A 15-year Odyssey in Emergencies, Humanitarian and Disaster Management Studies at Charles Darwin University

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Mujiburrahman became a committee member of E-sport competition at PPIA NT. Source: Personal documentation
Mujiburrahman became a committee member of E-sport competition at PPIA NT. Source: Personal documentation

“Mujiburrahman Thontowi is an LPDP scholarship awardee who is currently studying a Ph.D. in Emergencies, Humanitarian and Disaster Management Studies at Charles Darwin University, Australia.”

“In this article, he reflected on his initial journey in disaster management studies when he experienced a massive earthquake in his neighbourhood that awakened his curiousity in this field of study.”

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Beginning my adventure in Emergencies, Humanitarian and Disaster Management Studies

My career in the humanitarian sector started in the early morning, 27 May 2006. I was woken up by a massive shock from a 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit the southern part of Yogyakarta and Central Java. My house was slightly damaged with cracks on the wall and some fallen roof tiles. I was lucky that my family, my parents, and my brothers were all safe.

Fifteen years later, I still continue working in the humanitarian sector. I slowly climbed up the career ladder from volunteering as an administrative assistant with the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) to a program officer with the Danish Red Cross, a consultant for Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and finally as a Humanitarian Coordinator for Save the Children Indonesia.

Some parts of my research were about developing a mobile App called BUMIKITA which can be used to understand the risk, early warning, and prepare action for upcoming disasters. I hope that everyone in Indonesia can download the app to enhance people’s ability to understand and mitigate the disaster risk in Indonesia.

Developing BUMIKITA mobile app to enhance the early warning disaster management. Source: Personal documentation
Developing BUMIKITA mobile app to enhance the early warning disaster management. Source: Personal documentation

Studying in Darwin: A completely unique journey

After a decade of working in the field and traveling all over Indonesia in disaster-prone regions, I took a break and started to follow in Prof Eddie’s footsteps to pursue a Ph.D. I was lucky to pass the selection process of the LPDP Scholarship and finally accepted to continue my studies at Charles Darwin University, Australia. I am currently supervised under Associate Professor Akhilesh Surjan and senior lecturer Dr. Jonatan Lassa. My research about Multi-Hazard Early Warning System in Indonesia.

Smith Street Mall, Darwin CBD. Source: Geoff Whalan on Flickr
Smith Street Mall, Darwin CBD. Source: Geoff Whalan on Flickr

Studying in Darwin is an entirely different journey compared to the major Australian cities in the south. The climate is relatively like Indonesia, something that I am accustomed to living with. Darwin has a vibrant flora and fauna with a beautiful variety of wild birds on campus, making it suitable for bird watching. However, you should be aware of the dangerous creatures such as crocodiles, snakes, and spiders living in the outback.

Both campuses of Charles Darwin Campus are located in the coastal region, making it suitable to see a beautiful sunset by the casuarina beach or at the waterfront in the city. Darwin is a small city in Australia, but the local people are super friendly. Due to its small size, most shops are closed at 5 pm, but the city offers a stunning view of its landscape and the environment.  Living in the Northern Territory is the gateway to Asia. It was a strategic position in the borders of 3 countries: Indonesia, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea, which is connected by the Arafura Sea. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, it was very cheap to fly from Darwin to Bali. The cheapest airfare I remember was 70 dollars for a single flight using JetStar.

Being a Ph.D. student at Charles Darwin University (CDU)

The Humanitarian, Emergencies, and Disaster Management Studies is under the College of Indigenous Futures Education and Arts. I learned that before the Europeans came to Australia, the Maccasan from Indonesia had peacefully traded with the Aboriginals in Arnhem Land, a peaceful partnership that lasted over 400 years. I want to learn about the indigenous culture during my studies in Australia.

Charles Darwin University. Source: Michael Coghlan on Flickr
Charles Darwin University campus. Source: Michael Coghlan on Flickr

The CDU campus is built on Larrakia Land, and on every occasion, we would pay tribute and respect to the elders in the past, present, and future. The recognition of the indigenous people of the land should also be implemented in Indonesia with the Indigenous groups. Respecting the land and respecting the people should be a top priority of the national and local governments in Indonesia as we are rich in cultural diversity.

The good thing about doing a Ph.D. in Australia is that it is a 100% independent study with guidance from your supervisor. There are no classes that we must join each semester. In other words, we have academic freedom. There are many opportunities to improve your academic skills, such as an academic workshop conducted by the Language and Learning Support, Library Workshops, Weekly meetings with the Dean of Postgraduate Studies, Research Enhancement Programs, and Higher Degree Research Students Conference. During these workshops, I meet with friends from all over the world, such as China, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Madagascar, Iran, Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, Australia, and America. Therefore, study at CDU means connecting with very diverse and multicultural groups.

Mujiburrahman at his PhD office at Charles Darwin University, Australia. Source: Personal documentation
Mujiburrahman at his PhD office at Charles Darwin University, Australia. Source: Personal documentation

I really enjoy the monthly virtual discussion called Expresso Yourself session by the Northern Institute. The host is Professor Helen Verran, who provides insight into the research process, tips about surviving Ph.D. journey, and enables the opportunity to listen to the progress and opinions of other Ph.D. students.

Every Friday morning from 8.30 to 12.00 noon, I join writing/study groups for Ph.D. students with the motto that I like “We Share, We Chat, and We Write ”. The objective is to make plans to write each week and update the progress when we meet again. During the writing session, we use the Pomodoro writing technique to write in a 20-minute block and then rest. Then, we continue to write again for the next 20 minutes, followed by a rest. The activity is then continued to small chat, exercise, or drink coffee and write again for the next 20 minutes. I can say that the small group significantly supports each other.

Social activities with Indonesian communities in Darwin

As an LPDP Scholarship awardee, I am also actively participating and dedicating my time to activities related to the Indonesian community in Darwin. In 2018, I became a member of the Indonesian Election Commission in Darwin. I was responsible for the database and information of all Indonesian citizens who have the right to vote in Darwin.

Mujiburrahman became a committee member of Indonesian General Election - Darwin. Source: Personal documentation
Mujiburrahman became a committee member of Indonesian General Election – Darwin. Source: Personal documentation

As an Indonesian student in Darwin, I was also active in PPIA NT (Indonesian Student Association in Northern Territory, Australia) as the Director for Information Communication and Technology. Regarding this, I was responsible for developing the website and supporting the first Northern Territory E-sport Competition.

Furthermore, in early 2021, I was appointed as the Secretary-General for the Indonesian Diaspora Network Northern Territory (IDN-NT), in which I participated in a fundraising campaign for disaster rehabilitation in Indonesia, such as the latest Tropical Cyclone Seroja that hit Nusa Tenggara Timur. In the diaspora group, I also planned to build Rumah Indonesia in Darwin. In my spare time, I established a podcast, “Suara Diaspora,” which has a short 15-minute discussion about unique Indonesian living in Darwin.

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Editor: Yogi Saputra Mahmud

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