Trees overhanging a concrete path with trees standing upright on the other side.

Dispatch from the United Nations Development Programme in Fiji: Shaza Ahmed’s first blog from the field

Photo credit: Shaza Ahmed

By Shaza Ahmed, MAGG

Words fall short of my gratitude at being able to experience this internship opportunity in-person at the UNDP Pacific Office. I have the privilege of working and living in another country, learning about a new culture, and making some impact. Not only is this opportunity in another country, it is in another hemisphere. Here, the stars we see are reflected differently and have their own set of constellations. The seasons fall opposite to what it is like in Canada, with summers from December to March and winters from June to September. It is my first-time swimming in the Pacific Ocean, or any ocean for that matter as Ontarian beaches are by lakes. We are also one day ahead so we like to tell our families and friends back home that we are talking to them from the future. If not for this internship, I would have never found myself in this part of the world.

Fiji is a beautiful and entirely surreal landscape. We landed in Nadi a few days prior to the start of our internship and were immediately offered taxi service at “foreigner” prices. Fortunately, we had done our research inside the airport what the cost should be. When it was much higher, my fellow intern and I opted to take the open window, completely packed, 5-hour bus ride to Suva where we are based. It drove alongside the coast of the island Viti Levu and gave us our first glimpse of the country. Right away, I noticed the diversity of the trees. The island is visibly lush with greenery. It is not uncommon to see fruit hanging, an abundance of coconut and pawpaw. You also notice that the trees are inhabited by large bats. During the daytime, you can hear their screeches and see them soaring, distinct from the bird life. Our walks to work are the favourite part of my day as we live close to the shoreline, a fact that troubles my father. The tsunami warning signs on our street worry me a bit as well, but the distant shapely mountains and the warm hues of the sky evoke reverence. I know from now; this walk is what I will miss the most once I return home.

I am part of the Monitoring and Evaluation team, which means that I work with large data sets. It helps knowing how to google formulas for excel to manipulate the data and sort it in different ways to reveal insights about projects. My current task is to identify projects that have risks that have matured and determine any patterns or underlying causes. For example, if several financial projects have risks materialize and they are all implemented in the same country, it could mean there is a structural or institutional reason why projects are failing there. In that case, our team will look for solutions to mitigate the risk and extract lessons learned for future projects. The pandemic was a risk factor for many operational projects. Some other risk factors include displacement, climate change, changes to internal policy frameworks, delivery issues, occupational health, and safety. It is important to report and return to these risks regularly to ensure that projects are doing what they were meant to. However, I find that the M&E team has to act as a whip to departments to make sure that this monitoring work is done. I enjoy being able to see the big picture as these projects are from multiple teams, allowing me to get a high-level understanding of systematic issues. I look forward to learning more about M&E and gaining a tangible skill that is increasingly valuable in development work.

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