Sometimes, what you dream of doing when you grow up is not what you end up doing when you get there. But 30-year-old Tori Hogan would tell you not to worry.
Life has led the Harvard graduate from wanting to be a geneticist to becoming a filmmaker and author, who traveled to Indonesia to document the effectiveness of international aid efforts after the 2006 Central and West Java earthquake.
Today, Tori shares with My Jakarta her experience in the country, and gives her two cents on how those with a heart to help others can turn good intentions into good results.
Tell us about your trip to Indonesia.
I visited Indonesia in April 2007 for one month while I was producing a film series about international development called “Beyond Good Intentions.” I traveled overland from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, where I filmed an episode about the relief efforts following the 2006 West Java earthquake. While I was there I met with earthquake survivors, aid workers and government officials. I also spent some time exploring Bali and Lombok at the end of my trip, where I celebrated my 25th birthday.
Where can we watch the documentary of your trip to Indonesia?
The “Beyond Good Intentions” film series, which highlights the disaster relief efforts in two areas outside of Yogyakarta, can be found online at www.beyondgoodintentions.com.
What did you learn from your trip to Indonesia?
During my trip I learned that even the most well-intentioned and innovative aid projects can occasionally fail, and that often it’s the simplest ideas that are the most effective.
How can we get beyond good intentions and really do good for a society?
One of the easiest ways to go beyond good intentions when trying to help others is to simply ask the question, “What do you need?” It’s shocking how often aid organizations bypass this step and instead impose their own “solutions” on communities without consulting them first. A lot of aid failures could be avoided if there was better communication with aid recipients regarding their specific needs and their ideas.
What advice would you give to aspiring young filmmakers?
My best advice is to just start. When I began shooting my film series I had no previous experience in filmmaking. But once you get yourself into the field and start producing something meaningful, the technical aspects of filmmaking will become second nature. It takes a lot of practice, patience and perseverance.
If you could come to Indonesia again, what would you do?
As a scuba diver, I loved exploring Indonesia’s gorgeous reefs during my last trip.
When I come back again, I hope to spend time diving in Komodo. There’s so much more to explore in Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi. I definitely need to come back soon!
What is your favorite Indonesian food?
Although they’re quite simple dishes, it’s hard to beat chicken satay and nasi goreng.
If you were the president of Indonesia, what is one thing you would do?
If I was the president of Indonesia, I would make a greater effort to responsibly vet and monitor the foreign aid organizations who are permitted to work in the country.
As we saw following the 2004 tsunami, not all aid organizations are created equal, and some can even end up doing more harm than good.
What is your fondest memory of Indonesia?
One of my fondest memories of my trip to Indonesia was spending time with earthquake survivors in Ngelepen Baru. They were so welcoming and open with me while I was producing my film.
Also, given the enormous hardships they faced following the earthquake, it was inspiring to see such positivity and resilience among the people there.
If you could bring one thing from Jakarta to San Francisco, what would it be? Vice versa?
One of my favorite features of my new hometown is the beautiful San Francisco Bay. Sadly, I can’t bring the bay to Jakarta. But I would love to bring Jakarta’s gorgeous temples and mosques back to San Francisco — the architecture is so beautiful, and the feeling of serenity in such places is wonderful.
Have you received any criticism about your film?
Yes, there was definitely some criticism after the film series came out because many people would rather not question international aid and its various shortcomings. However, I welcomed the critiques because it enabled me to get a dialogue started about how international aid can be improved.
How do you see the future and what’s next for you?
I just recently finished writing a book called “Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey Into the Realities of International Aid” that follows my journey back to East Africa to find a refugee boy who changed my life. I’m currently trying to decide where my career path might lead next!
Tori Hogan was talking to Angelyn Liem.