Supporting a small NGO in a big Asian city

A reflection on volunteering as a communications officer in Jakarta, a city where there's always something new and interesting to discover.

Allison Hore volunteered with the Red Nose Foundation in Indonesia for 10 months before returning home because of COVID-19. In her words she shares how she built both communications strategies and friendships, grew to love the bustle of life in Jakarta, and faced the challenge of coming back to Australia.

If you’re not someone who is into big cities, Jakarta is certainly a daunting place to be.

It often gets a bit of a bad rap thanks to its dense population, ridiculous traffic jams, and high levels of pollution. Living in Jakarta, I was never bored - there’s always something going on to stumble across. I loved taking walks around my neighbourhood in South Jakarta and discovering hidden restaurants and cafes.

I didn’t know a lot about the Red Nose Foundation before I arrived.

As a children’s arts and education outreach organisation, the Red Nose Foundation runs various extracurricular education activities for children from disadvantaged communities in Jakarta. The cornerstone program is the social circus program, where the students learn life skills, like self-esteem and teamwork, through the medium of circus.

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Helping RNF's Hospitality students build confidence in their English pronunciation. Photo: Allison Hore
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Red Nose Foundation runs many education outreach programs with local schools, I tagged along to get testimonials from some of the stakeholders for promotional videos. Photo: Allison Hore

I was volunteering as a communications officer, which meant much of my time was spent in the main office working alongside the communications assistant, Irwan. Together we designed new policies and procedures for the communications department, and updated the social media strategy. I also supported the day-to-day implementation of the communications strategy - producing videos and creating and proofreading posts for social media, newsletters, reports, blog content, and press releases.

I was surprised by the range of classes that the organisation ran with such a small team: fewer than 20 members of staff. But the team was young, motivated and passionate about the work they do. They had an excellent rapport with the communities in which they worked and really understood the needs of the young people there. Some of the instructors even grew up in the community and participated in the organisation’s activities when they were younger.

Before coming to Indonesia I was a little worried about feeling lonely, but that fear wasn’t warranted.

My colleagues were all movie buffs like me, so sometimes after work we would catch a film together. I was able to make many Indonesian friends by joining social groups. Every second Saturday I met up with friends in the Queer Language Club to share stories and experiences in English and Indonesian. Twice a month I attended events hosted by the Jakarta chapter of the Australia Indonesia Youth Association, in which I was selected to be communications officer. Of course, it was also great to catch up with my fellow volunteers!

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Snapping a group selfie with the Red Nose Foundation team. Photo: Allison Hore
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Team building activities with some of the Red Nose Foundation staff. Photo: Allison Hore

When I heard that all volunteers would have to return to Australia, I was disappointed that I would have to leave some parts of my project unfinished and come home to an uncertain job market.

The hardest part about leaving was telling my colleagues and friends that I was going.

Unfortunately, due to social distancing restrictions, I was unable to have a farewell with everyone in the office.

During my final month in Indonesia I had hoped to finish the video series I was working on for the organisation, and continue building the capacity of the local staff in their English language ability. Fortunately, I was able to finish off some filming that I needed to do for one project from self-isolation in Australia.

The Australia I've returned to looks a lot different from the one I left in mid-2019.

Before leaving for Indonesia, my plan upon return to Australia was to dive straight back into working. However the bushfire season wreaked havoc on the ESL teaching industry, which I was previously working in, and COVID-19 travel bans were the final nail in the coffin for many colleges. The job market in this social distancing world is probably more difficult than ever to get back into.

Right now I am just taking life as it comes, working on some of my own projects, and keeping an eye out for new opportunities.