Ellie and Helen at World YWCA

Early in February 2020, the World YWCA office in Geneva had the pleasure to welcome Ellie Schonberg and Helen Ferguson as the 2020 interns from Colgate University. Both young women were thrilled to work and gain knowledge to develop experience in programme development, and to enhance their skills on advocating for global issues, particularly peace and justice, gender-based violence, and sexual and reproductive rights.. During the initial months, they engaged in a number of activities including the conceptualisation and development of the theme and concept for World YWCA Day 2020, that was later adapted to follow social distancing protocols and other safety measures required after the COVID-19 outbreak was announced. They also actively participated in events such as the annual World Day of Prayer celebrated, with our ecumenical partners and dedicated this year to join in global prayer and action for peace and justice in Zimbabwe.

However, their time at World YWCA was reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the safety restrictions and measurements that followed. Both young women had to fly back to the United States, to continue their internship experience virtually.

Now that their internship period has come to an end, we deeply thank and acknowledge Ellie and Helen for their leadership, commitment and flexibility to engage while working together with us at the office, and virtually from home. The team at World YWCA wishes them a great future ahead.

Here’s what they shared about their experience and journey as the Colgate University-World YWCA Interns 2020:

Ellie back home.

Ellie Schonberg:

I have grown in unpredicted and immeasurable ways as a woman, student, co-worker, friend and human being. I feel I have a better understanding of who I am, the world around me, and the importance of women’s rights and equality across the world.

When I was given the opportunity to work as an intern at the World YWCA in Geneva, Switzerland in the spring of 2020, I was admittedly hesitant. What would I, a young woman interested in public health and a career in medicine, do at an organisation working towards women’s rights? Would I have the skills needed to contribute as a team member, having never interned at an NGO?

Any hesitations or reservations I had melted away the moment I walked into the World YWCA. Helen, my fellow intern (and now one of my very best friends) and I, were welcomed with open arms by the World YWCA staff. We were asked our opinion, told that our thoughts mattered, and made us both feel like we were absolutely qualified to be part of the World YWCA team. We were asked about our interests and were then paired with projects that aligned with those interests. I began working on SRHR and mental health, which has benefited my education in public health in numerous ways.

I have always been a feminist, without a doubt. I believe all people are equal, without question. What I think has changed, though, is my understanding of why feminism is a vital part of the world and how it can impact people’s lives. Reading blog posts of young women across the world on SheSpeaks about gender based violence, assault, child marriage and leadership, I felt both inspired and empowered. Feminism will never again be just something I believe in. It is something I will fight for, actively, every day of my life. There is no other choice, and my internship at the World YWCA helped me realise that.

In the future, I hope to bring my experiences at the World YWCA to a job in healthcare. My entire life, I have been surrounded by strong women who inspire me, and I hope to emulate them, along with the amazing women of the World YWCA, wherever I go.

Today, I sit writing these words from my home in the U.S. The world is different than when I began my internship at the World YWCA, and I am uncertain about what the future holds. However, one thing I am sure about, is that the World YWCA, its staff and the movement as a whole, will remain important and close to me no matter what. The things I have learned in a few short months at the World YWCA are not things I can ever forget.

I can’t wait to see what is next for this amazing movement, and I look forward to be part of it.


Helen back home.

Helen Ferguson:

I am so thankful for my experience with the World YWCA and I will take what I learned and the ways in which I grew with me in all that I do.

 I made my decision to study abroad in Geneva Switzerland in the fall of 2018. I grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C. and I have been interested in law and international law since I was a high school student. I was nervous to go abroad as I had never spent much time out of the United States before going to Geneva. However, I knew the Geneva program would be right for me. The city reminded me of my home in D.C. and I knew that the experience of studying international law and relations in Geneva would be relevant and beneficial to my studies and career.

The most appealing part of this program in Geneva though was the opportunity to have an internship with an IGO or NGO abroad. As soon as I was told that the World YWCA was an organisation that Colgate students had interned before, I had my heart set on an internship with the World YWCA. I identify strongly with feminist goals and doing this work on an international scale combined my interests and my passions. I was so thrilled to be given the opportunity to work at the World YWCA with the Global Programming and Impact team.

I was nervous when I arrived in Geneva and the first few weeks were challenging for me. I had never lived so far from home and felt out of place in a new country and culture. I was worried about adding a new internship and work environment on top of all these other new experiences. When I arrived at the World YWCA, all of these nerves fell away. I was welcomed into the office as part of the team. Everyone wanted to answer my questions about life in Geneva and recommend where to eat, the most important sights to see, and where to travel on weekends. The World YWCA office not only impacted my professional experience in Geneva but also my entire abroad experience. The World YWCA helped me feel at home in Geneva and I grew to love the city more than I could have anticipated.

The World YWCA believes in the work they do and is committed to empowering women and young women in all their diversity, anywhere and everywhere from their own office to the opposite side of the earth. I was lucky enough to be one of these young women who benefited from the empowerment that the YWCA instills. I was given much more independence and autonomy than I have ever experienced in previous internships. The other members of the office always wanted my opinion and cared about thoughts I had on the work we were doing. My internship at the World YWCA gave me not only experience in this field but also confidence in my ability to be successful in the work I do.