Volunteering: An act of service worth celebrating

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by Mitzi Christie
Photo credit: Mira Muliajati Lay

Earlier this month on the 5th of December 2019, we celebrated International Volunteer Day. KabarOz was lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview Mrs Mira Muliajati Lay, an Australian volunteer who has been an important part of the Australian Volunteers Program (AVP) and who for these past four years has dedicated her life to giving back to the community in her homeland, Indonesia. Please continue reading as Mira shares about leaving her job and convenient life in Canberra to answer her calling, pursuing what according to her described as rewarding experience that sets her soul on fire!

Australian Volunteers Program

Tell us the story about why are you interested in volunteering in the first place?
I grew up in a small town in Indonesia where at the time there was not enough access for
good education and health facilities compared to the other big cities. When I had an opportunity to study in Yogyakarta in Commerce Management then moved to Canberra to work in various sectors such as government, private and not-for-profit, I felt that I had a privilege. Since I was little I always involved in community and organisation with social cause. I guess that is something that closely connected to me.

I have always been passionate about working in the community in development and working to alleviate the level of poverty through capacity building and empowerment. Giving back to the community was something I have always wanted, being able to work in the sector that I am passionate about in my homeland Indonesia where I was raised was incredibly rewarding. So, when I found this opportunity through the Australian Volunteers Program, I knew it was my thing. In 2016, I undertook my second assignment, my kids and husband who were in the assignment together was also had an amazing experience, including improving their Indonesian language skills, strengthening our family connections as well as gaining professional job opportunities. We were so lucky!

Could you give us an overview of your assignment including an example of your day-to-day role?
My last assignment in Bogor was as Youth Program Advisor at Independent Creative Foundation also known as Yayasan Cipta Mandiri Bogor (YCM), I was responsible to mentor leaders of the programs through a series of training sessions both in soft skills, organisational management and entrepreneurship. A couple of months after I started, I applied for a grant to deliver a Youth Empowerment and Internship Program (YEIP), which successfully got funded. During the project implementation, I usually go to the centre at 9 am or sometimes earlier to prepare my training with other facilitators, I run training in the morning until lunch time. The lunch involves delicious Indonesian food with rice and various types of local dishes cooked by the students, provided by the centre. Most of the time I have lunch together with all the tutors, or sometimes outside with my colleagues, after lunch I sometimes go for a walk to a nearby coffee shop. After that, depends on my schedule for the day, I could be delivering training, workshops, teaching English, writing reports, planning the training materials, meeting and counselling, researching on subjects or field working. All the formal activities finish at 5 pm at the centre, but sometimes my colleagues and I go for a little jog around Botanic garden before we head home or play badminton in the nearby community sports centre.

Australian volunteers Program

Tell us more about the types of communities you are working with, the environment and the issues the community faces?
YCM provides educational, life skills, entrepreneurial and professional development training to disadvantaged children and young people from the age of 10 – 23 years old in Bogor. The most difficult circumstance faced by the members of YCM is poor economy and inadequate access to welfare, public health service and employment.

In Bogor, a lot of the youth from low socio-economic backgrounds struggling to be skilled due to lack of affordable training facilities, some youth are also have dropped out of formal school because of economic and family problems. For example, they need to look after their younger siblings, live on the street, experience untreated mental illness and disabilities, it is difficult for these young people under these circumstance to gain the skills, have sustainable income and be a good, productive member of their community. By giving them the opportunity to be educated, trained and equipped them with practical skills and professional and business linkages, they have more opportunity to compete and focus on achieving their dreams so they can have a better quality of life.

What have been some of the challenges/limitations you have faced on your assignment so far? How have you overcome these?
My role has so many hats, working in a foundation with big missions and purpose like YCM often requires a lot of flexibility and adaptability. I used to work in a more structured and systematic environment where I plan things in advance specifically. In YCM things can change regularly to fit in whatever comes up, and of course every opportunity we have that can be beneficial for the community will get the priority and amazingly everything will be done. Working within a very limited resources either be financial, capacities and capabilities are also quite challenging, but I never cease to try my best and to see that challenges are opportunities to learn and explore some creative solutions by focusing on the strengths and partnering with other organisations or individuals to work on projects together.

Australian Volunteers Program

What do you feel has been your most significant contribution to the organisation since the beginning your volunteer assignment?
In YCM, I feel that one of my significant contributions is through successfully receiving the
Community Grant Scheme. Therefore, YCM was able to be more focused in developing their
Youth programs, they were able to implement one year project where YCM facilitated a
series of soft skills and entrepreneurship training and did a campaign to the other community groups about YCM programs and the project. From that project the youth has an opportunity to lead and manage project and events themselves including fundraising, peers motivating, public speaking and creating businesses. Through the training project, some of the major outcomes were the nomination finalists of the Gardening team in UN Youth Volunteering Innovative Challenge (UNYVIC) and the improved capacity of the program leaders like Core management, Handicraft and Multimedia team to utilise some tools for setting goals, developing programs, writing reports and grant, managing programs as well as operating the crowdfunding resources.

What has been your favourite experience so far?
I have so many amazing experiences but some of my favourites are making new connections and building relationships through ways like Indonesians such as culinary indulgence or “nongkrong” (hangout) by enjoying “Bakso” (meatballs)! And also pampering myself with massages and hair spa! I also love going on field trip for working with one of the youth start-up programs called Bogor Tours, I worked on developing the program to expand its markets, improve their products and services as well as the tour guides’ capacity. My favourite place with Bogor Tours is Baduy, an indigenous tribe living in an isolated area in Banten. We went there for a couple of times to develop an ecotourism package and since Bogor Tours started the program, we have managed to build supportive connections with the local Baduy people through our program.

What types of things do you do when you are not volunteering?
I spend time with my extended families there, explore Bogor and the surrounding nature such as trekking to the waterfalls, rain forest, villages up the mountains, spend time on Java coast or just to the ancient Botanical garden in the city centre. I enjoy exploring different kinds of food as well as travelling to places and experience the local culture. I was lucky during my time I had a chance to explore Toraja in Sulawesi, Sumatera to see the Orangutan conservation on the wooden boat, Belitung, Raja Ampat and Bali during the Australian Volunteers Program annual forum.

Australian Volunteers Program

What have you learnt from your host organisation/the community since beginning your volunteer experience?
I have learnt to be more flexible, patient and creative. My role requires me to think outside the box, to make the most of what you have and go from there, to never give up on hope and dreams. I learnt that anything is possible even in the most desperate situation, only if we have strong willingness to pursue it. We can achieve it, firstly by changing our lenses to see things positively. I learnt about an impactful community collaboration and gratitude. The feeling that everyone belongs and that there is support for each other in bad and good times, that is really something that I admire from YCM.

Would you encourage others to volunteer overseas?
I highly recommend others to try on the journey, it is a life changing experience for me and for so many others I know. Being part of something larger than ourselves, discovering new things about ourselves that we did not know it existed and faced the fear to experience the unexpected were truly a character building but also rewarding in many ways. I improved my personal and professional skills along the way and build new network with like-minded people. Even more special for me that the chance to give back to the community is by directly helping the most needed society in my homeland with my family.

People interested in becoming a volunteer are invited to visit https://www.australianvolunteers.com/.

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