Working as a volunteer with an NGO requires a particular type of balance that I’ve never before encountered in my working life. On the one hand, I am giving freely of my time so I am willing to put up with or accept fewer things than if this was a paid job. On the other hand, I’m committed to doing my best for the organisation so I have willingly given up a certain level of autonomy (just as I would at a regular, paid job) since that means I must follow orders to a certain degree.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m doing, let me bring you up to speed. I’m volunteering with an organisation that focuses on education in Indonesia at the primary and secondary levels. The education system here is apparently quite disorganised and seems to be sadly lacking and rife with corruption so this organisation seeks to give Indonesian children an opportunity to learn English (so they can compete with others outside the country) and basic computing, and brush up on their Math. Classes are held 6 days per week after school, between 2 and 6 pm.
[An interesting side note: Indonesian schools are in session from Monday to Saturday except on religious and national holidays. Students get Sundays off, and they get a couple of weeks off during Ramadan. Overall, students here get a total of about 1 month off from school for the entire year. Insert shock and awe here!]
My job involves doing anything that needs to be done, from ensuring that the centre to which I am assigned is well run (e.g., supplies, property management, administration) to managing local and international volunteers to teaching classes, especially when there aren’t enough volunteers to help pick up the teaching slack.
Additionally, since this organisation has centres in 6 different locations across Indonesia, Thailand and Kenya, everyone is assigned to teams that work together virtually in order to help keep the organisation running well. So, for example, I am now on 2 different virtual teams: the Hiring team, which hires new volunteers; and the Finance Reports team, which keeps the organisation’s finances in order. Generally speaking, people are put onto teams where they have strengths or where it is felt that they can contribute at a high quality level.
Between my centre management, teaching and other “local” responsibilities and my online team and “international” responsibilities, wuk cyaan done! (Translation for the non-Jamaicans among us: ‘the work is never ending.’)
Oh, and did I mention that I live where I work?
So far, I basically like my working situation. On the plus side, there’s been a lot of training, which is great because it helps ensure that there is organised and thorough knowledge transfer. My colleagues are friendly, patient and helpful and I have found living and working with them to be a fairly easy adjustment. The local volunteers are generally friendly and, as expected, the children are a mixed bag – some want to learn and others just want to play. I like the fact that that I can dress casually (and modestly; Islamic Sharia law is in force here) every day. And I absolutely love that I am getting hands-on experience in the operation of an NGO (albeit, a small one) and that my work is directly in service to others.
On the other hand, I have very long workdays. I am a morning person so I naturally start working early and because classes go on until 6 pm, I generally work 10 to 12 hour days – work is not over until the last child leaves. And I work 6 days per week. Also, my living standards are a bit different from others’ and that is taking some adjustment on my part, as well as a little bit of plotting to quietly change (read: improve) some things. More on that in another post.
So far, living where I work hasn’t posed any particular challenges for me, for which I am very thankful, and I have been able to make myself acceptably comfortable. In any case, a bonus is that I get 4 consecutive days off every month, so I can go off and explore or relax at reasonable intervals.
Overall, I think I’ve started off well here. I need to focus a bit more on learning the language because I want to be reasonably fluent in Bahasa Indonesian by the time I leave here in 1 year. So far, I haven’t figured out a logic to the language but I’m picking up a couple of words here and there. I’ll buckle down to it soon.
Meanwhile, I’m sticking to some old routines and setting up new ones to make the transition easier. For example, an old routine that I stick to is to do my devotions when I wake up, before I do anything else. It’s important to me that I exchange whispers with God before I start exchanging shouts with the world (that’s not original to me; Lysa Terkeurst said it at a Women of Faith conference I attended in 2014). A new routine that I’ve developed is to clean my room every Saturday morning – staying on top of that means I won’t have to do another high level cleaning like when I just got here.
On the other hand, my colleagues have a habit of eating dinner later than I’m used to, around 7 pm. This is because we have to wait until the last child leaves the centre and evening prayers are over – most of the local restaurants close at prayer times. I’ve therefore become very conscious of choosing light fare for dinner so that I don’t put on weight – a mixture of a new routine (eat late) with an old routine (eat light for dinner).
I imagine that I’ll be out of balance for a while – too much work, not enough life – but I’m OK with that; it’s part of starting a new chapter in life….and work.