December, 05 2013
A Life of Restless Search

Should she have stayed home or was volunteering a good decision? A communication specialist volunteering in Uganda sometimes finds herself lost in her constant longing to be useful.

by Larasati Moerdijat
Issues // Politics and Society
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The grass is always greener on the other side.

Here I am, feeling incredibly jealous of my most favourite sister-in-law. She is sitting in a train en route to my hometown with some members of her Magdalene crew, on a mission to seek inspiring stories for their web magazine. I am sure they will also spend time wandering through my favourite hangouts and chatting with my uber-cool father. 

I wish I were on that train, too, but this makes me feel guilty, for I know shouldn’t be complaining at all. I’m now living a life that I have always dreamed of. It was my choice to turn down comfort for flexibility, to leave stability for freedom, to go left when most people prefer a right-turn.

In days where my head is bigger than King Kong, I feel like my choice to leave home in Jakarta for a six-month volunteering stint in Uganda has been one of the best decisions made in life. Then there are days like today, when I feel others are enjoying a better life, which  leads to my evaluating about what I do here as compared to what I could have done back home.

The organisation that I work with, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO), is true to their mission to fight poverty, so I believe that I am with the right crowd. I’m here to help them work out the communications strategy for internal and external implementation.



Since I arrived here almost two months ago, I have met many good, skilled people from around the world , each with their own idealism, and they have my utmost respect.

However what keeps me awake at night are the conversations I have with the few Ugandan people whose dreams to advance the welfare of their fellow countrymen are pragmatic but ambitious. I sometime find myself thinking, “Why didn’t I think of doing something like that back home?”

No doubts I have only been here for slightly over a month. But coming from one developing country to another, I feel like I am the one who have been learning more than the other way around. Other volunteers have told me to take it easy—it takes time to adjust, and a few other encouraging words. All very valid points, I agree. Yet again, I wake up today thinking “how can I make myself useful?”

Very recently I had a stimulating conversation with a Ugandan friend. He had been hopping from one company to another, and tends to find himself getting involved in start-up companies. In my view, it is almost like an addiction for new things (which I can so relate to). For him, it is the excitement of creating opportunities that gets him going.

“I respect the NGOs, but if we want to better our state of living, then socialpreneurship should be the way. Start a company that will create jobs for people, and offer services that are affordable for the people," he said.

This is not just NATO (No Action, Talk Only), fill-in-the-blank conversation topic.

His latest baby is an online travelling platform that organises trips around East Africa at an affordable price. His motive was simple—East Africa has so many beautiful places to visit, but Ugandans don’t like to travel much, either because of the price factor, or because they simply can’t be bothered to plan. This online platform allows him to bring a few of his ambitions to life—among them job creation and for the Ugandans to start appreciating the beauty of their country—all while earning profits at the same time.

Listening to him talking while drinking my tepid beer, I felt a huge amount of respect. A massive volume of envy was building inside me at the same time. Then I started hearing voices inside my head.

 “Now why didn’t you think of doing something like that back home,” said Ego inside my head.

“But you are here in Africa, girl, working to overcome poverty!” Super Ego quickly took over the conversation.

“If it is about making yourself useful to the community, you don’t actually need to go far. Stop using the excuse of ‘wanting to help others’ when all you do is really justifying your innate needs to see the world,” Id ended the conversation like a silent killer.

Fast forward to the present, at this very precise moment.

I am now sitting in my office. I have much better things to do than continue stalking my sister-in-law’s FB page. I do a quick check on my current life: I am grateful for the path that I have chosen, the blessings that I have been given.

Funny, I don’t envy my sister-in-law that much anymore. I think writing down my thoughts does help to unload the clouds from head.

I may stay in Uganda longer than my original plan, or I may move to another place to feed my cravings for living in new places. But one thing I know for sure: I will learn as much as I can.

Then I will eventually come home to walk the walk, talk the talk.
 
About Larasati Moerdijat
Larasati is a marketing communication practitioner who wishes to channel her workaholism into bringing good karma, and is now volunteering as a marketing communication specialist in Uganda with VSO. She adores the outdoors, listens to music in loud volume, recites ancient histories from Asterix and Obelix, and dreams of becoming the mayor of her hometown.