Aaliyah Lightburn – Working with the Embassy of Belize
Aaliyah Lightburn had the experience of a two week internship in Cuba in 2016, working in the Embassy of Belize.
“My internship in Cuba, although short, was full of opportunities for both professional and personal growth. I had the opportunity to work in the Embassy of Belize with a mostly Cuban staff from 9.00-17.00 and sometimes until 23.30. Weekday evenings and weekends was my chance to learn about Cuba and experience the country for myself.
“In my first few days of working at the embassy, Ambassador Lou-Anne Burns, Belizean ambassador to Cuba, explained to me several times the importance of everyone’s job working in the embassy – from the gardener to the ambassador. No one’s job was above another’s and everyone had a valuable part to play in keeping the Embassy functioning. Now reflecting on that, I find that is essential for those working in diplomatic service, especially at foreign postings. Without a staff that felt appreciated, the Embassy of Belize would not be able to operate efficiently. I found out that even I as an intern had a very important part to play, even though I was there for only a short time. I was given a variation of work throughout my time that was simple but extremely important.
“Thankfully from the work I did, I now know what can be expected of me if ever I was to join Foreign Service in the future. My assignments ranged from administration to more technical work like operating Photoshop. First, I was tasked with enhancing and tagging images of important newspaper articles taken at the Cuban National Archive that were to be put in the Belizean National Archive. The tagging would make the process of digitally searching for images simpler than before, thus improving the quality of the National Archive. I was also asked to help organise the Embassy's financial documents in preparation for a continued audit by the request of the Auditor General of Belize. While these were simple tasks, I had to be extremely mindful of what I was doing because one small mistake or misfile could greatly alter public information.
“My work in the Embassy wasn’t without hardship though – gaining some insight into running a diplomatic posting in a country suffering from an embargo. The work I had could have been done in a timely manner had there been equipment, software and internet readily available to me. I learnt, however, that these things aren't easily attained in Cuba, especially by a small country with limited resources.
"Very often during the day, internet at the embassy would stop working, thus rendering it impossible to work or research information online. Alongside the unstable internet there was also a data cap, so only certain things could be looked for fear of exhausting all the data available to us for the month, which would then be very expensive to reinstall. This often led to me abandoning my work for the day to think of work I could do that didn’t require the internet.
"When I did have the chance to use software and equipment available to me, they were rather old and difficult to use. In addition to the software issues, one problem I encountered that I had never considered before, was being able to use software and equipment in Spanish. While I have no problems speaking conversational Spanish, I did have some difficulty adjusting to technical software terms in Spanish. I eventually overcame this hurdle and managed to finish my work.
“Besides the work given to me by the Embassy, I had to assist former ambassador to Cuba, Ambassador Assad Shoman, with information that he needed to be researched. Ambassador Shoman has been a key figure in realising Belize's history and helping with the ongoing dispute Belize has with one of her neighbour's. Having the chance to research information on Belize (then British Honduras) for him was an incredible opportunity. While researching for him, I was able to go more in depth with information about our history that I only managed to skim the surface of in school when I was younger. Ambassador Shoman also took the time to speak to me about his work and the importance of it for our country."