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Change starts here!

Indonesia, April 19, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Richard Jacquot/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Team-building by the lake in Kampung Sampireun, Garut, West Java, Indonesia. Photo: Richard Jacquot/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Michael Bell/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Classroom sessions and intense debate were part of the Indonesia Response Team training, helping staff improve their emergency response skills and work together as a team. Photo: Michael Bell/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Firza Kurniawati/Mercy Corps  </span>
    One of our Indonesia Response Team members interacts with kids in a nearby village during one of our training activities. Photo: Firza Kurniawati/Mercy Corps

It has been a few days since I got back to red-hot Jakarta from a transformative and thrilling week of Indonesia Response Team training and team-building in Kampung Sampireun, Garut, West Java. I still cringe at the fact that I could no longer wake up to the beautiful lake alongside our rooms where the training took place, the chilly weather of the hills and the roaring laughter of such an amazing bunch of people.

The team consists of 27 folks, selected for their different expertise, from all of the four Mercy Corps field offices in Indonesia: Aceh, Ambon, Jakarta, and Padang. Our trainers were Richard Jacquot, the Deputy Director of Mercy Corps’ Global Emergency Operations (GEO) team; Mugur Dumitrache, the Water and Sanitation Expert for GEO; Erynn Carter, former GEO member who now holds the position of West Sumatera Program Director; and Malka Older, Director of Programs in Indonesia.

We went through a lot during the whole week we were there. We experienced everything from assessing local communities, mapping markets in emergency, designing an emergency effort that is based on SPHERE standards — to pillow fighting, karaoke singing and boat racing.

But here’s more about it.

One of the main reasons of our retreat was to assess the things that we needed to improve after our emergency efforts in West Sumatera and West Java near the end of last year. Given the fact that Indonesia is very susceptible to natural and man-made disasters, we needed to build our capacities to be effective in giving responses, hence avoiding the same mistakes we did in the last two efforts. According to Mugur, the team would not only be covering emergencies in Indonesia, but also the whole South and South-East Asia region.

So we really need to be counted as a team, and we want to keep Mercy Corps on the front line when it comes to emergency relief.

It was a packed training schedule, working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day with few breaks in between, sometimes working on the assignments until late at night. In one of the sessions, we had to go to the village nearby to shape our skills in gathering as many information that we could obtain in a very limited time. We also assessed potential hazardous events in each of the region in the country, and what we could do to reduce the risks of the disasters — not to mention analyzing each field offices’ gaps in capacities and resources.

We argued a lot when it came to logistics issues, such as how to distribute aid immediately, correctly and effectively. We changed what we needed to change.

However, we also knew how to have fun. After all, we always need to lighten up a bit in emergency situations, joke a little and laugh a lot, because disasters are stressful enough and we absolutely need to keep our sanity during responses. And so in the training, we inserted a lot of fun activities. We opened one of the sessions with practicing the gymnastic routines that each one of us had acquired back in the middle school when the dictatorship still ruled Indonesia. We played games in between sessions to keep us awake and alert such as karaoke singing (won by Mercy Corps Idol himself, Eldo from Ambon), boat racing (won by our Padang office) and pillow fighting above the lake (everyone lost and fell to the water — but no fish were harmed). And on the last night, we created a special performance as a farewell for Malka, who will be leaving Indonesia to challenge herself in other countries next week.

What an amazing week. We changed a lot, definitely for the better.

And really, we brought home a lot: new skills to be applied in emergencies, dozens of action plans, five million photos and everlasting friendships.