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Meet our Queen Elizabeth Scholars: Rasa Sarwari

Thanks to his internship in Ghana, Rasa Sarwari plans to pursue graduate education in international relations or international development.

Last year, a number of U of T Scarborough students went overseas to share knowledge, exchange ideas, and collaborate on meaningful initiatives. It was all part of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship program. As students consider what they’ll be doing this summer, we asked three of these Queen Elizabeth Scholars to tell us about their experiences.


This week, find out more about these students and their work at a special exhibition in Gallery 1265.

 

A short-term internship in Ghana became a life-altering experience for Rasa Sarwari, a fifth-year student in UTSC’s International Development Studies program.

Working with Belgian non-governmental organization TRIAS, Sarwari spent three-and-a-half months in the town of Bolgatanga, helping the NGO carry out its mandate: connecting small entrepreneurs, marginalized communities and women and youth to financial institutions, government institutions and other NGOs for services and aid.

“It was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” says Sarwari, who graduates in the spring. “I loved it, and I think, honestly, I’m a different person because of the experience.

“It has shaped me in a professional and personal way and I would go back in a heartbeat.”

Sarwari’s duties were twofold. He acted as a business support officer, helping to draft various reports, setting up meetings between farmers and representatives from financial institutions and government, and going into the field to supervise activities of TRIAS colleagues and partners.

His second role was communications officer, and he revised TRIAS’s communication plans to incorporate social media after he realized there was an opportunity for TRIAS to reach a larger audience through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and other tools.

“I held a few regional meetings where I talked about how to use social media to empower a marginalized community – including starting online funding initiatives through indiegogo and then posting it on Facebook and Instagram and getting followers to follow online campaigns so they can help fund it and get more people to know about TRIAS,” he says.

He also trained staff on how to use the social media tools, and he created templates and strategies for them to follow after he left Ghana.

Associate Prof. Bhavani Raman from the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies taught Sarwari in two classes and wrote a reference letter for his placement that was funded through the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee II Program.

"I am really delighted that Rasa won the scholarship that allowed him to spend time in Ghana; it was very well deserved,” she says. “He distinguished himself as student and was able to grasp and engage with unfamiliar narratives and histories. He also showed an unusual ability to focus and work towards his goal."

Sarwari said his internship was his first time working in a professional international development setting and he felt a little intimidated at first. Staff were also initially unsure as to what to do with their first ever short-term student placement.

However, he says his colleagues at TRIAS were very friendly and open to helping him. And by the time he left, he had helped TRIAS build capacity by embracing new ideas.

“I brought an outside mindset in – with social media and crowd-funding sources – things that they didn’t know before,” he says. “So, I think they’re more open to taking other international volunteers and interns.”

Sarwari says his placement gave him valuable insight into how countries in the “global north” – like Belgium, Canada or the United States – can effect change in countries like Ghana through their aid or development agencies.

Based on his experience, he now plans to pursue a graduate diploma in international relations or international development.

“Working in this professional setting was a good viewing into what I want to do in the future,” he says. “The main reason I want to pursue a career in development or international relations is to effect positive change for marginalized peoples and communities in the global south.”




© University of Toronto Scarborough