“I was hooked”: a conversation with Monash Arts alumna Grace Orange

Arts/Science graduate Grace Orange interned with Indonesian NGO Yayasan Usaha Mulia as part of her Monash Arts degree, travelling to remote villages in West Java, delivering a report that triggered the implementation of crucial health treatments for the hundreds of people who live there.

Grace Orange
Grace Orange

Grace’s report demonstrated the health, educational and community development benefits of integrating intestinal parasite treatment to existing projects by Yayasan Usaha Mulia. So far the resulting treatment implementation has reached around 250 children in Cipanas, West Java, with potential for whole community treatment and extension of the project to Central Kalimantan when funding is available.

We spoke with Grace about her internship, the start of her journey at Monash and where she is now:

So, why did you choose to study a Bachelor of Arts and Science at Monash?

Monash has a reputation for both academic excellence and a friendly atmosphere, and the option of a double degree allowed me to combine my interests in science and the humanities. Through this combination I hoped to develop the skills for analysing and understanding complex global problems in achieving social justice outcomes.

Sunset from a high rise in Jakarta.
Sunset from a high rise in Jakarta

What was your major in the Arts?

Urban, Regional and International Development [now taught through Human Geography] — I chose my first subject “Natural Hazards and Human Vulnerability” based on environmental interests, but was moved by the injustices of climate change impact. I’d always been told to follow my passions, although back then I didn’t really understand what that meant and found it difficult to pin it down to a profession.

What I learned from those early units was that the inequitable state of the world upset me, and I needed to learn more in order to contribute toward positive change. Through my science major in Physiology, I studied various diseases that disproportionately affect people who are disadvantaged in some way, and it was in combination with my Arts units that I began to understand inequitable patterns in health. These areas of study are critical to improving social, political, economic and environmental conditions for current and future generations, both in Australia and abroad.

How did you come across the internship opportunity with Monash Arts?

In my second year of my Arts/Science degree, I scoped out the possibility of doing an internship with a government department, and in the process met Robin Chacko, the Professional Placements Manager at Monash Arts. He explained the steps involved and encouraged me to apply for the project I was interested in.

Following my application I was invited to an interview, but wasn’t offered the position, as they required someone with working knowledge of a specific computer program. I was disappointed in myself, thinking I wasn’t good enough or suitable for this kind of opportunity, so I spent time volunteering instead. It wasn’t until two years later that I happened to bump into Robin again, and he again encouraged me to explore the opportunities on offer through the new Arts internship unit.

On the Arts online website I found internships that for me were far more ambitious as many were long-term international placements, and one in particular stood out. I worked up the courage to apply for the role in communications and fundraising at a human services organisation in Jakarta called Yayasan Usaha Mulia (YUM) — the Foundation for Noble Work — and was successful. Subsequently, Monash offered me a New Colombo Plan scholarship, making my dream internship even more accessible and at the same time boosting my confidence.

Weekend trip to Sukaumi, West Java, for white water rafting with the international internships crew
Weekend trip to Sukaumi, West Java, for white water rafting with the international internships crew

What is Yayasan Usaha Mulia (YUM)?

With a head office in Jakarta, YUM have run health, education and community development projects for the rural villages of Cipanas, West Java, and Bukit Batu, Central Kalimantan, for the last 40 years. The former is where I chose to focus my project.

Administration of polio vaccine for kids in Cipanas
Administration of polio vaccine for kids in Cipanas

One of YUM’s main initiatives is running an organic farm on site, which the organisation uses to teach beneficiaries how to grow vegetables for their families and businesses. YUM is also home to one of the top preschools in Java and high schoolers there have access to a vocational training centre, while people of all ages benefit in the hundreds from free monthly health checks. This is also YUM’s method for administering important treatments and vaccines, such as drops to prevent polio.

International groups are invited to learn about the organisation by participating in the EduTourism program, where they attend workshops, explore the local landscape and amenities, and help meet the needs of the organisation.

What was the internship like?

The internship was more than a full time role in an international organisation — I was immersed in a completely foreign culture bustling with life and a chaos that actually has some kind of order once you get used to it. I stepped off the plane into the tropical climate of Jogjakarta, where I completed a two-week language and culture course and met my student buddy, Dede. The window in my room opened to a balcony where geckos gathered at night, and from which you could see the mosque across the road where a call to prayer is sung five times a day. The people in Jogja more than exceeded their reputation for friendliness, and were excited to share their culture with me.

Mifta enjoying the food from Erna's cooking class for local women
Mifta enjoying the food from Erna’s cooking class for local women
Group of street performers during Jakarta's Car Free Day
Group of street performers during Jakarta’s Car Free Day

Likewise, when I arrived at YUM in Jakarta, I was welcomed by a team of enterprising and altruistic people who helped me understand what they did and my part in it. They were easy to work with, conversed with me every day over lunch at the kitchen table (with my supervisor helping to translate), helped me book my daily ojek (scooter style taxi service) for the commute home through the macet (traffic jam) and went out of their way to show me both of the remote villages in which they work. A number of times, they drove me the 5+ hours through the lush, rural landscape of West Java to YUM in Cipanas, and I also had the privilege of flying to Bukit Batu in Central Kalimantan.

A YUM beneficiary coming in for a check up
A YUM beneficiary coming in for a check up
Kids at the award-winning preschool in Cipanas
Kids at the award-winning preschool in Cipanas

Outside of the regular 9-5, I lived in a high-rise student apartment building overlooking the megalopolis, along with other Australian students I was connected with via International Internships, who organised networking events and weekend trips for us to attend together. We’d navigate the uneven footpaths through which massive trees had burst, past tangled masses of power lines and street vendors who keep calm and bakar sate no matter what, to have nasi goreng or cap cay at our favourite local restaurants. For our laundry needs, we frequented a shop that also offered hairdressing and tattoo services. Despite wild differences between this new environment and my home in Melbourne, the culture shock I’d been warned about never eventuated, and I can’t wait to go back.

My farewell lunch at Burgreens, Jakarta, with the YUM team
My farewell lunch at Burgreens, Jakarta, with the YUM team
Always macet. This “10 minute” ojek drive took two hours!
Always macet. This “10 minute” ojek drive took two hours!

How did your report for YUM come about?

Mother and baby at YUM for the polio vaccine
Mother and baby at YUM for the polio vaccine

I was given the scope to research just about anything I liked as long as it was relevant to my Arts major, and for me it helped to be in the country while I thought of a question. The initial idea came to me during a conversation with someone back home, who warned me about hookworm.

I had no prior knowledge, but following some preliminary research, I realised that intestinal parasites were an endemic problem disproportionately affecting the disadvantaged in ways I’d never considered. From that moment, I was hooked … get it? … and my background in Arts and Science finally came together in a real world, practical problem, leading to an exciting, simple solution.

Infection with hookworm can cause anaemia, particularly for more vulnerable groups such as children and women of childbearing age, affecting cognitive development and by extension economic potential. YUM’s health projects focussed on improving the iron status of these same groups through supplementation and diet modification, but did not include treatment for hookworm.

Me with Cipanas high school students keen to sign up for the vocational training program
Me with Cipanas high school students keen to sign up for the vocational training program

The report focussed on the improved results YUM and similar organisations might expect to see from their existing health and education projects if they eliminated an underlying cause of anaemia. My report received academic praise, and YUM began treatment for 250 children last July, with the aim of extending the project to Central Kalimantan when funding is available. I am currently excited about the possibility of establishing a fundraising enterprise to seek grants for continued treatment in Cipanas, and expansion to additional rural communities.

(For more detail, Grace’s report is accessible through her LinkedIn profile).

Looking back, are there ways that the internship really impacted your life?

The internship involved a lot of “firsts” for me — it was my first time travelling alone, first visit to Indonesia, first full time job and first independent research project of that length and detail. I discovered a lot about myself as a person as well as my academic capacity.

The research project in particular was a big hurdle for me; I spent a lot of time struggling to decide a methodological approach and articulate ideas even superficially. My ideas for the report were initially too ambitious; I thought I needed comprehensive quantitative data on which I could perform statistical analyses for my results to have any value, but found that my resources were limited to the qualitative assessment of handwritten documents extending only one year back.

I had to streamline my broad scope, thinking at the time that this would decrease the quality of my report and this at first challenged my confidence. I realised that keeping it simple was actually a far stronger approach, though I had written a number of drafts by then! I was happy with the work once it was finally submitted, but couldn’t have anticipated the reward I felt seeing the marks I received, and when I found out that YUM were initiating treatment.

Me and Bronwyn (another Monash student atop the active volcano, Mount Merapi, Jogjakarta
Me and Bronwyn (another Monash student atop the active volcano, Mount Merapi, Jogjakarta

“It was through the process of doing something initially so intimidating that I found the confidence to apply the skills I learned at university […]

This knowledge has already benefitted me in the job application process and professional workplace”

It was through the process of doing something initially so intimidating that I found the confidence to apply the skills I learned at university in a professional manner and actively develop a growth mindset. I now know how important it is to embrace inexperience as an opportunity to learn and explore the connections between seemingly separate interests. This knowledge has already benefitted me in the job application process and professional workplace; once again I’m immersing myself in something completely new, with the knowledge that I can only grow with experience.

That’s brilliant. A growth mindset and the edge to get your job! For future students, what advice would you give them?

Make the most of every opportunity you have to travel, gain new experiences and engage with real world problems — however small — that are waiting for someone to take the lead and improve them.

A frangipani found walking through a tropical storm, Jakarta
A frangipani found walking through a tropical storm, Jakarta

The reward of taking those first steps is more valuable than you realise for your personal and professional development, and can make all the difference to the lives of others.

Treat inexperience as a platform from which you can grow; you will very likely stumble, but use your resources to build resilience and pick yourself straight back up.

Similarly, reach out to and extend your network, for example talk to past students who have paved paths similar to the one you want to follow, and keep your favourite lecturers and other staff in the loop with your milestones. You’ll be surprised what an enthusiastic resource they’ll continue to be!

Where to now?

After returning to Melbourne, I applied for a graduate program at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in the hope of working as an analyst in international development, and was selected for their Order of Merit list as no suitable positions were available in Melbourne. Hearing this news, I made the decision to enhance my Monash Arts degree with research credentials by completing Honours in Human Geography, with the aim of studying the health implications and spatial distribution of gender-based violence in Melbourne. The ABS almost immediately after surprised me with a graduate position in their Melbourne office, so I made the decision to defer this exciting research to 2018 in the hope that the two will feed powerfully into one another.

Images: courtesy Grace Orange

Internships at Monash Arts

Doing an internship during your undergraduate degree is a great way to develop practical experience in your field while building new contacts and networks. An internship can be taken either for academic credit or as ‘not for credit’ if you prefer.

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