We work at the grassroots level throughout the Muslim World to counter violent extremism before it takes hold, to promote tolerance and understanding, and to foster better relations with the United States.
This post was written by Katarina Deshotel towards the end of her time volunteering in Indonesia. She is now back in the United States.
I can hardly believe that in only a few days my experience in this amazing country of Indonesia will be coming to a close. It seems only yesterday the other AUA volunteers and I arrived here, excited about every new thing we encountered and ready to pack as many experiences as we could into every moment of free time. On our second day here, we had an orientation with the AUA in-country coordinators during which we all talked about our hopes and concerns for the coming weeks. A major theme among all the volunteers’ hopes was a desire to make a positive impact at the various organizations we would be working at. As I begin wrapping up my tasks at Rifka Annisa, it is perhaps a good time to reflect on the kind of impact I’ve had there.
For the past few weeks I’ve been working on analyzing and processing data they had been collecting for the past five years (2007 to 2012) from their clients—women and children who are victims of gender-based violence—who had come to Rifka for counseling. The data would then be used to publish a report about their findings. Perhaps it sounds a little unglamorous, but I was excited to use my skills in service of a great organization. But at the same time, I was nervous for two reasons. First, I was going to be using a statistical analysis software called SPSS, which I hadn’t used for about a year and a half. Second, the Excel file I was given of all their data was….overwhelming to say the least. It was 1832 rows long and about 40 columns wide containing information on clients’ names, addresses, educational status, religion, age, and other variables. There was also the same information on perpetrators. And all in Bahasa Indonesia.
So, I took a deep breath and set out on figuring out what all the data meant. My supervisor went over with me what all the different categories meant in English, then I went through on my own to translate using an online dictionary (thank you, technology) all the different variables that had been input into each category. For example, with the Marital Status category, it would say whether the client was married, divorced, single, etc. Or for the relationship between the client and perpetrator category, it would say whether they were husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, neighbors, strangers etc. In order to make sense of everything I created a table in Word of all the unique variables in each category and I’d ask my supervisor for help with translating variables the dictionary couldn’t.
I soon discovered that when the data had been input into the Excel document, it wasn’t very systematic. There were a lot of misspellings and several instances it would use several different ways to say the exact same thing. For example, in the location category it would say: Yogyakarta, Kota Yogyakarta, Kota Madya Yogyakarta, YK, or Yogya, all to refer to the city of Yogyakarta. There were also a lot of random variables that should have just been listed as “other.” In the end, I had to systemize all the variables before I could do any kind of analysis. That meant meticulously going through each category and changing all the misspellings and listing all variables that didn’t belong in any category as “other.”
It seemed incredibly tedious, time-consuming, and at first I was a little frustrated that I had to do all this “prep” work prior to starting my actual assigned task. Rather, I felt like I was somehow letting Rifka and my supervisor down since I had been delayed. However, I was told that it was actually very helpful to them that I had to go through all the data in this way. It helped them realize that there needs to be an improvement in the way the data is being input, such as coming to an agreement between departments on what categories should be used and sticking to them. My supervisor even used the table I had made to demonstrate this point at an organization-wide meeting the other day.
I’ve heard that in order to make a positive impact, you should leave a place better than you found it. I often feel that I have been so fortunate to have received the education and opportunities that I did. And in my future career I’d like to utilize what I’ve been given in order to improve the lives of those who may not have been as fortunate. This summer I’m grateful that I had the chance to work on this project. Not only was it an opportunity to apply the skills I’ve learned during graduate school, but I feel like I was able to make some positive impact, however small, on Rifka Annisa’s work. Even though working with all those numbers and variables and making graphs from them may not at first glance seem as glamorous or appealing as something like distributing vaccines to poor children or digging wells in remote villages, I’m glad I had the chance to apply my skills to something that was beneficial and perhaps made Rifka a better place than when I found it.