New Zealand Embassy Jakarta, Indonesia

From the Ambassador's Blog: Volunteers making an early difference

Some of the New Zealand volunteers in Indonesia in the late 1950s and early 1960s

From the Ambassador's blog:


I recently received from retired academic Laurie Wesley a copy of a monograph he had edited celebrating the New Zealand University Students Association Volunteer Graduate Scheme (VGS) in Indonesia. The VGS operated in Indonesia in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Indonesia’s huge development needs in the post-independence period provided the spark for this initiative and an Australian volunteer programme that preceded the New Zealand one.

As Ivan Southall wrote in his account of the Australian scheme, Indonesian students speaking at a University Service Assembly meeting in Bombay in 1950 talked about “a nation of eighty millions of staggering illiteracy, of a mere handful of skilled administrations, of engineers and technicians and teachers numbered only in scores, of one doctor to about every 100,000 persons, of less than a hundred pharmacists, of few more than a hundred dentists, of 93 percent of the population…without education of any kind”.

New Zealand student leaders lobbied the Government to set up a volunteer scheme in Indonesia to help address these massive needs. In 1957, the Department of External Affairs conveyed to the students union approval from both the New Zealand and Indonesian governments.

Volunteers were to receive from New Zealand their travel fares, insurance, a clothing allowance and a rehabilitation allowance on return. The government also agreed to provide a bicycle and a grant for books and equipment needed for the volunteer’s work. Indonesia agreed to provide a job, local wages and accommodation and provide the same access as other public servants to subsidised rice and other goods.

There were various delays, but the first volunteers made it to Indonesia in 1959. When the scheme finished in 1962, with the establishment of the Volunteer Service Abroad, seven New Zealanders had participated. They were Ron and Anne Kilgour, Garth Barfoot, Laurie and Barbara Weasely and John and Janys Foster. The stories shared by five of these hardy volunteers highlight the challenges the young Indonesian nation faced and the valuable contribution the kiwis made in public works, animal husbandry and English language and dental nurse teaching.

While in Indonesia, Laurie Wesley wrote a book in Indonesian on soil mechanics which I’m told is still available for sale here as a primary text. He later returned to Indonesia and worked on the Kamojang geothermal power station supported through New Zealand’s aid programme and which began a forty year association between the two countries in the geothermal sector. As an academic at Auckland university, Laurie was closely involved in efforts to raise awareness in New Zealand about Indonesia. His story highlights the impact Indonesia has had on his life and the positive contributions he has made to the relationship between our countries.

The same is true of the other volunteers whose stories are in the book.

Much has changed for the better in Indonesia over the past 50 years, but there are still major development needs and millions of people still live in poverty (about 100 million earn less than US$2 per day). That’s why we maintain an aid programme focused on areas where we believe we can make a real difference – areas like geothermal development, quarantine and agriculture, education and disaster risk management.

Volunteers like the seven who served here in the 50s and 60s helped develop the strong relationship we enjoy today. Their stories deserve celebration.

If anyone wants to obtain a copy of the monograph, they can email Laurie at


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