by Krista Zillmer
This summer, I completed an internship at the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Department of Nutrition for Health and Development (NHD) in Geneva. The NHD aims to build and implement a science-based, comprehensive, integrated, and action-oriented “nutrition agenda” at the global, regional, and country levels. One of its roles is to provide policy guidance to Member States and the international community for developing and implementing effective policies to combat the double burden of malnutrition throughout the life course.
Some of the projects and tasks I worked on included:
- A global survey on country implementation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, which involved survey revision, communications with regional advisors and country officers, and reading through dozens of country legislations on marketing, labeling, and donations of infant formula.
- An analysis of national policies and the global monitoring framework to see if and how countries are addressing the six global nutrition targets, as well as the set of core indicators in their policies, strategies, and action plans.
- Scoping summary on the capacity indicator for nutrition professionals, which is part of the core indicators mentioned above, but requires further development and guidance on collection and reporting.
- Drafting a best practices brief for the Accelerating Nutrition Improvements (ANI) project in Sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, I had to piece together information from reports on a project to improve complimentary feeding practices in Uganda.
- Updating the Global database for Implementation of Nutrition Action (GINA)
I enjoyed all the projects that I worked on, but I especially loved having the opportunities to attend other meetings and events. I arrived early enough to attend the 68th World Health Assembly
(WHA), which took place May 18-26. This annual meeting is held in Geneva and brings together delegations from WHO Member States to decide on the policies of the organization. Each year, there are different health issues discussed, which are researched and prepared by the executive board. This year, two nutrition items were on the agenda, both of which were endorsed: the outcome of the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2) and the development of a core set of indicators for maternal, infant, and young child nutrition. Besides the assembly committee sessions, there were many other interesting events at the WHA. I attended panel discussions and technical briefings where I found myself conversing with ministers of health and other high level professionals.
During the course of my internship I also had the opportunity to attend other internal meetings and expert groups that convened at WHO. Although it can be difficult to be silent observer, I learned so much and always felt inspired and reinvigorated to do my work. At the beginning, I felt timid around so many experts and senior officials, but after a few times I felt very confident that I could have an intelligent conversation about nutrition issues with them during the coffee breaks.
I could go on for hours about everything I learned over the past few months, but I imagine that there two major questions that other students, particularly incoming students, would like to know:
How did I get my internship?
I applied on the WHO website in addition to a few other organizational websites, but I am convinced that those applications actually enter a black hole once you press “submit.” I had been in contact with a woman at the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition, but that internship fell through so she forwarded my information to her colleagues at the WHO Nutrition department, and a few days later I was invited to come work in the nutrition policy and scientific advice unit. Connections were extremely important in finding my internship.
How do you afford an unpaid internship in Geneva?
Well, it really helps if you find out that you have relatives that live in Geneva and they recently moved to a new apartment that has an extra bedroom. I really wish I had better advice, but the honest truth is that I got lucky. If I didn’t have free rent, this internship would have been a huge expense. It’s an unfortunate situation that the UN system is trying to grapple with currently.
Most of my intern friends had no funding or support from their universities and had to find affordable housing. For cheaper housing, people will rent rooms in foyers, which are like dormitory-style accommodation. However, these are in high demand, so they must be arranged early in the spring. The majority of my intern friends just sub-leased apartments, mostly from university students who left for the summer. Another option is to live in one of the nearby French suburbs.
Public transportation is quite good in Geneva, and a monthly pass costs about the same as one in Boston. If you are under 25, you get a discount, too.
As for entertainment, Geneva offers many free and low-cost events: museum days, festivals, sunrise concerts, salsa dancing in the park, outdoor movies, and intern spin and yoga classes at WHO, to name a few. Furthermore, Switzerland is an undeniably beautiful country with many spots to find outdoor adventure. In Geneva, you can swim in the lake or even take a float down the Rhône River on hot afternoons. Just outside the city, there are plenty of trails through vineyards and nearby mountains with spectacular views.
To all the new students reading this, whether you are hoping to find an internship in Boston, in the U.S. or somewhere overseas, my advice is to be bold, don’t be afraid to use your connections, and then work hard to prove your capabilities. Best of luck this year and see you around Jaharis!
Krista Zillmer is a second-year FPAN student who is passionate about maternal, infant, and young child nutrition. This is her first time contributing to the Friedman Sprout.