Friday, July 31, 2009

Allen's Story

Allen is a 9 year old boy who is being sponsored by my friend, Daniel. It was quite shocking that at this important and meaningful time of our visit to his hometown in Manado, Allen’s dad has been put to jail by the local police.

Allens dad works as a motorbike taxi driver to support his family. A few days back, he picked up an old lady where an accident accured and she died the next day. Her side of the family didn’t try to sue him or anything, but the local police had put him to jail. Anyone in their right mind could tell that the police are taking advantage of the situation. They've put him to jail with no real offence then asked the family 5 million rupiah (US $500) for his release. That made me really angry. It’s clearly corruption and it’s an opression towards the poor community!

We visited Allen's house first. The picture above is of us in Allen's house. Allen's mum is on the right side holding a baby. We're not sure who all of these kids are. They're most likely neighbors and relatives. There's so many kids everywhere! Daniels special gift for Allen from Australia was a soccer ball and an air pump for the ball. Daniel couldn't have done any better I think. Allens mum was crying.... actually, she was absolutely sobbing with happiness when she saw Allen receiving the present. She told us that she wanted to get those same things but she didn’t have the money to purchase it for her son. Her story made me want to cry too. To me that is like a glimpse of an unconditional love of a mother who thinks everything for her child. It's a complete selfless act and I really hope that when I have a child, I can love my child the way she does. I can't say that I witness this kind of love too often in my daily life. It was really touching.

We went to the police station to see if we can have Allen’s dad out for the day. We can’t even let Simon, Daniel or me to go in there just in case that when they see a foreigner, they might just ask for money, up the price for his release or whatever. So while some of us stayed in the car, Leidy (Compassion worker), Allens mum and aunt went in for us. The police let him out for 5 minutes, and in that 5 minute, we managed to say hi and take photos with him. The photo below is the one that we took. Allen's dad is the one in the red shirt and his mother is the one standing in front of him.

It was a very special day for us.... we did so many things with Allen, his brother Aldo and his mum. We took them for lunch in the mall. They never had the money to do that so it was quite special. We love watching Aldo going crazy over the colourful drink pictures on the menu and looking the kids so happy to use a hand dryer for the first time. Allen also had a bit of a session with Simon’s camera. It really made us notice the special little things that we often take for granted.

After lunch we went to the project to attend a short church service and visiting the project classes. I was very impressed to see how diligent the kids are. None of them were distracted or playing by themselves... they’re all so focused and determined. The photo below is of the children during the church service, they're soooo cute!

After the service, we had a look at Allen’s details and performace in the project, then we had a chat to the teachers there. While the boys are busy pumping up their new soccer ball, Leidy and I had a really good chat with pastor Karel about his early determination to help the surrounding area and how hard it was before Compassion offers a partnership. He told us that children used to get raped while they're walking to go to school! He said that after he partnered up with Compassion, everything that he dreamed of doing for the kids came true, and more! That sounds so amazing to me... I wish I could hear this kind of stuff more in the news! Sometimes I feel that the media could publish more inspiring good news like this than the worldly good or bad stuff.

After the project, we took the family back home. Daniel wanted to spend another half an hour there, so we talked a bit more, did a bit of praying and even had a quick session of playing ping pong table. The photo below is of us and Allen's family in front of their house before we say goodbye. We were absolutely exhausted by the end of the day... we didn’t expect the visit to take us the whole day.... It was well worth it!

Discovering My Own Country

It’s July, and it’s that time of the year to get out of Jakarta and do some serious travels again. Simon (my friend from Canberra, grew up in Perth, originally Singapore) had already been here for 2 weeks, and his friend, Daniel (from Sydney, grew up in Wellington, NZ originally from South Korea) is joining us to visit Allen, his sponsor child in Manado, North of Sulawesi. Simon also has a sponsor child, Vicki. I just randomly tag along for the ride.

I have to be honest, in my opinion not many people who are born and bred in Jakarta have much perspective of what’s going on in Indonesia, outside of Jakarta (and maybe Bali). To my belief, people from Jakarta only like the busy happening places, and the places outside the big cities just seemed a little too primitive to be explored. We just assumed that there’s nothing there. When we get bored of Jakarta, we like to explore not the neighboring city, but to the same modern and happening countries around the world like Singapore, Japan, Australia, USA, Canada, Europe as if these countries ARE our neighboring cities. I've met countless ppl from Jakarta who lives in Aus or US but never met one person from Jakarta who have said that they've lived in a secluded place and spoke highly of it.

I’d like to omit myself from that category. In my defence, I 've learned to live, love and be content in quiet places. Even if I do go overseas for change, I’d like to go to places where there's no Indonesian in sight. I've had my chance of living primitively where seeing a traffic light was as rare and distracting as seeing a random spaceshuttle thats been build overnight next to a dusty road. But just like them, I never really thought of really exploring my own country before labelling them as 'primitive'.

So, we're going to Manado. We had to get up at 2am to leave home at 3am to not miss our 5am plane. It was a bit of an effort to get ready, but it was good to sleep through the 3 hour journey there.

"Lion Air... We Make People Fly!" ... and still had the energy to pose like that at 5am...

In the afternoon, we went to a bookstore just across our hotel and I bought myself a map of Indonesia. Our local friend and tourguide, Frejon keeps mentioning all these places and islands in East Indonesia that I've heard of but don't really know where they are, so I thought a map might come in handy. Ok, so the map turns out to be more than handy cause before I saw the map I thought I knew where I was, but after that I realize... I’m actually really really far away from Jakarta! Now it clicked to me why we flew 3 hours instead of the average one hour flight to my usual party places in Singapore or Bali.

And then I start to take notice of all the other island and places that I never notice... I never knew that Indonesia have islands that are very very close to the Philipines! Or there are flights that actually goes to the large-ish islands in between Sulawesi and Papua. I could also see hundreds of tiny islands that God knows how people do survive there. What can these islanders do for a living? How do they get around? Boats? Do they have a supermarket? Is it even possible to have a supermarket? Maybe they just have to kill animals and collect rain water constantly to survive. Can they speak Indonesian? Do they even realize that they belong to a country?

Despite my childish and primitive thoughts, I've found Manado is actually a city that is making huge development progress. Firstly, Manado's airport is an International airport. In this respect, Canberra, the capital city of Australia is more primitive because they only have local airport flying local planes. The upcoming world ocean conference "Sail bhunnaken" is going to be held in Manado and well over 100 countries are participating. I guess that's a good enough reason to have an international airport then....

Like Jakarta, Manado also have lots of malls which consists of the usual retail shops, coffee shops, bakeries, cinema, kareoke bars, etc. Whats best about this is that the malls are built only a couple meters away from the ocean. So there goes my assumption that everything outside Java is primitive. I totally love Manado's landscape! The mountains that raises up around the sea shore are a bit like Wellington in New Zealand minus the crap weather. In one of the hills, we found the most incredible, massive flying Jesus statue. Indonesia is the largest Muslim country by population, but Manado is predominantly, and (as proven by this statue) shamelessly a Christian city.

I'm also very impressed with the cleanliness of this city. Anywhere in Java you'd find people carelessly throwing non-recyclable rubbish in public areas. Here, they boast their national cleanliness award, and I actually feel quite comfortable using their public transport. In fact, I love it! They have a disco mini bus, with the loud music, hot pink seats and stuff... it's like a super convinient portable party! The ocean is very clean and then there’s the famous Bhunnaken island just 45 minutes boat ride away for an awesome experience of snorkeling and diving. I totally think that this place is better than Bali, though they don’t have many resorts and all those artsy touristy stuff yet (which could be a good thing for some people).

I totally love Manado, and I think my perspective of Indonesia will never be the same again after this....

One thing that we were missing in our trip though was that Manado is famous for it's bat (and other weird animals like rats, iguanas, dogs, etc) cuisine. Though for some reason I don't really feel like I'm missing out... :p

Picture of Manado Tua island (Old Manado)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Gleni’s Story: The Little Things That Counts...

On Thursday, 2nd of July I had the amazing opportunity to visit my boyfriends sponsor child in Central Java, Indonesia. The program is run by Compassion Australia (

This trip is not my first time. I went with Simon last year to visit his sponsor kids. My friend Simon is my source of inspiration in dealing with this kind of issues. He's like the king of being compassionate to children in poverty. He's been the Canberra's Compassion advocate leader for 3 years and has got 7 sponsor kids. 5 in Indonesia, 1 in Uganda, Africa and another in Thailand. He's got all that to give and he's only 1 year older than me (24). To me, he's like the modern day version of Sir William Wilberforce.
My boyfriend's sponsor child name is Gleni. To visit Gleni, we went to an area outside Semarang (central Java) called Ambarawa... this place is totally amazing! It’s very green and they have lots of plantations like padi fields, longan trees, coffee, corn, vegetables and flower nurseries.

When we stopped in front of the school we were stunned with the breathtaking view in front of his school. I mean, the whole area is already very nice, but to have a view of your own is really super cool! At night you can see the lights flickering in the middle of darkness. It's so beautiful, I wish I could live here.

This is my first time to visit a child as my own and I was hoping that Gleni is not shy. I wouldn't have a clue of what to do! As it turns out, he was very very veeeery shy. I know that when a child meet his/her sponsor for the first time, they're always shy and therefore it is normal, but I'm so not prepared for this! He wouldn’t say anything to me and it’s almost as if he’s reluctant to meet me. I tried to ask him questions and tried to get him to show us around the school... and he just walked back to his class and did more of his drawing. All of us just kindda stood there and laugh, it felt really awkward.

While Gleni is doing his drawing we had a good chat with the project staff in the office. We talked a lot about how the project is run, what the child get through the sponsorship, about Glenis performance in the project (school report card, health, growth, church attendance, involment in activities, etc...) and the situation of Gleni’s family. I was very impressed with the amount information they have filed on the child. It gives me the sense of security that Gleni is in good hands.

We went to visit Gleni’s house after visiting the project, accompanied by a couple of the project staff. While we were there, I got Greg to ring my mobile phone so that he can talk directly to Gleni. Gleni was extremely shy that he only managed to say one word at a time... and that also requires hard work from Erlan convincing him to talk playfully. I also have some presents from Greg to give to Gleni. He got Gleni a kangaroo doll and an Australian flag, but the highlight of the present was the Transformer robot toy. Gleni was totally absorbed as soon as he saw the toy!

This is how Gleni's story go:

Gleni is mostly taken care by his grandmother. Everyday, she would take him to the school, or the project, and she’d wait outside the building until he’s done and afterwards take him back home. His grandfather is the family’s source of income. He works as a labourer, and the work is seasonal. Sometime the grandmother helps the family income by collecting enceng gondok (a water plant) that grows in swamps near the area. The plants are worth Rp150 per bunch. When it’s dried, it’s the price goes up to Rp2.000 (20 cents) per bunch. Gleni’s father had left his mother for another wife. The mother then remarrys and had Gleni’s little brother, Agung... we don’t know for sure but it seems that he had also left her.... The mother is unemployed.

The pictures below are the water plants that they collect and the dried version of the plant.

My favorite time there was when I had the chance to read Greg’s letter (which I have translated to Indonesian) to them. The grandmother was in tears as I was reading the letter and it really touched me deeply. Learning about Gleni’s financial and family situation made me sink.... When Greg sponsored Gleni he had no idea who they are and their situation. He didn’t really know that behind those forms that he filled and the money that got deducted automatically from his account in his sleep goes a very long way for Gleni’s family. It made me realize that how sometimes the small things that we do... the ones that are effortless, the ones that we don’t really think about, really makes a difference for someone else. Maybe it's time for me to think more highly of the little things that I do.