Volunteers show compassion for Ramadan in Indonesia: a blog by the UN Resident Coordinator |

As Indonesia celebrates Ramadan, Ms. Julliand and Toily Kurbanov, Executive Coordinator, United Nations Volunteers explain* why volunteering sums up the generosity and compassion of the Muslim holy month.

Valerie Julliand, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Indonesia., by UN Indonesia

“When a 7.5 magnitude earthquake ripped through Palu in Central Sulawesi in September 2018, two memories resurfaced for Moh. Tofan Saputra. He remembers seeing television footage of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed nearly 230,000 people. He also recalled that as a junior high school student, floodwaters flooded his family home, ransacked his parents’ business, and suspended his education.

These memories prompted Tofan, then 24, to travel about 12 hours away from Luwuk to help the people of Palu after the earthquake. “We were very panicked for our loved ones. We couldn’t contact them because there was no telephone connection or electricity,” Tofan says of the immediate aftermath of the disaster that killed more than 4,300 people.

Through a local organization, he joined emergency food distribution efforts, helped reunite lost children separated from their families and organized psychological support services for those in shock. . In an environment where looting had helped to create an atmosphere of mistrust, Tofan’s understanding of local community dynamics proved essential, “the community approach is very important, and it is the role of the volunteer to foster the social inclusion among the victims,” ​​he says.


Indonesian midwife Restu Nur Intan Pratiwi, 25, tends to a survivor at an evacuation center following the eruption of Mount Semeru in East Java, Indonesia, in December 2021.

Courtesy of Restu Nur Intan Prat

Indonesian midwife Restu Nur Intan Pratiwi, 25, tends to a survivor at an evacuation center following the eruption of Mount Semeru in East Java, Indonesia, in December 2021.

The spirit of gotong royong

In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world, millions of volunteers like Tofan embody the values ​​of generosity and compassion dear to the holy month of Ramadan. In a major 2018 poll, some 53% of Indonesians said they had given their time to an organization in the previous month. The Indonesian tradition of community mutual aid is so venerable that it has its own nomenclature: gotong royong, which means mutual aid.

Indonesia’s volunteer spirit finds echoes in many other countries. The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) 2022 flagship Report on the state of volunteering in the world, draws on case studies from multiple continents to explore how cooperation between volunteers and governments can help build more equal and inclusive societies. The report estimates that 862 million people around the world volunteer every month, or about one in seven people. Their contribution is an integral part of the UN’s new social contract Secretary General António Guterres says the world must build as it navigates the twin crises of COVID-19[feminine] and the climate emergency.


Toily Kurbanov, Executive Coordinator, United Nations Volunteers.

Toily Kurbanov, Executive Coordinator, United Nations Volunteers, by United Nations Volunteers

Located along the Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world. In 2021, some 3,034 disasters affected 8.3 million people here, according to Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency. Disasters, including COVID-19, have set back the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities.

The UN 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 issues related to oxygen shortages during the surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths in Indonesia in 2021. This are often volunteers who are at the forefront of disaster response.

After Mount Semeru erupted on December 4, 2021, which killed more than 50 people and displaced 10,000 others in Lumajang Regency, East Java, 25 Restu Nur Intan Pratiwi midwives were among hundreds of residents to help the regency. She drove 90 minutes from her home in the town of Jember after searching online for volunteer opportunities in the area.


Twi Adi is coordinating relief efforts following the eruption of Mount Semeru in East Java, Indonesia in December 2021.

Courtesy of Twi Adi

Twi Adi is coordinating relief efforts following the eruption of Mount Semeru in East Java, Indonesia in December 2021.

In Lumajang, Restu soon realized that existing support services did not meet the specific needs of women, “such as the provision of sanitary pads or special milk and vitamins for pregnant women”. Through a voluntary organization called Relawan Negeri, she began offering medical checkups to pregnant women in emergency shelters. She also coordinated with a local hospital to arrange free access to ultrasound services.

Gender-sensitive interventions like Restu’s are essential for building back sustainably after a disaster, but they can be inhibited by unequal gender dynamics within volunteerism. For example, men are more likely to engage in formal volunteering, while women are more likely to engage in informal volunteering, which tends to have lower status, attracts less recognition and receives less practical support than formal volunteering. The State of the World’s Volunteering report advises policymakers to adopt gender-sensitive measures that can maximize women’s participation, for example, by ensuring that women have access to decision-making processes.

The spirit of Gotong Royong goes back several generations, but since 2004, the Indonesian Ministry of Social Affairs has formalized volunteering through Taruna Siaga Bencana (TAGANA). By the end of 2020, there were more than 39,000 TAGANA in Indonesia, with an additional 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 the inclusion of gender in humanitarian aid.

Twi Adi, a 38-year-old volunteer from Malang, East Java, has been in TAGANA since 2006. He has been involved in several emergency response activities, including following the eruption of Mount Semeru in December 2021 The Ministry of Social Affairs pays TAGANA a small stipend, but Twi says the benefits of volunteering go far beyond monetary compensation. “I enjoy helping others and making a difference at the community level,” he says. “I’m not rich, but I can give my time and my energy for my community. »

*A version of this article originally appeared in the Jakarta Post on April 18, 2022

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