simple idea, a small group of individuals with a vision for a better tomorrow have now created an organization that thrives through volunteering and selfless work. Through ECI, children are able to create lives that seemed impossible due to war and socioeconomic disparities. Because helping this organization goes a long way, I wish to continue working with them and dedicate countless time and efforts towards their goals and endeavors.
Afghan children served by Enabled Children's Initiative. (Photo courtesy of ECI.)
Most enjoyable experiences
Because this NGO is located abroad and not in the United States, my work with ECI is limited. Despite this fact, my most enjoyable experiences include meeting with the ECI board, which consists of accomplished individuals in areas of medicine, international and development studies, as well as global health.
From people that have worked in the United Nations to those who’ve presented at various prestigious organizations, I’ve had the honor of working with individuals who have created new orphanages and schools for the betterment of my motherland, Afghanistan.
Additionally, these individuals serve as amazing role models and mentors. They have patiently explained their pathway to success while simultaneously being open about their failures. Their honesty is what makes our teamwork efficient and their drive is what makes us successful.
Afghan children in a school supported by Enabled Children's Initiative. (Photo courtesy of ECI.)
As an undergraduate student at a competitive university as UCLA, it is inevitable to face challenges. One of the greatest challenges I’ve faced has been finding an internship that was a good fit for me. I repeatedly ran into the same situation: being in an organization where my peers were more concerned about resumes and graduate schools than the issues we hoped to tackle in our internships.
Due to the toxic atmospheres I sometimes ended up in, I found that I was not growing intellectually or broadening my ambitions. Rather, I found myself doubting my accomplishments and myself in general. It is important to take yourself out of the bubble that a competitive institution can create and normalize the struggle that it takes to get where you want to be. There is no shame in gaining experience later in your college career — some flowers take longer to bloom than others, and that is okay.
Through working with the Enabled Children’s Initiative, I was able to learn more about NGOs and how to foster teamwork on an international basis. I would love to start a not-for-profit organization of my own some day. Additionally, I would love to continue the studies studies I have begun in my global health minor and pursue research on global health disparities.
After working with ECI, I hope to forge a career pathway that combines community health and permanent aid (e.g., developing orphanages, hospitals and clinics) after I become a physician. Additionally, my desire to work as a physician with Doctors Without Borders was further strengthened through the knowledge I gained at ECI about the Afghan populace.
Advice for UCLA undergrads
To all UCLA undergrads seeking an international internship, I recommend working with an organization that you are truly passionate about. Internships are not activities you list on a resume; rather, they are opportunities to work for a cause that you deem important in the world.
You are more than your resume, thus you should value your time and aim to work in areas that contribute to your goals and aspirations, not simply check a box. I’ve done internships throughout my undergraduate career and I can safely say that I’ve had amazing experiences in all of them due to the beautiful camaraderie that I and my peers created through shared goals.