Indonesia is one of Australia’s most important bilateral relationships. Sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Indonesia benefits Australia and contributes to regional growth and stability. One aspect of the Australian Government’s development assistance in Indonesia is the provision of skilled Australian volunteers through the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program.
Annie Ingram spent nine months living and working in Bali, Indonesia through the AVID program, and shares a bit about her experience and how you can do it too.
How did you end up in Bali of all places?
Bali had actually never been high on my list of places to travel to, but when an assignment came up to live in Bali and volunteer through Australia’s aid program I jumped at the opportunity. The timing was perfect. I had recently returned from a year in Papua New Guinea and after a year of coconuts, secure compounds and Pidgin English I was not ready to return to a life in Adelaide.
The position seemed like a great opportunity, and it was a coincidence that it was based in paradise. It involved working with an Indonesian NGO called Yayasan Bali Peduli, whose mission is to eliminate barriers to care and to provide free and early HIV testing and treatment to save lives and prevent the spread of HIV in Bali. My position was as a Communications and Public Relations Advisor which involved building the capacity of the organisation in these areas.
For a lot of people, an extended stay on Paradise Island may sound like ‘the dream’. Never having been to Bali before moving there, my knowledge of the island didn’t extend further than what I saw on the Australian news or what my friends told me when they returned from their Bali holidays bronzed and braided. As a result, I was looking forward to learning more about this island which is a special place for many Australians. I ended up developing an enormous appreciation for the island, its people, its food and its culture. Bali will always be a special place for me now.
Was moving to Indonesia a big adjustment?
When I left for Indonesia I didn’t go straight to Bali but instead spent about a month having orientation and language training in Java – Indonesia’s most populous island. Upon my arrival in the capital, Jakarta, I realised that in my haste to get out of Adelaide, I was thoroughly underprepared for actually living in Indonesia. I spoke no Indonesian and was kicking myself that I hadn’t taken up the option to study it at a high school.
Luckily, the AVID program provides a lot of support to help the transition to life in a new country. An initial four-day orientation program in Jakarta helped me to better understand Indonesia and what I could expect living there. I then set off for three weeks of intensive Indonesian lessons in Yogyakarta which was also provided by the program. I was able to grasp the basics of the language which was so helpful in settling into a new country.
What was it like living and working in Bali?
Arriving in Bali was a total shock to the system! I had no idea it would be so busy. My arrival coincided with the Balinese Hindu holidays of Galungan and Kuningan, which meant that the island was in total overdrive. I slowly adjusted to life on the island and moved to a peaceful village outside of Ubud where our office was located. My work was really diverse, and I got to experience a completely different side to Bali than I would have as a visitor.
The experience taught me a lot about working cross-culturally and making the most of the resources available. Working in sexual and reproductive health in a place like Bali means that there was rarely a dull moment! It was also great to be able to explore Bali on the weekends and discover what the island was about beyond the beaches of Kuta.
Would you recommend AVID for other young professionals?
Having experience in Asia, especially Indonesia, is so valuable for young professionals in Australia. There are so many great opportunities for Australian young professionals in Asia, but for me, there were a few key things that set AVID apart.
One significant distinction is that you are financially supported throughout your assignment. This makes volunteering overseas achievable for many young people who may not otherwise have the means.
There’s so much to learn through the program – it includes a week-long training program in Australia before you leave, an orientation when you arrive in-country, ongoing support from a locally based team, as well as a, debrief and ongoing engagement after you return. Because of this, I felt like I could throw myself into my work knowing that someone always had my back. There’s so much potential to bring what you have learned overseas back to the Australian context when you’re done and apply what you’ve learned in professional contexts and in your own community. For anyone considering doing a volunteering stint overseas, this is a great way to do it.
What are your plans now that you’ve finished up in Indonesia?
My time in Indonesia has had a big impact on my worldview. It has sent me on a path I don’t think I would have pursued otherwise. The experience helped me to realise what I wanted to do professionally and was the catalyst for beginning a Masters in Humanitarian Assistance which I am currently completing through Deakin University in Melbourne. I hope that my studies will allow me to continue working in and learning about Indonesia and the surrounding region.
I’m also continuing my Indonesian language studies with Charles Darwin University. I am looking forward to returning to Indonesia soon to study through the Regional Universities Indonesian Language Initiative.
I’ll never forget that first night flying into Jakarta and feeling so small and alien against the backdrop of such a bursting metropolis. Seeing all the street signs and advertising across the cityscape, I felt that these would always be completely undecipherable to me. Although I’m a long way off to understanding the immensity that is Indonesia, I can see that I have come a long way and I look forward to the ride ahead.
Annie Ingram has worked in international development in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. She has a bachelor’s degrees in Media and International Studies from the University of Adelaide. Annie is currently completing a Masters of Humanitarian Assistance through Deakin University. Following a stint with the AVID program in Indonesia, Annie is currently working with the AVID program through Scope Global in Adelaide to help others access similar opportunities.
For other Asia Options articles on the AVID program see Lynette Phuong’s experience in Mongolia and the other opportunities that AVID can bring from the experience of Catherine Coyne who was an AVID in Jakarta and past NAILA recipient.
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