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The definition of serenity. Photo by Hannah Richter (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Finalist), Indonesia Semester.

Through the Doors at My NGO

On Day 1 at EngageMedia, an NGO harnessing video, internet, and technology as mechanisms for change, I cautiously walked through the door. In Jogja, Engage operates out of a large rental house, complete with numerous bedrooms, a full kitchen, and a dining room. I slowly made my way to the back of the house, peering into empty rooms in search of the Engage staff. At last, I heard voices drifting out of the kitchen and gave a hesitant selamat siang to announce my presence. “So,” said my new coworker Widy, after we had become acquainted. “What are you going to work on here?” It was funny, I remember thinking, because I had been hoping that she knew the answer to that question.

On Day 2 at Engage, I walked with a bit more confidence through the door and sat in a random chair at the table. With most of the office away in the Philippines, Widy and I got straight to work answering our question from the day before. As a volunteer fresh out of high school, with hardly any experience working at an NGO, the role I would play at this international organization was not immediately clear. I knew I had at least a few skills to offer, but it was a question of finding where they could be applied. We discussed my interest and goals, eventually deciding that I would spend the first few weeks reading up on Engage’s current projects and gradually start to make contributions. I was happy with the result of our discussion but also aware of the reality that, thus far, my need to be managed had taken Widy away from her own work. I worried that I would become more of a burden than an asset if others had to continue taking time out of their days to find me a job.

On Day 7 at Engage, I walked through the door with a purpose and sat down in what was by then recognized as my “usual chair.” I was excited to continue reading and exploring the Engage website. My learning was initially random, then loosely guided by links sent by my coworkers, and finally centered around topics that interested me the most. I became especially curious about the Video4Change Impact Toolkit, one of Engage’s latest creations to support aspiring video activists. My interest in Video4Change soon caught the attention of Egbert, who proposed that I accompany the group to Jakarta, where I could assist with documentation at a conference a few weeks later.

A few weeks later, however, I walked through the door at Engage like I would on any other afternoon. I did not go to Jakarta. After much deliberation, the managers at Engage had concluded that sending me to Jakarta simply did not make sense, given that they could use the same money to bring someone with much more experience. I was a bit disappointed because I had hoped to see the city and participate in my first major project. Instead, I was staying behind and inputting survey responses to an online form, a much more menial—though necessary—job. At that moment, I was reminded of my role at Engage: the student, contributing where possible but staying back when others have more to offer.

On Day 23—today—at Engage, walking through the door felt natural. As I got started on a piece for the Engage blog, headphones on their way in, Widy jokingly accused me of “keeping all the music for myself.” Daniel handed me the aux cord and I became the office DJ. While we worked, the three of us continued to talk about music. Passing around the speaker, we made our way through a variety of Indonesian and English tracks, appreciating (and sometimes teasing) each other as we sang along. At one point, I jokingly warned that I would disconnect the speaker altogether, an empty threat met with many exaggerated apologies. By the end of the day, I had made significant progress on a blog post, which will be my first small contribution to Engage’s online presence. However, even more significant was the sense of belonging that I had begun to feel after such a pleasant afternoon with my coworkers.

It’s taken a while to find where I fit in and how I can best contribute to Engage; these brief stories paint a picture of my first month at the office. Small victories, such as claiming a specific chair around the table or feeling comfortable enough to joke around with the staff, have helped me feel more like I have a place here. Small projects, like reviewing a survey or writing a blog post, have helped me learn more about Engage and improve my ability to contribute. Now when I walk through the door, I’m at ease, wearing a smile on my face.