Australia Awards in Indonesia

The Australia Awards are prestigious, transformational scholarships and short courses offered to emerging leaders for study, research and professional development in Australia

27 Feb 2024

Ria Oktorina Makes Connections to Support the Health of Women, Children and the Environment

When Ria Oktorina joined an Australia Awards Short Course, she went the extra mile to connect with likeminded women - a move which has inspired multiple initiatives to support mothers and children.

Amidst her busy schedule working as a Senior Planner at the Regional Development Planning Board of West Sumatra, Ria dedicates her spare time to helping new mothers in Padang.

Since 2012, she has volunteered to educate mothers on parental health and breastfeeding knowledge.

She had experienced the unpleasant feeling of being doubted and belittled as a new mum, and wished she could ease the burden of others.

“I found peace after receiving gratitude and appreciation from mothers who really need our help,” said Ria, who is active in two community groups, namely Indonesian Breastfeeding Mothers’ Association (AIMI) West Sumatera and Rangkul Padang.

In 2022, Ria enrolled in the Australia Awards Short Course on Sustainable Agri-Food Systems, run by the University of Adelaide.

Ria’s experience as a course participant differed notably from the rest of her cohort participants.

She took the initiative to engage with parent’s groups during her free time in Australia, and discovered meaningful inspiration.

Seizing Every Opportunity

“It’s not often that I get an opportunity to travel abroad; that’s why I used the Short Course as a chance to explore communities and volunteering activities in Australia,” Ria said, explaining that she planned her side trip before going to Australia.

Ria’s initiative was warmly welcomed by Sarah, a volunteer at the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) Adelaide and founder of Middle Ground Motherhood.

The pair talked a lot about parenting, the motherhood journey, and culture. Moreover, Sarah gave Ria resources on parental health such as ABA’s educational books.

“Sarah also introduced me to Australian Parents for Climate Action, a community with the goal of achieving a safer climate for children through education and empowering parents and families,” Ria said. The discussion inspired her to start a similar project in Indonesia, educating parents and their children about climate change through interactive methods.

“Together with mothers in Padang, I plan to do a similar project. For now, we have already created a group, and I hope we can get started as soon as possible,” said Ria, who is also an alumna of the Australia-Indonesia Muslim Exchange Program in 2019.

Empowering Women in Agriculture

While the Short Course covered issues concerning agriculture and sustainability, a lecture from social anthropologist Margaret Becker was a highlight for Ria.

“Her research about women’s empowerment and capacity building for mothers in Nepal caught my interest, as I share a passion for that field,” she said.

Dr Becker’s lecture and the discussion with Sarah inspired Ria to promote and educate mothers in Padang about healthy and sustainable local food for her Award Project.

Called Rangkiang Mande, the project was a series of activities to promote healthy local food through a social media campaign, collaboration with the local community, and a workshop attended by mothers and students majoring in agriculture and nutrition.

Ria also invited another course participant, Vania Febriyantie of urban farming program Seni Tani, to educate women on developing food resilience by growing their own food locally.

Supporting Farmers to Grow

During her time in Australia, Ria was shocked by the massive disparity between Indonesian and Australian farmers.

She said it was surprising how Australians see farming as a prestigious profession and that most farms are family businesses that have existed for generations. “They even have their own reality show!” she said.

With the insights from her two-week stay in South Australia, Ria drafted a policy brief for her workplace, outlining schemes to benefit farmers on everything from waste management to wellbeing.

“In Australia, there is a third party that connects banks and farmers. They provide the farmers with information on the business risks that will be carried out by farmers. I hope that in the future, there will be policies in Indonesia that are more pro-farmers,” Ria explained.

The Short Course revealed to Ria the many benefits of continued professional development. She is now exploring the possibility of pursuing a PhD.

“Participating in the course made me realise there are so many things I can develop,” she said. “In order to formulate better policies, I need to keep updating my knowledge.”

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