Alumni Spotlight: Maura Lillis

Long-term volunteers in Indonesia visit Buddhist temple

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with VIA in Indonesia?

Maura: So many reasons! After working for a law firm for several years after college, I was still unsure whether law school and a legal career were the best choice for me. Before committing to a graduate school path, I wanted time to explore issues that were important to me but which I didn’t know enough about. I felt uncomfortable with the idea of a potential career working on women’s rights or trafficking or rural development without ever having lived in the communities where these issues unfold. I decided to move abroad and work at the grassroots level to learn about the complexities and challenges of such issues as directly as possible. I applied to VIA specifically because I was impressed by their multi-decade track record of partnering successfully with local NGOs and universities across Asia, and especially because an NGO English Resource post seemed like an immediate and substantive way I could contribute to a local organization’s daily operations.

Long-term volunteers in Indonesia visit Buddhist temple

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Maura: I work at in Yogyakarta, Indonesia at an Indonesian foundation established to promote the development and dissemination of appropriate technologies for community and rural development. My current role is to provide English support to their ongoing projects, which takes the form of helping to write project expressions of interest, emails/communication, contributing to book and best practices material, and translating documents between Bahasa Indonesia and English as needed. I have also been able to visit their field sites around Yogyakarta, including a clean water restoration project near the recently erupted Mount Merapi, and renewable energy initiatives in villages surrounding Yogyakarta. As I learn more about the organization and as my Indonesian language skills improve, I hope to become more involved with some of the projects in areas outside of Yogyakarta as well.

Maura volunteered at a construction site near Mount Merapi volcano

How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?

Maura: As of February 2012, I am just six months into my contract in Indonesia and feel myself growing in so many ways, although my time here is still a work in progress. Volunteering on this scale is a privilege in that it provides a starting point from which to explore what you are truly interested in, to whatever depth you wish.

Professionally, the opportunity to take part in the community development process at the level of a grassroots NGO provides invaluable experience and perspective which will inform what I hope to be a thoughtful and contributive career. On a personal level, this is a very exciting and rewarding stage of my life, perhaps the most exciting yet, and I am grateful each day to be having such a positive experience in Indonesia and as a part of the VIA community.