BA student Larnie Hewat reflects on the enriching experience of volunteer fieldwork in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
For Bachelor of Arts student Larnie Hewat, the opportunity to step outside the classroom proved enriching and eye opening. Larnie moved from Geelong to the University of Melbourne upon receiving a scholarship to International House college. A Bachelor of Arts allowed her to embrace her passion for social justice, studying the issues from a range of different perspectives and disciplines. She completed a double major in Sociology and International Relations and Politics, travelling to Yogyakarta, Indonesia in the pilot program for Community Volunteering for Change – Global as part of her degree. Larnie shares her reflections on the experience with ARTiculation.
About the program
I have a strong interest and passion for social justice having been involved in a number of programs and initiatives both throughout secondary school and during my time at the University of Melbourne. I also studied Indonesian language and culture throughout my secondary education, and so with everything considered, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to participate in the program.
For six weeks we were based in Yogyakarta with SATUNAMA, a not-for-profit development organisation focused on engaging with communities to help empower them through training, advocacy and mentoring. Our placement was structured around fieldtrips to two different communities in Java. On each trip we engaged in focus group discussions and interviews with various community members, community groups, government officials and other stakeholders to gain an understanding of both the challenges and successes of the community.
In the first community there was an overwhelming issue with pollution; the result of no waste management services to the community and incorrect disposal of chemicals by the industrial fishing factories. The second community was in the process of cultivating their abundant natural resources of vegetables, herbs and spices, with the long-term goal of selling goods throughout Indonesia.
Larnie (third from right) and the Community Volunteering for Change – Global group.
On each placement we stayed with a local family to further our understanding of life in the community. We engaged in a great deal of community consultation through one-on-one interviews as well as discussion-based focus groups. The evidence, information and anecdotes we collected from these conversations were the platform on which we compiled our reports and further research. After a few days spent in each village we returned to the Yogyakarta office where we each produced reports detailing our personal reflections on the experience and our recommendations for how to help address the issues faced by the communities. It was fascinating to observe how each participant in the group took a different approach and formulated different recommendations based on their various areas of study and experience.
The homestay experiences were definitely a highlight of the program. In Yogyakarta, we stayed in a family-run hostel, Homestay Heru. They were an incredibly welcoming and lovely family. The other guests at the homestay were studying Bahasa at the language schools nearby. Over communal dinners each night it was intriguing to learn more about the other guests and what had brought them to Indonesia. With a high turnover of guests, there were a number of Red Cross staff members, people from smaller NGOs, teachers from international schools, a journalist, VCE students from Melbourne and many more.
Integrating with the local communities was a highlight of the experience.
The homestays in the villages were also really memorable. In the community Gunung Kelir, I was warmly welcomed by my host family and was challenged to use my very limited Bahasa. We were asked to be a part of the family and get involved with daily life. This involved an early start to the day at 6:00am, to collect food for the goats (my lack of coordination was highlighted in my hopeless attempts to use a machete in the forest, however I did prove some entertainment for the family!), feed the goats, sweep the grounds around the house, clean up after our own breakfast (using water from the mandi, where the gold fish also swam), begin the process of making coconut sugar and prepare lunch. The manual work was mentally challenging as I struggled to speak a language I had not properly used since high school, but it also provided a great opportunity to get to know the family. The eldest daughter was also a university student, so it was intriguing to get to learn about her life and culture, and for her to learn about mine.
Having previously studied a few development subjects, it was really interesting and useful to be able to further enhance and build on the theory I’d learnt in a real life, practical environment. The semester after I returned I studied Critical Analytical Skills, which enabled me to learn the theory behind the research methods we’d carried out in practice while on placement.
For me this project was a really great opportunity to gain a new perspective on development, an area I’ve always been interested in pursuing. I learnt a great deal about SATUNAMA and the work they do, and was keen to learn more about the challenges they face. The project revealed to me a number of areas that receive little attention or resources, or are overlooked completely within the context of development in Indonesia, such as mental health and disability inclusivity. The experience definitely strengthened my passion to learn more these issues, and reflecting back on this now, specifically to learn more about challenges in the area of metal and physical health.
Advice for future students
My advice would be to approach this program with an open mind and willingness to learn. It is such a great opportunity to get out of the classroom and add a practical element to your degree, not to mention an incredible opportunity to grow both personally and professionally, meet new people and experience a new country and culture beyond the boundaries of a regular tourist. I would also strongly encourage students to try and learn some local language before going. Even simple greetings will be met with gratitude and go a long way towards breaking down barriers. I think this goes hand in hand with making sure you have at least a basic level of understanding of the country you will be working in, about any significant historical events, the political environment, the culture and specifically about the country’s approach to development, and any challenges it may be facing.
I am so grateful to have been a part of the Community Volunteering for Change program. It was, without a doubt, one of the greatest highlights of my time at the University of Melbourne.
Larnie continues to volunteer with a number of organisations. She was part of the Oaktree Victorian Outreach team in 2014, helping to improve school facilities in rural Victoria. She also participated in the fieldwork subject ‘On Country Learning: Indigenous Studies’, a week-long intensive fieldwork subject taught by indigenous people in the Yorta Yorta community, learning about their history, struggle for land and racial equality. Larnie was presented with the Global Citizenship Award by International House, and traveled to Kenya in July 2015 to work at a children’s home where she had previously volunteered during a gap year.
Visit the Faculty of Arts website to learn more about the Community Volunteering for Change – Global program.