Empathy abroad

2012-01-16T03:15:00Z 2012-01-17T09:31:11Z Empathy abroadKelly Voll / The Citizen Auburn Citizen
January 16, 2012 3:15 am  • 

AUBURN — Halo, selamat siang.

Translation: Hello, good day. This is some of the Indonesian Imani Williams learned while participating in a three-phase program through Legacy International, an organization funded in part by the U.S. Department of State.

Williams is a senior at Auburn High School who was chosen to be part of the Legacy International experience, which culminated in a leadership ambassador trip to Indonesia. She said her mother told her about the program and encouraged her to apply, which led to her receiving a $12,000 scholarship to travel to Indonesia.

Before embarking on her trip to Indonesia, which lasted from Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, Williams attended phase one of the program in July 2011, she said. Students from Indonesia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other places visited the Global Youth Village in Virginia.

Williams and other American students were there to greet them and spend time with them at the peace-building camp, Williams said.

“It was amazing,” she said.

Phase two of the program required the students to conceptualize and implement an environmental project in their home communities. Williams began the Each One Teach One program in two Auburn elementary schools.

“I started it to have students from the environmental club go and teach students in the Extended Day Program at Genesee (Elementary School) and Casey Park (Elementary School),” Williams said. “We all did different things in our own communities that were relevant.”

In late November, phase three of the program began with Williams traveling to the other side of the globe to spend three weeks in Indonesia. She and her American colleagues visited two islands and four cities, she said. The students visited schools, taught English, met mayors and U.S. ambassadors and helped the Indonesian students with their environmental project from phase two, which was a beach clean-up.

Williams explained that recycling and environmental awareness are just beginning to take hold in Indonesia, so cleaning up the beach attracted some attention and curiosity from people living there.

“Indonesia is a growing country,” she said. “(The beach cleanup) did a great job to raise awareness.”

In addition to cleaning up a beach, Williams and her fellow students visited the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Williams was able to meet a baby orangutan and learn about the organization’s mission to raise and rehabilitate orangutans, get them accustomed to surviving in the wild and release them when they are ready to go back to nature.

There, Williams learned about how deforestation and illegal logging contribute to the destruction of the orangutans’ habitat.

“Indonesia has, I believe, the world’s second fastest rate of deforestation,” she said. “There are huge, huge issues.”

Williams said she learned how important it is to preserve the rainforests of the world because the flora and fauna there are so diverse and may hold the key to solving relevant human problems.

As Williams walked through a rainforest at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, she was told that it was a replanted rainforest. The organization has been replanting the rainforest the way it would have grown naturally.

“It was actually manmade, rebuilt,” she said. “It was beautiful.”

After visiting the island of Borneo, Williams and her colleagues visited the island of Java. There they visited Kaliandra, an organization that teaches local people to work with the land in the best way, both economically and environmentally.

“They help the locals,” she said. “They hire the locals and they help them. They teach them to do business in the most environmentally friendly manner.”

Williams also enjoyed the less formal times she spent with Indonesian students, including a three-night stay in a school dormitory. The students participated in a movie night with a costume and skit contest.

While at the dormitory, Williams said the Indonesian students asked her many questions about the United States. Many of them want to come to the country for college, Williams said, and all they know of America is what they see in movies. Williams said some of the students felt a little bit of anxiety when they thought of attending school in the states because of the large difference in religious practice. Williams said Indonesia is 85 percent Muslim, and has the largest Muslim population in the world.

Williams said that despite the cultural differences between her and her Indonesian friends, she was treated with “overwhelming kindness.” She said her two host families were very kind to her and said that when she turned 17 (in Indonesia) everyone around her made the occasion special because in Indonesia, there is no sweet 16, but there is a sweet 17.

“This trip reinforced for me a principle I already knew,” she said. “After meeting people on the complete opposite side of the world who live life differently from me but still could embrace me and leave me feeling accepted and valued, I left with my own personal experience that attests to the fact that we truly are all human and can extend love and compassion even with all our differences.”

Williams’ advice to other Americans?

“I encourage people to travel,” she said. “Indonesia is a wonderful place to go.”

Copyright 2015 Auburn Citizen. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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