Top 5 Internships In International Development in Cape Town

by Jenn Warren

Everyone has a different story for how their wanderlust began. Perhaps it was a book or an adventurous Aunt Myra who came to family events full of tales of her fascinating and exciting life. How did she manage to have this life? Some pave the way while other flit around with a silver spoon in their mouth – Aunt Myra worked. She worked her tail off although you’d never know it. Many people who work in development and humanitarian aid contain their work to the project or country supported, thinking people back home are either uninterested or wouldn’t understand.

An old lady glancing up
Cape Town’s top five development internships offer a variety of ways to help the local people.

If you were interested and over the years your passion and spirit for volunteerism has grown, an international career is calling. You can get paid to travel and visit all the captivating places your Aunt Myra lived!

So how do you break into the development sector with no international experience? How do you launch a career in International Development? Some join the Peace Corps, a more than two-year commitment in which you have little to no say in where you live. 

Another option is an internship, either while still studying (for college credit), or just after graduation. An internship gives you the opportunity to choose where you want to live, where you want to work, and how long you want to stay abroad. But, the world is a big place, so how do you choose where to go and what to do?

Why Intern In Cape Town?

South Africa (and specifically Cape Town!) is an amazing place to do an internship abroad. Cape Town is a top tourist destination, boasting one of Mother Nature’s Seven Wonders of the World, Table Mountain, as well as some of the most beautiful natural coastlines and wildlife in the world. The water is cold, but if you are a surfer or want to try Stand Up Paddle boarding in your spare time, this is the place for you!

Apart from the natural wonders, Cape Town is a vibrant and warm city, bursting at the seams with energy and creativity. This year, the Mother City is proud to be nominated as World Design Capital 2014, hosting innovative and inspired approaches to tackling poverty and social inequality, bringing the arts, music, and access to services closer to the people of Cape Town. Plus, Capetonians tend to be a group of fun, funky, outdoorsy, wine connoisseurs, and foodies.

More important than all the fun you could have during an internship in Cape Town, is the amount of good you could do – tangible good for YOURSELF, your future career in development, and toward the amazing and life-changing work that happens with a South African NGO.

To break into a career in International Development look for a position in one of Cape Town’s most popular and effective areas. What are they? This article will not only lay out what these sectors are and what they do, but how to determine which internship is right for you and your professional goals. 

1. Arts Education

Intern at a small non-profit organization committed to developing South Africa’s capacity for arts education and youth empowerment. Arts NGOs need the help of creative, organized, and flexible interns to expand the arts education field, an under-funded and under-utilized area in South Africa’s education system. NGOs are dedicated to informing young people and engaging them in creative endeavours that support social change and speak to the spirit of holistic empowerment in South Africa. They use the power of a creative voice to express concerns about pressing social issues and arts education.

What They Do. South African organizations working in arts education host annual art festivals and educational seminars, lead art workshops for impoverished youth, and use conscious art exhibits to teach youth about important social lessons about HIV/AIDS, the environment and diversity.

You don’t have to be an Art Therapist or Social Worker to support an organization doing this kind of work (although that would be great). Other possible ways to support include fundraising, IT and communications skills such as graphic design, website development, writing, and social media marketing.

2. Human Rights

Inequalities created by apartheid-era injustices continue to plague South Africa. Highly motivated individuals are needed in the field of human rights to support and develop creative solutions to today’s social, political, and economic challenges in post-apartheid South Africa.

What They Do. Cape Town human rights organizations are aplenty, and range from highly visible grassroots social movements to large multi-national non-profit organizations. If you are passionate about Human Rights, an internship in this sector can help you gain hands-on work experience that includes increasing people’s access to basic services; promoting active citizenship and social justice; Human Rights education; policy, research, and writing; and community organizing. Organizations in this field need support with research, data analysis, report writing, fundraising, donor relations, site visits and fieldwork.

3. Gender-Based Violence

Women’s rights and advocacy in South Africa affects a multitude of other sectors such as health, education, and community empowerment. Ultimately, gender inequalities impede the realization of full human potential and drive the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Gender-based violence (GBV) is a significant problem in South Africa and there are many ways you can help and learn more. 

What They Do. There are a number of excellent non-profits working to prevent GBV in South Africa through advocacy, and treating and counseling the victims of gender-based violence. If you are interested in female empowerment and equality, and/or law and human rights issues, GBV could be the focus area for you.

Due to the sensitive nature of this work, an internship in the GBV sector suits more emotionally-mature students and graduates who have some knowledge and experience of gender and GBV issues. Organizations working on GBV issues in Cape Town generally need support with research and writing on gender issues and GBV, communications support such as advocacy, marketing and website development, programme support and counseling.

GBV also affects the LGBTQI community in South Africa. Although South Africa has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world with regards to LGBTQI rights, the reality on the ground is a different story. Members of the LGBTQI community are not well accepted or understood by the majority of South African society. Much of the country is still very traditional, and it is important for LGBTQI groups and organizations to be visible and vocal about LGBTQI-related issues. There are a small number of LGBTQI organizations working in Cape Town that host interns who are passionate about this specialized focus within the Human Rights and GBV fields.

4. Public Health

South Africa is the perfect location to gain hands-on experience in public health. South Africa has the highest rate of HIV infections globally, in addition to one of the world’s largest government-run Antiretroviral Treatment (ART) programs. South Africa is also an epicenter of the tuberculosis (TB) epidemic, currently the number one killer of adults living in South Africa. TB and HIV/AIDS leave millions of South African children orphaned and vulnerable across the country, and it is frequently the work of NGOs and their dedicated teams to support affected communities, and find ways to curb the epidemics with education and behavior change.

What They Do. A handful of well-established NGOs need support with research, data analysis, report writing, communications, fundraising, donor relations, site visits and fieldwork. An internship in Public Health in South Africa is definitely a life-changing opportunity to learn about public health issues affecting impoverished communities and develop skills in the exciting, dynamic, and rapidly growing field of public health.

5. Refugee Support

Asylum seekers are a growing, highly marginalized population in South Africa. Unfortunately, there are very few services available to assist refugees, and they often face xenophobia from locals and discrimination as they search for employment, education, and shelter. NGOs provide vital support mechanisms and structures in the absence of government services.

What They Do. A number of innovative organizations in Cape Town provide social, economic, and psychological support to refugees from conflict-ridden countries around Africa. Internships in the refugee focus area include research on social, economic, legal, and political issues affecting migration to South Africa and the refugees currently in South Africa; monitoring and evaluation; fundraising and marketing; and social work and counseling.