Eraj Sikandar

APEX Fellowship | Eraj Sikandar

October 27, 2020   /  

Major: Business Economics
Class Year: 2022
Faculty Mentor: David McConnell

Wilson Award

Interning at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Islamabad, Pakistan, I organized a virtual training program to improve HIV testing and counseling within prisons nationwide.

Eraj Sikandar will be online to field comments on Nov. 5 from 3:30pm – 5:30pm.

20 thoughts on “APEX Fellowship | Eraj Sikandar”

  1. Congratulations, Eraj! It’s absolutely fantastic to be able to celebrate your hard work and determination with you, even if it is virtually. I’m so glad your time with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime helped you explore potential academic and career possibilities, and that you could have such a fulfilling experience with such an incredible organization even despite a global pandemic!

    1. Thank you for such kind words Nick, and for all your support and guidance during this process!

  2. Thank you for sharing the presentations, Eraj!
    I am very happy that you had such a good experience and are able to share that experience with others.
    I hope that many students will be inspired by your experience.

    What are some challenges the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Pakistan faces beyond the prison population in terms of HIV prevention?

    1. Thank you Professor Matsuzawa, means a lot to me coming from you!!

      HIV, in general, is highly stigmatized in Pakistan which stems many other issues. During my internship, I learned that less than 1/10 people living with HIV are aware of their condition in high prevalence countries. This is largely because many people are hesitant of even being tested for HIV. Those who do know they are HIV+ may be reluctant on reaching out to resources because of the fear of being discriminated against or someone knowing of their status.

      UNODC also attempts to dismantle the stigma surrounding HIV in Pakistan by raising awareness among individuals (be it prison staff, doctors, or the general public) about the causes of HIV and how to best treat a HIV+ person keeping in mind their safety and consent, as well as encourages people to reach out to the necessary resources to get tested or treated.

  3. What an amazing, impactful experience, Eraj! I am glad that you had the opportunity to intern with the UN ODC this past summer despite the external challenges cause by the pandemic.

    Internships are such an incredible way to gain the skills and tools needed to succeed in your career in addition to finding out what you want to do. It sounds like you really maximized your time over the 8 weeks to do that. This opportunity has paved the way to your career goals and I am glad that it sparked an interested in pursuing a WGS minor here at Wooster.

    What great things you will do in the future, Eraj! Keep up the amazing work 🙂

    1. Thank you so much Mackenzie! You, as always, are too kind 🙂

      Definitely, this experience has been very enriching for me. I wasn’t completely sure about how everything would pan out with a remote internship. Originally, I did not know I would be assisting in organizing the training on HIV Testing & Counseling or directly reaching out to the prison staff (how crazy!!). But, overall it was so much fun and I’m glad things turned out this way.

  4. What a thoughtful presentation on your experience this past summer, Eraj. You had to deal with a number of very heavy topics. How did you manage the emotional impact of your work? And, I’d love to hear more about your thoughts about creating a socially inclined entrepreneurial venture. So much interesting and challenging work awaits you!

    1. Thank you so much Cathy! You have been such a great support since the start of this whole process and I’m so appreciative of how motivating you have been for all of us APEX Fellows.

      I would say having to contact around 80 people from all around Pakistan working in prisons was the hardest part of my internship to me. I had to inform them about the details of the UNODC-COPAK HIV Testing & Counseling training, encourage them to attend, and regularly follow-up with the participants. This was, at times, emotionally difficult for me because not everyone was interested. Although, I generally got very positive responses, there were a couple of people who were very challenging. In addition, since this training covered 3/4 provinces of Pakistan, I also faced some language barriers (different provinces speak Urdu – our national language, but primarily use different languages too). To manage the emotional stress, I would take a few minutes to calm down and pace myself after a difficult phone call and focus on the bigger picture of this training before moving onto the next task.

      During the training, we discussed about the challenges many HIV+ ex-convicts face in finding basic resources such as treatment centers. It is important for the prison staff to help this person establish linkages and referrals at the time of release. However, it is not the case in many countries. This, for me, sparked the thought of a venture which not only linked ex-convicts with healthcare services, but also landlords and employers who are specifically motivated to assist them in resettling. There could also be regular meetings assessing their progress. The availability of such a service could be of great benefit to ex-convicts, giving them the financial and mental support to change their lives for the better.

  5. What great experience to have. Thank you for sharing your story.

    I would like to know how this experience has influenced you. What did you take away from the experience?

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Carol!

      I would definitely say it has opened me up to a whole different reality. I’ve only known about the conditions of inmates through news channels or social media etc. Having to work so closely with the relevant authorities and hearing from them representing prisoners, especially learning about how the pandemic has influenced them – increasing their concerns about delays in their court hearings, worrying about their families, or straight up believing that COVID is a hoax – made my whole experience seem even more real.

      I have taken away so much from the UNODC, as well as from APEX. I’ve started taking WGSS courses this semester to better understand the struggles of people who are discriminated on the basis of their race, class, gender and/or sexuality. I have also become more independent having to sometimes make decisions on my own resulting from the remote internship, and adaptable because of the crazy, uncertain summer. I also learned to deeply analyse my experiences and build on writing skills with the help of my amazing mentor, David McConnell.

  6. Eraj – Thank you for inviting me to your presentation. What a fabulous experience! I am so sorry for the impact of covid and yet grateful for your ability to adapt and make accommodations – that is an important skill to have in work and life! I am very interested in hearing what gender issues or barriers (if any) you encountered not only in the workplace of the UN, but within the community, esp in dealing with such a sensitive topic? You did a stellar job presenting your topic and experience and I have no doubt you will positively influence other students to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities Wooster provides.

    1. Thank you Jill, so happy reading your comment! Definitely, part of the credit goes to you and ISS in helping me navigate the last few chaotic weeks before I left Wooster in Spring, otherwise I would not have considered this opportunity.

      There weren’t many gender issues or barriers within the UNODC team I worked with, partly because they had all been working together for at least a couple of years and had a well-established approach to taking on tasks. Having to call prison staff to inform them about the 4-week HIV Testing & Counseling training, I did at times feel I was taken less seriously by some of the people I reached out to because of my gender. However, during the training sessions the response was very positive. The training was primarily led by Sabine, a very professional and determined woman who I worked with and we faced no problems even when discussing some of the more taboo subjects in Pakistan such as the use of contraceptives etc.

      Because of the remote element of my internship, I did not have any direct exposure to the community at large, but that would have been a great learning experience!

  7. Congratulations again, Eraj, on a fantastic APEX experience! It was such a privilege to work with you as a mentor, and I learned so much from our weekly exchanges. I thought your presentation framed and summarized your work very effectively. And such a poised and professional delivery! I hope we can meet up on campus in the spring.

    1. Thank you David!! 🙂 Likewise, it was a pleasure for me to have you as my mentor as well and I gained so much experience from you. I’m glad you thought so. I found presenting my experience super easy because we had already covered most of the relevant material during our weekly reflections!

      Definitely looking forward to meeting soon in person, take care!

  8. Congratulations on a very productive summer, Eraj! Your work was undoubtedly impactful, especially given the taboos associated with HIV in conservatives communities like Pakistan.

  9. Earn,
    Thank you for your wonderful presentation. Like Cathy McConnell, I am very interested in your long term goal of working with convicts. Great work!

    1. Thank you Jenni!

      The idea for that came to me during one of the UNODC HIV Testing and Counseling sessions for the prison staff. They reported the difficulties HIV+ inmates face after being released in accessing treatment services because of a number of reasons, primarily including discrimination and affordability concerns. By having a venture that supports ex-convicts by linking them up with healthcare services, landlords and employers, they can have some ease settling back into their lives. There would also be a need for regular meetings to check their progress. Simply offering this help to ex-convicts would give them a chance to improve their lives. Without such resources, even those who want to turn away from crime might have to resort to it as a means of survival.

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