WELLINGTON (AFP) - A New Zealand man who lived in a tent during his unpaid United Nations internship in Geneva confessed on Friday it was a publicity stunt, and won praise from his mother for his "moral" stand.
Mr David Hyde, 22, told a Swiss newspaper earlier this week he was living in a tent near the shores of Lake Geneva because he could not afford to rent, drawing swift reaction from sympathetic locals who went looking for him to offer accommodation.
But Mr Hyde, who has now quit his job, says he chose to live in a tent to call attention to the lack of pay at the United Nations' prestigious internship programme.
He said that when he was interviewed for the position he was asked if he could fully fund himself in Geneva for the six-month post and said he could, when "my bank account clearly said no".
Mr Hyde confessed to the publicity stunt on The Intercept website, saying while he had wanted to complete an internship to help fulfil his dreams of working in the international arena, he had also wanted to raise awareness about the "hypocrisy" of unpaid work.
He said he decided on a tent after realising renting a studio or a room in Geneva was outside his budget, in part because of the "powerful imagery I knew it would provide".
"It seemed that in doing so I could hit two birds with one stone: It was an affordable way to live in Geneva with my limited funds - and the fact that a UN intern was living in a tent could help to raise awareness on the issue," he wrote.
After one week living in his tent, Mr Hyde said he arranged for his situation to be leaked to the media. Pictures of him standing in an immaculate suit, UN entrance badge around his neck, next to a small, blue tent and rolled up foam mattress, prompted global interest.
"The intention was to spark a small discussion in Geneva on intern rights and get the media reporting on the issue," he said.
"However, the response was more than I could have ever planned for or expected."
His mother, who lives in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, has praised her son's "moral leadership".
"I'm still proud that he's willing to put his career opportunities to one side to highlight an issue which seems to have been going on a long time, but no one's been paying attention," Mrs Vicki Hyde told Fairfax Media.
"This is an issue which did need to be raised... and I think having the UN, who encourages equal rights and pay for equal work, should be the moral leaders.
"It shows he's got some moral leadership."
But Mr Hyde himself is not sure whether what he did was morally justifiable.
"Perhaps it is too soon to tell. The fact is that a story like this has not come up before for a key reason: people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are unable to do these internships in the first place."
Mr Hyde said on a personal level, he "truly enjoyed" his short stint working at the global body but had taken the decision to resign.
"Because of the scale the story has reached, I became increasingly worried that my actions would have repercussions for those I worked alongside who had been nothing but supportive," he added.
A UN spokesman Ahmad Fawzi, with three of his own interns in tow, spontaneously addressed the issue during a weekly briefing on Tuesday, insisting to reporters that the world body was barred from paying interns by a General Assembly resolution.
"We're not allowed to even if we want to, and believe me we want to," he said.