Posted by: viaprograms | January 7, 2011

Reflections on VIA in Indonesia

June A. Gordon, Program Committee Chairperson for VIA’s Board traveled to Indonesia to visit our volunteers and partners. Below are thoughts and photos from the trip.

Given the recent developments resulting from the Merapi eruption, the refugee situation, and some changes in VIA post assignments, I decided to make a 2 ½ week visit to meet with three volunteers in Java, as well as spend time with Sugi, our VIA in-country representative.

The volunteers were a joy to be with. We had begun our communication months before due to the complexity of the travel plan, as they are not all in one location. With patience and perseverance, plane and train rides, we were able to make it to their posts, visits their host institutions, and see their living situations. I am pleased to report that they are all doing well, have supportive environments in which they work, and seem to be gaining phenomenally from their experience.

The three volunteers I met came into VIA with a focus on Indonesia and with the intention of continuing their study of this complex country in graduate school. Two of them hope to become cultural anthropologists and the other involved in policy work. While I have often viewed VIA as a way of transforming the lives of individual volunteers, I had not before seen how it contributes to the development of future scholars whose interest and knowledge is deepened by the VIA experience. What follows is a brief description of my visits.

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Erica works in Solo at Muhammadiyah University of Surakarta which is about a one-hour train ride from Yogyakarta. The university is one of hundreds run by one of the two major Islamic groups in Indonesia. Muhammadiyah also run 6,000 day schools, a few banks and other enterprises. Erica teaches a range of classes, some of which I visited, as well as tutors the president of the university and his daughter in her free time. Her living situation is great, affording her the opportunity to share a common kitchen (she loves to cook Balinese food) with a supportive family, (the woman is one of the university faculty members) while having the top floor of the house to herself.

Gillian operates with ease at the NGO in Yogyakarta that runs a multitude to operations from providing water to victims of the eruption to tanning sting-rays to be used for the production of items to be sold for income. She relates to the range of workers and their varied functions throughout the organization. Her work mostly entails proposals and related organizational writing. We visited the house which she shares with several other young people near her post. It is very convenient. We also attended a Ramayama ballet one evening after dinner along with one of her friends. Given that it was at the height of the rainy season, we could not see it outside in its natural setting, but it was still very impressive.

Jenny’s situation in Jakarta is different. She works for TIFA Foundation, whose purpose is to aid in the strengthening of civil society and the promotion of an open society in Indonesia. TIFA is policy driven and responsible for the distribution of grant funding to other NGOs. Jenny works closely with various members of the association and assists in the translation of documents. Located in Jakarta she finds herself at the center of modern urban life, quite different from her previous year with VIA in Jambi, on distant Sumatra. Jenny’s living situation is also radically different from that on Jambi. In Jakarta she has located housing in a brand new apartment complex making her work and home conditions pretty impressive for a recent university graduate.  She receives tremendous support from her co-workers and her boss who recently encouraged her to write and publish an article on the fieldwork in which she has engaged.

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