Giving Tuesday Interview with Retno Damajanti: Why I started volunteering

Giving Tuesday-Fbk

A long-standing member of,
Retno Damajanti is a freelance translator working in English to Indonesian from her home in Jakarta. Before the Giving Tuesday TV event Retno gave her interview to Helen Shepelenko.

How did you get started as a volunteer?

I joined TWB several years ago, but only started to make a meaningful contribution during the COVID19 Pandemic. 


What drove you to want to help?

Well, at that time, I just wanted to contribute 

Can you please tell us about your experience as a volunteer in more detail? What exactly did you do? Who were you helping?

Well, the meaningful experience started during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Indonesian translators have this Whatsapp group, and at the start of the pandemic, someone was looking for a group of translators who would translate a guideline for coronavirus that was made by scientists in Wuhan.

It was a paid job but so cheap (far below US$0.01 per word) that I was just treating it as a
pro bono work. Most of the translators working on that project were also of the same opinion. We were working practically through the night, to get it done the next day.  I did not see the final product, but it would probably be below par, considering the many people contributing to it. But it seems to be helping the government to understand what needs to be done.

Another meaningful one is the one we did with Open Source Medical Supplies. Andrew Morris announced it in Facebook group, and from then me and my co-conspirator, Dalih Sembiring, gathered almost 20 translators from various specialties to translate PPE designs. I led the project team who gathered PPE designs and contacted the owners of the designs to let us publish the translation. Dalih led the editors & translators. We have our own website (the translators chip in to finance the website) where we publish the designs. Our website is 


How did COVID-19 impact your work as a volunteer?

COVID-19 really makes me feel that I need to do something. At the start of the pandemic, our country was so far behind in COVID-related matters. The government seemed clueless and we don't have enough PPE. Our nurses and doctors have to work without adequate protection, and many fall victims to it. My Mum, Dad, Brother, Sister in Law and Nephew are medical doctors, and they are on the frontline. I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer because I have to. I can't do nothing and watch people dying.  I am not a medical professional, but I can translate things that can help them do their job to cure people.


How did you balance volunteering with paid work?

Well, during the start of the pandemic, there is not much paid work, we were working round the clock for almost a month. After that, of course, we couldn’t keep volunteering and  had to earn some money for a living again. Currently I volunteer whenever I have free time, because sadly, I do need the paid work to live.


What have you gained most from volunteering?

I met a lot of people with the same passion and who genuinely wanted to help. The beneficial side effect is that it’s a great opportunity to do networking.  I still share jobs with some of them and they would send me some jobs that they can't do. I also noted that some of the volunteering platforms are not so people-friendly, they don't treat the translators as people. It’s sad when they do that. 


Did you encounter any issues while working as a volunteer? Were there any aspects that didn’t go according to plan?

Well.. since I was volunteering for a group that was just starting up, there was a lot of confusion and lack of coordination that made it extremely difficult for the translators to assist effectively. 

For example, on day 1 we started translating the PPE design for type A, B,C. While the translation was being edited, they issue new versions of the same documents, without having  track changes. This version was updated again with a newer version the next day!

PPE - from pexels

Would you recommend volunteering to other translators?

Absolutely. If you can help people by doing what you are good at, you should.  


Many thanks to Retno for participating in this interview. 

This year is inviting the entire translator community to join this #GivingTuesday movement in support of several non-profit organizations. It is free to attend, but attendees are welcome to contribute/donate to the Giving Tuesday drive efforts which will be matched dollar for dollar by up to $2,500. On December 1st join the TV event at

Topics: giving tuesday

Helen Shepelenko

Written by Helen Shepelenko

Helen is the training manager. She has been with since 2009.

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