Hey everyone! I just wanted to share some experiences that I had volunteering in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. It's right off everyone's travel maps due to the fact that it's under sharia law and it was devastated by the 2004 Tsunami. Read on if you're interested.
Firstly, a bit of information about where I volunteered: the IHF center in Aceh is primarily an Educational center, although they are currently looking for orphans to live in-center. It holds free English, Maths and Computer lessons six days a week for students from the first year of Junior school to college level. It has many local volunteers who teach and help with the daily running of the center and two full-time local volunteers; the director, Philippe, and the co-director, Joko.
While I was at the center I taught English classes to all ages five days a week as well as helping with things such as recruitment campaigns in local underpriveliged areas and the running of events such as workshops. Teaching these kids was great fun because they really want to learn, they have a motivation which is really different to the children I have taught before and they are always up for a laugh. The recruitment campaigns were eye-opening for me because we generally visited slum areas of the city and it made me realise all the stuff that I take for granted back home.
I was also involved in a project where we visit a school in an area far away from the center twice a week to teach English and maths. These classes were crazy because sometimes there were over 25 kids in one class but awesome because they spent the whole time laughing and smiling. I made them run around a lot which might have added to the craziness but they were still pretty well-behaved when I asked them to be quiet or when I was trying to teach them something new. These were my favourite classes here because there is so much energy bouncing around and I’d always finish the two hours sweaty and exhausted but with a big grin on my face!
As the center is small it is a great place for your own ideas and input. Whilst I was there I spearheaded a project where I created a yearly curriculum for all the English classes for the center to use. I also organised putting on a charity fundraising concert which was stressful but really easy in a lot of ways. I had the idea for it on a Monday evening and by the Saturday night the concert had started! People here are really helpful and businesses and the media are easy to reach so it is comparatively simple for your ideas to come to life when you look at all the red tape you would have to go through in many other countries.
I wanted to volunteer with IHF because they offered a varied volunteering experience and the chance to learn about NGOs by doing international tasks daily online. I was involved in the fundraising, volunteer recruitment, media and university relations teams. I have learned a lot about these different aspects of the running of NGOs and it has been a great experience. It was cool to see the results of my work, for example in the fundraising team I was given a lot of freedom and was able to create an email template with photos etc for volunteers to use when contacting their friends and family about IHF.
I chose the Aceh center particularly because I wanted to experience a vastly different culture to my own. It has been fascinating learning about the 2004 tsunami as there is a museum and there are many monuments in the city. I was initially a little nervous about going to volunteer in a predominintely Muslim community as I thought that I might do something wrong or offend someone. However, it has been very enlightening, the Acehnese people that I have met have been extremely friendly and have been keen to explain their religion and culture to me. I have made lots of friends and I love the taste of Acehnese coffee! The scenery here is gorgeous as well, they have loads of white sand beaches and towering tree-covered mountains. On days off local volunteers usually come to the center on their motorbikes and drive us round the city or to the beach.
In general I have had a great time at the Aceh center and I can’t believe that it’s almost time for me to go! I have learned a lot about the running of NGOs and the processes involved in keeping a education center like this open. It requires a lot of hard work and long hours but is also very rewarding. Through my online international work I have gained experience in other areas apart from teaching. I have also learned about the pressures of organising an event and how to use them as a fundraising tool. If you come here I reckon you will have an awesome time and come away with a new set of friends and experiences just like me!