Community development is a big part of what I do. Melbourne is the base for a lot of my work but Indonesia has twice been a temporary base. The first time I was in Yogyakarta for the UGM KKN program with ACICIS. This time AIYEP has placed me in the scenic Tanah Beru, South Sulawesi. Both times I have learnt lots and experienced more.
Communication is key and miscommunication is an open door
The first half of this is an old truth. Speaking Indonesian is one way but development work is an exciting way to develop new skills. You have to communicate to learn the needs of the community and the strength of locals. Both experiences have taught me that every community has needs and everyone wants to address them. It can be hard to match these things up. Miscommunication creates chaos that opens new lessons. Yogyakarta taught me the power of language to overcome the regular challenges. I was able to learn the Java way of doing and get things done with the team. This time I learnt that miscommunication is not just what is said but what is thought. At times an idea was not sold clearly to the community so we had to re-address the problem. This opened up new solutions never imagined before. This is a really great way to learn a lot more about a community through development projects.
Energy is valuable and locals are a treasure
It is powerful to see a small idea become a big change but this requires a lot of effort. In both community development project experiences, it was proposed we should minimise project scale to maximise effort. Often with a dedicated group of young people the passion takes over from the exhaustion. This is not sustainable- humans are not machines and communities are not cargo to haul along the project path. Locals know things need to be done so it is best to change things co-operatively. It has been exciting to see locals get so involved with all of the projects, despite some hesitant people. AIYEP Village Phase has seen this happen again. By the time we left friendly faces were on every corner and thankful handshakes stood out from the intense meetings at the beginning. People power will increase the value of our time spent in this village- we could do a lot and they will achieve a lot more.
Success is the goal but failure is a step
Aim high and push higher is often a goal people have in any project. Development in Yogyakarta taught me to temper expectations and get hard results. This means the projects were realised according to local needs, time constraints and group abilities. It also meant there was clear results of all of our ultimate success. The final success though is a result of lots of small failures, big meetings, and large coffees. The drive to drag the project forward can blind you to the lessons of the small failures. In AIYEP we found lots of exciting solutions because earlier proposals did not fit the local situation. Ultimately community focus not failure obsession meant real success. We fit the projects to the community not change the community for the projects. In the end we pushed beyond expectations in a lot of projects.
Development is ultimately not a list of results and lessons. It is pushing yourself to find the best people to work with the greatest challenges. I look forward to more opportunities like AIYEP and ACICIS to build on my experiences. It has been a really great time in Tanah Beru seeing this community come together around some excellent individuals’ hard work.
- Samuel Shlanksy, VIC
Photographs: Kieran Maguire