Elena Williams AIYEP 2007-2008

Associate Director of Development, Asia Society and Former Resident Director, Australian Consortium of ‘In-Country’ Indonesian Studies (ACICIS)

I did AIYEP in 2007-2008 and we spent two months in beautiful Lombok. We spent our community stay in a small village called Sigerongan, and the city stay in the capital, Mataram.

My host families in the two stays were very different, but both very welcoming and keen to learn about Australian culture and to share their culture. In the village stay, we were very much a part of the family: my counterpart and I shared a bed in a small room and became very involved in the daily life of the family, helping out with cooking, cleaning and, most importantly, eating together! Other AIYEPers were next door neighbours and scattered around the small community we lived in, so we all got to know each other pretty well. The welcome and kindness we were shown in Sigerongan still stays with me to this day – it was an incredible four weeks.

The city stay was a little different in that we went off to our internships each day so didn’t have as much time to spend at home, but we spent evenings together around the dinner table getting to know each other and sharing stories.

In our village, we ran an educational campaign around the health hazards of burning rubbish, and taught children about recycling/ separating waste. We built recycling units in a communal area of the village and also a ran a huge ‘Clean Up Sigerongan’ day to discourage littering. The hardest part in doing this work was realisng that behavioural change takes time, and this needed strong leadership from the community elders, so we worked with them as well to speak to families about littering and burning rubbish. We also taught English in schools and developed an after school sport program.

AIYEP has played a significant role in my work/ life journey since 2007. I had studied Indonesian for several years, completed a year on ACICIS and done Honours by the time I did AIYEP, so I knew Indonesia was going to be a part of my professional life, but I was still working out how. I think some of the biggest take aways from the program for me were around the community development work, and the challenges in understanding that change takes time, and decision making needs to be inclusive for it to be effective. After AIYEP I went on to do my Masters in Gender and Development Studies at ANU, questioning more of those processes about decision making and ’empowerment’, and I then spent a year working with UN Women in Jakarta, where we sat in a lot of round table discussions with community groups discussing how funding could best be allocated on projects. The meetings were long! Since 2013 I’ve been the Resident Director for ACICIS, and I often share experiences with our students, especially our Development Studies students, about those experiences on AIYEP: meetings may be long, you may not understand what’s going on, but it’s important that everybody’s voices are heard, and change takes time! Also, to be grateful when staying in a small house sharing a bed with someone else because the family has given up one of their bedrooms to host you.

Apart from that, our AIYEP group was very close, and we’re all still good friends ten years on. We’ve been to each other’s engagements, weddings, met each other’s kids and stayed with each other when in Australia/ Indonesia. Many of us have ended up working in the ‘Australia-Indonesia’ space somehow in government, media, education or business roles, and they are an incredible group of people, many of whom have now become colleagues in some way. 

AIYEP really is a life-changing experience and will challenge you in so many different ways. I don’t regret going for a second, and frequently wish I could return!