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Women Who Care:
Social Welfare Committee Volunteers in Indonesia

Upon arrival in Indonesia, most expatriates are affected immediately with the seemingly overwhelming poverty in the country, which is especially evident in the overcrowded metropolitan centers. White the cities host skyscrapers and elegant shopping malls full of every imaginable luxury, they are islands in a sea of poverty. Approximately 40+% of Indonesians are either unemployed or under-employed, leading to overwhelming need and social problems.

Helping Solve the Problems of Poverty in Indonesia

Living in Indonesia are some very special expat women. As members of the Social Welfare Committee of their respective women's organizations, these American, Australia/New Zealand, British, Canadian, Dutch, German, Indian, Japanese and other international women are active in the Indonesian community, supporting local charitable organizations. While most women's organizations limit their membership to one nationality, others, like AWA and ANZA, are open to all expatriate women. The Women's International Club is unique in that expatriate women from a wide range of nationalities are members, while the majority of members are Indonesian women.

You can find current contact information for these and other women's organizations on the Expatriate Community Organizations listing.

Most of these groups focus on providing financial or in-kind assistance to local charitable organizations which help women and children specifically and the family unit as a whole. Assistance takes many forms, including:

  • Education - scholarships, books, materials and furniture
  • Job training - skills attainment in sewing, woodworking, weaving and other skills
  • Assistance for handicapped - canes, Braille books, skills training, speech trainers and wheelchairs
  • Medical - harelip, cranio-facial and other surgeries; TB treatments, provision of clean water sources, vitamin supplements, feeding programs and well-baby clinics
  • Routine support - for orphanages, homes for the aged, mental and other institutions

Expatriate women join their organization's Social Welfare Committee for a variety of reasons. The most predominant is a desire to help the Indonesian people. “In the midst of ongoing every present povery, our assistance has become even more important for the yayasan that we fund regularly,” says an American volunteer. Marilyn Ardipradja, an Australian, long-term resident of Indonesia, puts it more personally, “I volunteer for ANZA Social Welfare because of my love for the Indonesian people and a true desire to help in any way I can.”

Another volunteer, who has recently returned to her country said, “I always saw my involvement with Social Welfare as a chance for me to give something back to the Indonesian people. I loved my years in Indonesia and gained so much from my many experiences during our time there.”

Each group of women has developed its own guidelines for assistance, dependent on the availability of funds within their organization and their particular interests. Sharing of information on worthwhile projects and items of concern are expressed at monthly coordination meetings. If a worthwhile project is too big for any one committee to undertake, they can appeal for assistance at this and other coordinating forums.

Many volunteers realize that the gift of their time goes a long ways to help others, “It is important for me to always share what I can with those less fortunate. Even if I don't always have money of my own to give. I can use my talents to raise money for charity and ensure that the funds are given to worthy causes,” says another volunteer.

Many choose to serve in administrative roles, answering correspondence, attending meetings, and sorting through goods that have been donated. Those with good language skills may coordinate visits to charities. Others, who prefer a hands-on commitment, can easily find an organization where they can volunteer their time teaching English, playing with babies at orphanages or teaching a new skill to others.

The Women's International Club takes a unique approach. An Indonesian and an expatriate Foster Aunt work as a team to manage a relationship with a designated charity. As Foster Aunts, the volunteers work closely with one organization for a long period of time, assisting their management and providing goods needed on a monthly basis. This emphasis on continuity of assistance maximizes the benefits to the recipient organizations and ensures these volunteers develop a strong personal relationship with their recipients.

This personal involvement leads to many heart-warming experiences. “I'll never forget a visit we made to Cilincing, in North Jakarta where we were introduced to a man whose TB treatments our committee had paid for. We came to visit the organization the year after his treatments were completed, and he was told that the visiting women were from the organization that had paid for his medication. The tears of joy streaming down his face and his words, “Thank you for saving my life” warmed the hearts of the women that made the visit that day.

In fact it's the personal satisfaction in knowing that your efforts make a difference, no matter how small, that keep these volunteers working month after month. Through reading the letters received by the committee or through personal visits to the organizations, these women know that their efforts are helping to provide food to the hungry, education to youth, medical treatments for the sick and special care for the handicapped.

All this translates into hope for the future. Without the opportunities provided by these women's efforts, the many Indonesians assisted by their efforts would have a very different future indeed. Taken together as a whole, the work of these expatriate women's groups assists tens of thousands of Indonesians annually to improve their living conditions and provide hope for the future.

Some may find it difficult to understand that these expatriate women do all this work without payment, that their efforts are strictly volunteer. Yet volunteer they do. Many expatriate women bring a strong tradition of volunteering for community organizations with them from their home country. Even if the members don't volunteer directly for the Social Welfare Committee in their organization they can help in many other ways, by organizing and working at fund-raising events, the proceeds of which are then donated to charity.

These expatriate women acknowledge that they are a part of a vibrant, active international community in Jakarta. While their stay may only be for a couple of years, these women want to contribute what they can to the community during their stay.

What can you do to support these women's efforts?

  • Volunteer your time and talents to the social welfare committee of organizations you belong to.
  • If your organization doesn't have a social welfare committee - form one.
  • Chair a fundraising event which will support the charitable work of others.
  • Attend fundraising events organized by others.
  • Donate funds or used items which can be used by charities.

Despite ever-growing needs in the Indonesian community, these groups worry that they may not have funds to maintain levels of assistance. In recent years, the expatriate community has decreased in size, which means less hands to organize fundraisers, less financial support and less tickets sold to events. Yet these women are committed to doing what they can to maintain their regular support for institutions. Perhaps you can help!