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850 KM Away for A Magical Journey

For more than 2 years, I've learned a lot not only about others but also about myself. I consider volunteering as a magical journey that shaped the person I am


I was born and raised in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. I was the oldest among three. My life was so smooth; luckily, my parents were able to send me and my two brothers to an excellent primary school where there was a proper English curriculum (back in early 2000, English language wasn’t a compulsory curriculum for most of elementary schools Indonesia). We had console games, Tamagotchi, and each of us has our own bicycle. In 2006, the year where I was in the 6th grade, I thought final examination would be my only nightmare. But turned out, my parents had to get divorced. Boom. Life slapped me, big time.

Long-short story, we were sent to my grandparents’ to continue school and Mom was the only one who financed us. In 2013, I got accepted to Universitas Brawijaya. My university is located in Malang, East Java. A small town that is surrounded by beautiful hills & mountains, mesmerizing beaches, has a clean crisp air, cheap and deli food. But it is about 850 KM away from Jakarta; 850 KM away from my family. On the first month when I moved there, I felt extremely lonely, I whined & cried over my Mom’s call almost every week, but my Mom encouraged me to explore myself, to do something more than studying.

“Do something useful for others. Small act matters.” — Mom

This encouragement made me spent more than half of my college years to contribute in volunteering activities with Indonesian Future Leaders Chapter Malang. For more than 2 years, I have learned a lot not only about others but also about myself. I consider volunteering as a magical journey that shaped the person I am today.

Let me share one of my volunteering experience, the one that left the biggest mark on my heart.

The first project I joined was in a remote middle school in Tumpang, 2015, where education was not the priority for most of the people in there. They tend to push their children to work & make money after they graduated from middle school instead of continuing their study, most of them were because of financial reasons. IFL Malang conducted a talk show themed “ Spirit of Education for Brighter Generation” with young motivators with aims to increase the awareness of the students of the importance of pursuing the 12-years compulsory education. At the end of the day, we conducted a sharing session with the parents and encourage them to write messages about their actual hopes and dreams for the children, we glued the letters on the board to motivate them every day.

I read them one by one and stopped by this one:

From Tumiaseh (Mother) for Muhammad Saleh (Son) — “My prayer is that you have to stay motivated in studying, you have to obey your parents. You have to be patient and stay excited. I wish all your dreams come true. From the deepest of my heart, I want you to pursue higher education but I can’t afford it.

With no hesitation, I immediately sent that picture to my Mom and she replied:

“Every Mother has the same prayers for their children. This is when you learn to be more thankful, Darling.”

I flashbacked to the 6th-grader me; I might not have the most awesome childhood in the world because of my parents’ divorcee, but a kid like Saleh might have a big dream about all the things I had back then; a well-financed Family that could send him to qualified schools that teach English lesson, or as simple as the one that could buy him toys and bicycle. He might even have only a little time to play around because he had to help his parents to make money.

Remember when I said “Life slapped me, big time” on the first paragraph? Haha. It was nothing compared to kids like Saleh. I burst into tears, no kidding.

For more than two years, after being involved in many volunteering activities with IFL Malang, the more I realized that there are hundreds of kids like Saleh at least in Malang area, I don’t know maybe there are still thousands across the country. The more I understand that volunteering was more than helping others, it was magically helping myself as an individual.

All those two wonderful years have enabled me to meet and connect with people with different backgrounds, negotiate with stakeholders, speak in front of public, work with different personalities and ideas to achieve the same goals, visit remote places that pamper my eyes with breathtaking scenery, and define my clarity of purpose.

One time there was this teaching program called “Aku Pintar” in Ngadas Village near Bromo Mountain. There were students from grade one to six but the school had only 2 classrooms. They had to share rooms and chalkboard everyday or study at the school yard. I still vividly remember the wide smiles, the sparkling eyes of those little kids who were very excited to greet us when we arrived, to have new school supplies and outfits, to learn English and traditional songs. It took 2 hours of motorcycling from Malang, we left at 5A.M, in frosty mornings, but it was all worth it. I found that my life was more fulfilling than ever. I am beyond grateful to spend my college years 850 KM away from home.

Now that I am back in Jakarta, I can still feel that the significance of my volunteering experience running in my blood.

In every situation, I always try to put myself in someone’s shoes, reminding myself that everyone is having their own battle.

I learn that sometimes it’s necessary to put others’ need before mine.

I always try to be thankful, not to take things for granted as I learned that my everyday life may seem a luxury for some people.

It’s clear that we don’t have to change the world or anything, small act matters. Just make things a little bit nicer for others. As simple as offering help to someone with something that’s not our responsibility.

Many days in life where I find myself dealing with family problems, struggling so hard to find jobs & pay my bills, tired of commuting to work, desperately in need of vacation, bored of eating chicken, losing happiness, feeling disappointed or unmotivated, so on and on. That’s the point where I should pause for a minute and remind myself that volunteering has taught me to truly appreciate all that I have, not to complain about what I don’t have in life.

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Darius Foroux’s Article: The Purpose Of Life Is Not Happiness: It’s Usefulness

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