Astrini Simanjuntak (left) during a mission to Kalemie, Tanganyika, with women association members supported by the Education Cannot Wait project on income-generating activities.
UN Volunteers (left) during a mission to Kalemie, Tanganyika, with women association members supported by the Education Cannot Wait project on income-generating activities.

Meet Indonesian UN Volunteers serving a global purpose

Driven by the desire to serve as global citizens, Astrini Simanjuntak, Denny Beryan Saputra and Annirrahmah stepped outside their comfort zones. They left their native country – Indonesia – to embark on volunteering journeys. Operating in different environments, they learned innovative approaches to addressing development challenges. Family nostalgia, serving in unstable security settings, having limited access to basic needs and other challenges did not deter the trio. Instead, it heightened their motivation to pursue their quest to promote peace and development, from Thailand to Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Scaling up education efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Born and raised in a small village in Northern Sumatera, Indonesia, Astrini Simanjuntak witnessed stark inequalities in her community in terms of access to basic services, particularly among women and girls. This pushed her to pursue a master’s degree in sociology, majoring in gender.

With an interest to contribute to social issues, Astrini began her volunteering journey as an Online Volunteer with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Malaysia and the African Union on Women, Peace and Security.

As a rapporteur, she produced comprehensive and summary reports of two different events: Cari Makan, a public engagement event organized by UNDP Malaysia and the 2021 African Union Commission Meeting on Implementation of the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda in Africa.

Since February 2022, Astrini has been serving with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as an International UN Volunteer Education Officer based in Kinshasa. She supports the education section in supply, monitoring and evaluation, as well as knowledge management.

I help to monitor UNICEF’s education supplies, to ensure that children in development and emergency situations have access to school materials and can learn in a conducive environment. --Astrini Simanjuntak, UN Volunteer Education Officer with UNICEF, DRC

Astrini has also contributed to evaluating a project on early childhood education to understand the impact of pre-primary classes on children once they start primary school. The results will support advocacy efforts to develop/expand early childhood education in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Astrini brought a lot of added value to the team and the various projects as she is willing to learn, always happy to support and is very versatile in her competencies. This works very well in such a large, dynamic and multi-faced programme, spanning early childhood development projects and large funded programmes in the most complex and crisis affected provinces. At the same time, I also encourage her to define some areas of interest in education for her career development in the future. --Helena Murseli, Chief of Education with UNICEF, DRC

Serving in a bustling city with restricted public services limits Astrini from going out often, discovering the country or going on weekend getaways. She copes with such limitations by doing yoga four times a week and sharing her worries with close friends to balance her mental and physical health.

My advice to fellow Indonesians is that volunteering is giving yourself to the service of others and offers you a space to explore opportunities that are beyond your usual scope of work with the aim to make an impact in your community or abroad.

Serving overseas has exposed me to so much learning from people of diverse cultures, beliefs and education. This has given me new perspectives of seeing and finding solutions to the development challenges we face with a global lens. --Astrini Simanjuntak, UN Volunteer Education Officer with UNICEF, DRC

Supporting persons of concerns in Somalia

As of May 2023, Somalia was host to 35,625 registered refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from Ethiopia and Yemen. Some 714,386 Somali refugees and asylum seekers fled to neighboring countries and a further 2.97 million persons internally displaced inside Somalia. Over 7,400 Somali refugees have returned to Somalia since January.

Denny Beryan Saputra (Indonesia) joined the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Hargeisa, Somaliland, as a UN Volunteer Associate Operational Data Management Officer in April 2022. He supports the agency's registration and data management activities by working with registration staff, government and partners to collect, manage and analyze data on persons of concern. These include asylum seekers, refugees, returnees and internally displaced people in Somalia.

The data collected informs UNHCR's programming and decision-making and helps track progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Danny also helps to track the progress of refugees in accessing support and assistance from the agency, which is essential for their long-term well-being. 

"I am spurred to volunteer, because I believe that everyone has the power to make a difference in the world," Denny shares. "I am also passionate about working in the field of international development and stay motivated in the face of difficulties by focusing on the impact of my work."

Volunteering allows me to utilize my skills while also helping me to gain a broader experience. I know that the data I collect and analyze is helping to improve the lives of refugees and displaced people, and that is what keeps me going. --Denny Beryan Saputra, UN Volunteer Associate Operational Data Management Officer with UNHCR, Somalia

Denny Beryan Saputra (first left), International UN Volunteer, Associate Operational Data Management Officer and his colleagues receive spontaneous returnees from Yemen at the port of Berbera, Somaliland. They were provided with food, water, medical and registration assistance. ©️UNHCR - 28 November 2022
Denny Beryan Saputra (first left), international UN Volunteer Associate Operational Data Management Officer, and his colleagues receive spontaneous returnees from Yemen at the port of Berbera, Somaliland. They provided the returnees with food, water, medical aid and registration assistance. ©️UNHCR, 2022

Promoting the development of persons with disabilities through Online Volunteering

The spirit of volunteerism has always been a key motivation for Annirrahmah (Anni) to work in development sector and to pursue a master’s degree in development studies. During her master’s studies, she was exposed to cross-cutting socioeconomic issues, also through an internship and volunteering with organizations supporting asylum seekers and refugees, women's empowerment and humanitarian response.

Eager to take part in addressing these issues, Anni started in October 2022 as the Regional Online Volunteer Service Officer for UNV in Asia and the Pacific. Through her assignment, she collaborates with stakeholders in addressing diverse challenges across the multi-dimensions of sustainable development through digital volunteering.

Anni is responsible for promoting the UN Online Volunteering service as a digital solution to addressing sustainable development challenges. She also supports an initiative to facilitate the professional development of persons with disabilities through digital volunteering opportunities.

Serving at the regional office exposes me to countless critical issues in the social sphere, including the exclusion of marginalized groups. Through my role, I am taking part in support of the endeavour to leave no one behind, a pledge of the UN to reach those left further behind, like persons with disabilities. -- --Annirrahmah (Anni), Regional Online Volunteer Service Officer for the UNV in Asia and the Pacific

"My advice to other Indonesians: It is unquestionable that the spirit of volunteerism is strongly embedded within us," Anni says. "Serving as a UN Volunteer is a unique chance to contribute your skills and expertise for bigger causes that impact a large community."

Prior to her UNV assignment, Anni supported the implementation of economic cooperation programmes between ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement, and the facilitation of Free Trade Agreement negotiations and meetings at the regional level. She has also worked on development projects ranging from youth empowerment and refugee support to promoting global citizenship.