Volunteers show compassion for Ramadan in Indonesia: UN Resident Coordinator blog
As Indonesia celebrates Ramadan, Ms. Julliand and Toily Kurbanov, Executive Coordinator, United Nations Volunteers explain* why volunteering embodies the generosity and compassion of the Muslim holy month.
“When a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Palu in Central Sulawesi in September 2018, two memories came to Moh’s mind. Tofan Saputra. He recalled televised footage of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed nearly 230,000 people. He also recalled how, when he was a junior high school student, floodwaters inundated his family’s home, destroyed his parents’ business and put his education on hold.
These memories prompted Tofan, then 24, to travel from Luwuk, about a 12-hour drive away, to help the people of Palu after the earthquake. “We were very afraid for our loved ones. We couldn’t reach them because there was no telephone connection and no electricity,” says Tofan about the immediate consequences of the disaster, which killed more than 4,300 people.
Through a local organization, he joined emergency relief efforts to distribute food, helped reunite lost children who were separated from their families, and arranged psychological support services for those in shock. In an environment where looting had contributed to an atmosphere of distrust, Tofan’s understanding of local community dynamics proved crucial: “The community approach is very important and it is the role of the volunteers to promote social inclusion between the victims”, he says.
Indonesian midwife Restu Nur Intan Pratiwi, 25, attends to a survivor at an evacuation center following the eruption of Mount Semeru in East Java, Indonesia in December 2021.
The Ghost of Gotong Royong
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, millions of volunteers like Tofan embody the values of generosity and compassion that the holy month of Ramadan upholds. In a prominent 2018 survey, about 53% of Indonesians said they had volunteered for an organization in the previous month. Indonesia’s tradition of community self-help is so venerable that it has its own nomenclature: gotong royong, meaning mutual aid.
Indonesia’s spirit of volunteering resonates with many other countries. The flagship of the UN Volunteers (UNV) 2022 Report on the state of volunteering in the world, draws on case studies across continents to explore how collaboration between volunteers and governments can help build more equal, inclusive societies. The report estimates that 862 million people around the world volunteer every month, or about one in seven people. Your contribution is an integral part of the new UN social contract Secretary General Antonio Guterres says the world must build while navigating the twin crises of COVID-19 and the climate emergency.
Located on the Pacific Rim of Fire, Indonesia is among the most disaster-prone countries in the world. According to Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency, 3,034 disasters affected 8.3 million people here in 2021. Disasters, including COVID-19, set them back 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and exacerbated existing inequalities.
The United Nations supports all aspects of the Indonesian government’s disaster response efforts. In 2021, this support included the formation of an oxygen task force to coordinate the response to oxygen shortage-related issues during 2021 in Indonesia Rise in COVID-19 infections and deaths It is often volunteers who are on the front lines of disaster relief.
After the 4 December 2021 Mount Semeru eruption killed more than 50 people and displaced another 10,000 in Lumajang Regency, East Java, 25-year-old midwife Restu Nur Intan Pratiwi was among hundreds of local people belonging to the regency help came. She drove 90 minutes from her home in the town of Jember after searching online for volunteering opportunities in the area.
Twi Adi is coordinating relief supplies following the eruption of Mount Semeru in East Java, Indonesia in December 2021.
In Lumajang, Restu soon realized that existing support services did not address women’s specific needs, “like providing menstrual pads or special milk and vitamins for pregnant women.” Through a volunteer organization called Relawan Negeri, she began conducting medical screenings for pregnant women in shelters. She also coordinated with a local hospital to arrange free access to ultrasound services.
Gender-sensitive interventions like Restu’s are critical to sustainable post-disaster recovery, but can be inhibited by unequal gender dynamics within volunteering. For example, men are more likely to engage in formal volunteering, while women are more likely to engage in informal volunteering, which tends to be of lower status, less recognition, and less practical support than formal volunteering. The State of the World’s Volunteering report advises policymakers to take gender-sensitive measures that can maximize women’s participation, for example by ensuring women have access to decision-making processes.
The spirit of Gotong Royong goes back generations, but since 2004 the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has formalized volunteering through the Taruna Siaga Bencana (TAGANA). At the end of 2020, there were more than 39,000 TAGANA in Indonesia, another 63,000 “Friends of TAGANA” in professions such as journalism, arts and civil society.
In 2021, the UN partnered with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to develop online training modules for TAGANA, including a competency-based capacity-building framework that emphasizes gender inclusion in humanitarian response.
Twi Adi, a 38-year-old volunteer from Malang, East Java, has been a TAGANA since 2006. He has participated in several emergency responses, including after the Mount Semeru eruption in December 2021. The Ministry of Social Affairs provides TAGANA with a small expense allowance, but according to Twi, the benefits of volunteering go well beyond monetary compensation. “I love helping others and making a difference at the community level,” he says, “I’m not rich, but I can devote my time and energy to my community.”
* A version of this article was originally published in the Jakarta Post on April 18, 2022