By Lauren Hewitson, 2012
Geraldton Primary School, WA

I’m not sure if it was the fear of change, a new place, new people, or whether I was even worthy of being accepted into a program such as Indonesia from the ground up!, but I was terrified. However, I felt this fear start to dissipate when I arrived in the departure lounge and met a few of my fellow travellers. They were so friendly, and many were just as unsure as I was. And now, I cannot believe I ever doubted the trip and was worried about whether I’d enjoy it…

Our experiences were those that have changed my views on Indonesia, its people, and my own life forever. My eyes were opened to poverty and the kind of life I am so blessed to have never, and will never, have to experience. It was completely heart-wrenching to visit schools whose students have never known anything else but so inspiring to see them so happy and embracing life. I was lucky enough to be able to sit down with Meri, an eleven year old girl (in the photo above), from Kartini Emergency School and have her tell me in one sentence that she has never known her mother but she loves coming to school. Comparing her attitude to my own students I realised that they, like me, do not know just how lucky they are.

It was after Kartini that I was left wishing I could do far more than just give the children a koala, and this continued and grew with every school we visited. I feel that in order to even begin to make a difference and open more people’s eyes, these school visits are absolutely necessary to the tour. I know it would be difficult to organise with 31/32 people (and with the schools being on holiday), but it would have been great to teach perhaps a language class to a small group of children. In addition, as well as koalas, it would have been good if the tour participants were told to bring some stationery to give to the students. I took some, but it was not enough to share between a whole school or class. I bought even more while in Bandung, but then there was the issue of which school to give it to.

The field trips also opened my eyes to more of Indonesia. Having never been before, I had only heard stories from friends about Bali and the bars. I never realised the scenery was so breathtaking – and this was all throughout the country. The temples we visited were amazing, and such a great part of Indonesia’s culture and history. It was just such a shame we ran out of time to visit them all because of traffic and people not capable of keeping time. As well, we missed out on visiting one crater at Tangkuban Perahu. Domas Crater was enough to completely amaze and entertain me, though. I now have a newfound interest and love for volcanoes (not when they are erupting, however!).

I am so glad that nobody pulled out of the Home Stay – I was worried that a few particular people might. But I felt that this was an experience that this entire tour was about: learning about Indonesia, its people, and how these people live. How better to learn this than to spend a night “in their shoes”; what a wonderful experience that I will remember forever. The people in the villages were so accommodating, welcoming and kind. It is hard to meet such people here at home. To think that all the people I met were this kind was surprising and heart-warming, as many have suffered so much. Witnessing the devastation of Merapi’s eruption in 2010 and then seeing how the people have moved on and begun to rebuild their lives is so inspiring. I like to think of myself as a nice person, but I’m not sure if I would be the same.

It is so hard to sum up all of my experiences in one page. I had such an amazing time and I cannot thank ACICIS enough for giving me the opportunity to experience and witness Indonesia the way I’d never be able to on a holiday. I am left wanting to go back and see even more, meet even more people, and teach and help even more children. What a life-changing experience. Thank you!