If anyone out there was taking bets on how long it would take me to get back to Asia, 11 months would be the winner. As I type this I am in the air, traveling from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Honestly, I’m probably more surprised than anyone reading this. When I got back to St. Louis last summer I was convinced it meant the end of my life as a would-be vagabond. I had a job, I adopted a cat, and I moved everything into an apartment I hope to stay in for at least a few years. I made some new friends, built routines, and spent more time with family than I had in years. But despite my desire to put down some roots, it didn’t take long for my passport to start burning a hole in my pocket.
A few months ago my friend Lisa sent out an email to my study abroad group saying she was organizing a project to help Indonesian NGOs and I jumped at the chance. While working in a domestic violence shelter for the past year has been worthwhile, I really missed working with people from outside of the US. I had sort of taken it for granted that my friends live all over the globe, but this past year has shown me what a rarity it is to be exposed to the diversity of experiences I’m lucky enough to have interacted with. When I last wrote in this blog about my desire to help improve the state of our country, I thought what I was doing in Japan was frivolous and a bit silly. Galavanting around the world while the US elected a xenophobic bigot felt irresponsible. But what I’ve come to realize is that what the US needs now, in addition to a governmental facelift and a whole lot more, is more people who see the value in our ties to the rest of the world. Would we be seriously debating the practice of imprisoning children if more of our fellow countrymen knew someone who came from Central America, or had come face to face with real refugees? I’d like to think that we as a nation had more empathy than that, but look where we are today.
Now, I don’t think that me working on an international project is going to solve any of our country’s problems – I’m neither that naive nor that conceited – but I do see more value than ever in bridging the gap between cultures and sowing the seeds of cooperation with other countries. Before I signed up for this project Indonesia was just another country on a map to me, but I know that after this is done I will know and care far more about it, and maybe I’ll be able to convince a few others to care as well. I hope our involvement can help this NGO grow and serve its community, and, on a far less noble note, I’m really looking forward to learning about Indonesia and hanging out with old friends.
As I go into this U.S. – Indonesia Cooperative Work Project, I really don’t know what to expect. My understanding is that our group is made up of American and Indonesian college students and recent-ish grads, among which is a small cohort of alumni from my PacRim trip. We’ll be working with an NGO (non-governmental organization, similar to a nonprofit) called The Floating School. They provide school supplies and mentoring to children and teens on remote islands that have limited access to formal education. Our task is to help them strengthen their operation and present our plans to the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, who is providing funding for the whole thing. Having worked at a nonprofit in the US for the past year, I’m looking forward to applying my experience to this new project, as well as learning from our Indonesian peers.
But before that starts I’ve got four days of vacation in Malaysia! I’ll update when I can, with more pictures and fewer lofty proclamations of purpose, I think. This summer promises lots of new experiences, along with a number of reunions with friends around the world. I can’t wait!