I would like to begin this blog post by extending a formal welcome to my newest bathroom inhabitants. The rainy season is well underway in Cilamaya, which means there are even more creatures crawling up and out of our bathroom drain. So I would like to give a warm welcome to the cockroaches, slugs, frogs, worms, spiders, crickets, lizards, and of course the geckos who greet me every day when I enter the tiny bathroom.
As I near the end of my PC service (3 months, 93 days, 2232 hours, 133920 minutes… but who’s counting?) my days do not stand out as particularly exciting in any way. America still feels as far as it did 23 months ago. But I’m slowly pushing through and trying to focus on my bigger projects that will give my service more meaning and have a lasting effect on my students and community (inshallah).
One of the projects taking up most of my time is called IGLOW, which stands for Indonesian Generations Leading Our World. This is a youth empowerment camp for high school and middle school students. I have been working with the 3 other volunteers in the nearest city to organize this camp for the past 5 months. In April, 64 students will spend a weekend hearing from a variety of Indonesian organizations that educate about nutritional health, reproductive health, environmental sustainability, animal protection, anti-bullying, gender roles, body image, and study abroad and career options. These are topics our students don’t usually study, or they don’t have access to the information. As teachers who spend lots of quality time with our sweet students, we feel the topics presented at the camp will have the most impact on our students’ lives and will hopefully inspire them to pursue further education in these areas.
Although IGLOW camps are common projects for PCVs all around the globe, nothing like this has ever been done in our community. We want this camp to be sustainable, and that means that we are working with our Indonesian counterparts at school to develop partnerships with local businesses so that the camp can be repeated for years to come. Our goal for this first camp is to get at least half of our funding from local Indonesian businesses, but given that it is a new project and we have a lot of groundwork to lay, we need some help from our friends and families back home.
The 4 PCVs are in charge of organizing the camp but during the actual weekend we take a backseat role and let the students learn from Indonesian mentors. This event has nothing to do with learning English and everything to do with empowering our students to be healthy, educated, and active members of society.
And here is where I take a deep breath, and ask you wonderful readers for some money. We are very much looking forward to our IGLOW camp and our students are too. We would be honored if you could contribute whatever you can to help us pay for our fees and expenses. You can donate money to our GoFundMe page at http://www.gofundme.com/iglowkarawang. Every dollar matters and is a huge step forward. The money goes directly toward making the camp happen. $23 dollars will fully pay for one student to attend the 3-day camp, $10 dollars can pay for camp workbooks for 6 students, $5 dollars can cover the cost of food for one student for the entire 3-day camp. We would be incredibly grateful to receive whatever you can give.
To give you a sense of what an IGLOW looks like, here’s a video from another PCV’s IGLOW camp: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2j0e9oqLTQ
The other main project I have been devoting my time to, is what I am calling my “Animal Care Project.” I can’t believe I haven’t written about this subject already. The treatment of animals in Indonesia is sometimes very difficult to witness. There are certain houses in my community I cannot look at because there are monkeys chained to trees or luwaks and other exotic animals kept in cages. Many people think it looks fancy to keep small, beautiful birds in tiny cages near the front door, when really it just looks painful for the birds.
There are not many dogs here because Java is a mostly Muslim island and dogs are considered “dirty” in Islam. But what Java lacks in mangy, stray dogs it makes up for in mangy stray cats. There are lots of street cats everywhere. Most of them are scared of humans because they are usually not treated very nicely. Somehow they survive by eating leftovers in the street or garbage heaps, and by hunting rodents and birds. Indonesians are equally as scared of the cats as the cats are of humans. Especially kittens.
A few weeks ago a mother cat had newborn kittens near my house, and she somehow singled my room out as a safe zone. She must be the smartest cat in Cilamaya because any other Cilamayan would kick her out immediately and treat her and her teeny tiny babies like flesh-eating parasites. All the members of my host family were absolutely terrified of this sweet mom and her kittens. KITTENS!
I decided to do my Animal Care Project because I have witnessed so much cruelty, violence, and neglect of animals in my village.My goal is to educate the families of Cilamaya about the sentience of nonhuman animals. My hope is that they will understand that ALL animals feel pain, fear, happiness, and deserve to be treated with the utmost kindness and respect. I want to create a sustainable method of reaching out to children and adults in this community to help them understand the importance of treating animals with compassion.
I have been emailing with an animal protection group in Jogjakarta for almost a year now and it looks like my project is finally coming to fruition. In a few weeks, 6 students from the local university and I will travel to central Java and train with Animal Friends Jogja. The students will learn about animal welfare issues, as well as how to give presentations and puppet shows to younger students about being kind to animals. When the students return home, I will help them organize speaking engagements at different schools in the area. I’m hoping this project will be sustained with these students and will help spread awareness about the importance of being kind to all animals.
Indonesia is made up of extremes. It can be extremely hot and humid and in a minute it can be pouring rain with thunder and lightning. The streets can be crowded with people and motorcycles, and then you turn a corner and discover a serene and private rice field. There are bustling cities with loud horns and music and calls to prayer, and tranquil jungles with no evidence of human existence. As a foreigner I can be treated with extreme compassion or extreme harassment. When locals see me they either assume I don’t speak any bahasa Indonesia and so they don’t even try to communicate, or they assume I’m completely fluent and will speak at top speed using words I don’t yet know. THERE IS NO MIDDLE GROUND.
Peace Corps service in general can also be extreme. I can be super busy with classes and projects and not have enough time in the day to get everything done. And I can have too much free time, no structure to my days, and not do anything productive.
I love when the young kids in my village wave at me and call out “Hi, Miss!” I always hope for my students to be brave enough to talk to me. But if I pass anybody in the street who looks older than my high school students (especially men), I hope and pray they don’t talk to me or shout something rude in my direction. Hoping the Indonesian youth will be brave enough to talk to me and hoping everybody else will please ignore me is maybe the most confusing extreme. And of course, there’s the emotional extremes. I can get in a real rut of negativity and anger, and then some tiny victory will occur and I’ll be elated the rest of the day. That’s one thing that has been especially difficult these 2 years. There is no middle ground. I’m either Tigger or I’m Eeyore. Nothing in between. And I know this isn’t just me, it’s most – if not all – PCVs. I guess it just comes with the territory of doing something extreme, like living alone in a foreign land.
P.S. It has recently come to my attention that more than just my mom reads my blog. Thanks for the support friends! Don’t be afraid to leave a comment. I truly appreciate your thoughts and I love hearing from friends and family back home. As I say to my students, “Jangan malu!” Don’t be shy! Love to you all.