Volunteer Voice: Yusep Synata

Each week this month, we’re bringing you fresh perspectives on ASRI’s work from some of the people who know it best: our volunteers.

ASRI has a steady stream of volunteers from the west. Less common are volunteers from within Indonesia. Yusep Synata, from Jakarta, is at ASRI for several weeks in March and April, working with the conservation team, in addition to translating materials for future domestic volunteers, and interpreting for me in interviews with patients, staff and community members. He sat down with Trina (HIH Development and Administration Associate) in his first week to talk about what drew him to ASRI and his interesting experience learning English.

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Trina Jones: Thank you for everything you have already helped with! And for talking with me today. Let’s start with your background and how you learned about ASRI.

Yusep Synata: I am originally from East Java, but grew up living in Jakarta. I heard about ASRI from my boss, who I have worked with for five years as a field assistant. He works for City College of New York doing field work collecting samples of butterflies and flying foxes. He sends samples to Bogor and reports and research about DNA to a lab in the United States.


Yusep outside the bunkhouse. Photo: Trina Jones

I have no background in biology, so the job was challenging at first, but I took the opportunity. My friends said “If you never try, you will never know.” I have learned through teamwork and by watching how my friends set nets. It is hard to catch specific butterflies. They only live in the forest and really high up – we need half a day to even get there. Right now we are moving sites, so I have a month break.

My boss is friends with Cam and Kinari. I looked at the ASRI website and was surprised at how great it was. I wanted to come help and finally there was a time. I will be here for four weeks, probably longer [depending on how long it takes to move research sites and obtain the appropriate permits].

TJ: How have the first few days gone?

YS: It is great to join with ASRI! Most of the programs really help people around here. I have already worked with Etty on ASRI Kids, Yayat on reforestation at Sedehan, and Kari on volunteer initiation. These are great people! This is my first time in Kalimantan, and I already have lots of friends.

TJ: What do you hope to gain from your volunteer experience?

YS: I hope I can get inspiration from all the great people here and new experiences and bring that back from Kalimantan. I look forward to all I can learn from the ASRI staff. I am ready to be anywhere as long as I can help.

TJ: You have already been so helpful in translating for me and others in the organization. How did you become fluent in English?

YS: I learned English on my own starting in junior high school. In senior high, I started learning in school. I was lucky, because I was in a school where everyone must speak English all the time. If you don’t speak English you are punished and have to stay after school two hours and study with the English teacher. It was a very hard choice, but I decided it was worth it to break the rules. I knew English classes cost money, so I would break the rules every day to get free lessons.

Yusep (center, in hat) enjoys watching the orangutans at a Camp Leakey feeding station

Yusep (center, in hat) enjoys watching the orangutans at a Camp Leakey feeding station. Photo: Loren Bell

TJ: Wow! That is a lot of dedication! So where are you based now, where will you go when you leave ASRI? 

YS: My family is still in Jakarta, but I do field study all over: Flores, Bali, Lombok, and many other places. I have also been to Taiwan and Singapore to connect with staff.

TJ: That is a lot of travel!

YS: I have learned so many things from travel about people and culture.

TJ: Like what?

YS: Not how to be friendly exactly, but how to understand each other. Most people everywhere are really friendly, welcoming and are trying to help you.

TJ: Well said, Yusep! Thank you again for everything contributing your skills to ASRI so much already and for sharing with me.



Look for a follow-up interview with Kari for more on how Yusep’s experience  developed in his last few weeks.


About Trina Noonan | View all posts by Trina Noonan

Trina is the Managing Director at Health In Harmony, based in Portland, OR.