Meet Elma Jenkins



Elma is one of many who couldn’t afford an internship in Geneva, New York or Ankara. Here she shares with us the letter which she sent to the UN following her frustration of not being able to apply for an unpaid internship. Currently, Elma is an intern at an NGO called SPARK, based in Amsterdam.



Following my MSc in Development Studies I was persuaded to look for internships. It was not something I initially wanted to do but many who worked in the sector told me it was very useful. As many internships require you to still be signed up as a student, I found a way of extending my MSc for an extra 6 months to include work experience. From my previous work I had saved up 6,000 pounds which paid for my study. The extra 6 months would have to be paid out of a continued student loan as my savings were up. I looked into the bigger organisations but found that moving and living in a more expensive city was simply not possible for me. I consider myself lucky to have found somewhere very cheap and quiet outside of Amsterdam but still within easy traveling distance to complete this internship now. I have found a nice internship in the Netherlands at a small NGO called SPARK which pays me a stipend of  €300 which covers my rent, and I have extended my student loan to see me through the coming 6 months.

This is my letter to the UN. Sadly I never got a reply back.

“To whom it may concern,

I am a mature MSc graduate who has spent five years working and volunteering in the UK and abroad in between studies. I was going to apply for your internship in Turkey as it sounded like a great opportunity to apply my PR and writing skills and a chance to see how a UN agency works. After careful review of your application form I have decided against it and to send you this e-mail instead.

I find it rather strange that as an organisation committed to development you are not prepared to pay at least a living in-country wage to interns. As a recent graduate I am well aware that the job market is tenuous at best right now, and strong pressure on governments and business is needed to make sure everyone is given at least a bare minimum of equal opportunity in life and decency of living. I believe it was the World Bank who recently raised the poverty line from $1.25 to almost $3 and also declared that dignity in development should be a key aim.

How you can then “offer” an internship ─ expecting 6 months of unpaid work from experienced graduates and demand that they purchase their own health and life insurance, I am not sure, but the irony does not escape me. The UN is a colossal organisation with close to a five billion yearly turnover, it is supported by major European countries who all have minimum wage standards who want to promote themselves as the load starts of development. This is simply not acceptable and does nothing to help equalize growing inequality in places like the UK where I am from. I can assure you not many young people will be able to fund this unless they are fortunate enough to be funded by a family member or by getting into debt. The former of which only perpetuates unequal opportunities while the latter can set a young person back considerably and put them at risk of vulnerable housing. I will be looking for paid opportunities only through the UN and I hope to see more in the future.”


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