Reflexions on a year at IHF Banda Aceh

by Dustin, Co-director, IHF Banda Aceh

After I had been at the IHF Center in Aceh a little while, I told people that nothing had surprised me. This was true – the hiring team did a really excellent job of preparing me for the position and the local area. Something I could not have predicted, however, was how I would change over the course of the year, not just as a professional, but as a person. Yes, living abroad for a year and working with children in a place like Indonesia would be expected to be a life-changing experience for anyone. The biggest effect, however, was not from living abroad, it was from the people with whom I lived, worked, and spent almost every waking hour. It takes a special kind of person to want to travel all that way and give up a part of one’s life to help children in need. That’s not self-aggrandizing – I saw this selfless attitude so much more in everyone else in the organization, and it inspired me to match their dedication. Nonetheless, my days were surrounded by an atmosphere that was engaged yet relaxed – a quality Indonesian people could teach to more of the world.11535692_10153071149654397_6402242779269765055_n11755706_10153020974721593_7193381937421772212_n

There was always so much to be done in my position – the variety of assignments was incredible. Yet, it was not overwhelming because I always felt like I had the support and time to accomplish everything that was necessary. Working with such committed people, and truly feeling appreciated for what we did – these things kept me motivated throughout my time.


For the short amount of time I was there – one year really is not that long – it’s amazing how close I truly felt to the community. Friends would call me brother.

High school students would drop by just to talk or play cards. Parents would bring us food. The way they would talk about previous Co-Directors and volunteers, I knew the members of our organization always had a lasting impact. I hope I’ve done the same, because they’ve all certainly affected me.

Every piece of literature IHF produces talks about the organization’s “Pass it on” philosophy, and I really feel like this is truly the caGermanday-27se. The skills I gained as a Co-Director have helped me to move on to another position back home, from which I will continue to dedicate my life to serving the poor and underprivileged. I see this in our local Indonesian volunteers as well – their time of service is very valuable to their futures, helping them accomplish their goals. Of course, the focus of all our efforts – the children – are given the greatest gift. As they speak more English and gain in academic confidence, it’s amazing to see them grow in confidence, and consider things for their own futures that never seemed in the realm of possibility.

6 of the greatest perks I got from volunteering at IHF, and why you should do it, too!!

by Jenifer, Voluntourist, IHF Medan,

1.New experience. This is my first hands-on volunteering experience, so it is new to me and I am very excited. This is something that I have really wanted to do for a long time and now I finally get the chance to do it. This experience will definitely last a lifetime. So far it has been very rewarding and I can’t wait to see what’s ahead.

2. I gained a lot of new knowledge and lifelong skills. Teaching is new to me. I am learning and trying to do it better each day. A lot of people assume that teaching is the easiest job on earth. They are wrong. Sometimes it can be tough to explain something to a big group of people and try to help them understand a concept they have never known before. I think teaching needs a lot of practice and not everybody can do it well. I am glad that I have the opportunity to learn howIMG_20150820_170702 to teach now, because it might be very useful for me someday. Also, I realize that teaching has really improved my communication and public speaking skills a lot. I was not a really good public speaker and I didn’t speak publicly often. Now I have to do it a lot, and it has made me a better speaker.

3. The children are amazing!! All the children here have very high desire to learn although sometimes there were topics that were quite hard for them to understand. The majority of the class did struggle a lot when it came to written assignments, but I could see that they were trying really hard to understand and to get it right. The fact that they care about their education makes me feel it’s worth spending my time teaching them. I also noticed that a number of kids possess good talents. I believe they will have the ability to do better if they work hard enough. They have the potential to be successful and they might be future leaders someday.

4. I met a lot of new interesting people. The people here are very nice to talk to. They often share their stories and I love listening to them. I am trying to get to know them better and I am really hoping to build long lasting friendships with them. They are very interesting and chatting with them often gives me a lot of new information that I have never known before and widens my knowledge. One of the co-directors here, Ms.Lisa, is a dentist and she also knows a lot abIMG_20150820_171227out travelling. From her, I have learned about the immigration office here, as well as other travelling tips. On top of those, being here is so much fun. Volunteering here literally lengthens my lifespan because I am smiling and laughing so much. People here really know how to joke.

5.IHF makes me a better person. I am a 16 year-old girl who has never come out of my shell to see the world. Honestly, I don’t know what the real world is like out there. My daily routine is waking up at 7, going to school, walking home at 4.30, going to tuitions until 9 p.m, then sleeping. I seldom interact with adults other than my teachers and parents. Being here opens up my eyes to a new world I have never seen. It also enables me to communicate with lots of adults from whom I have learned a lot. Being here has totally made me grow into a more mature person.

6.You are going to receive the warmest welcome. Ever since the first phone call I made to IHF until this moment, everybody has been nothing but friendly to me. The co-directors here are incredibly helpful and nice. They understand that you are new to the environment, and they will make sure to keep you as comfortable as possible and feel like a part of the team. They will also guide and train you patiently to do tasks, starting from the simplest one, like filling the attendance record. They always offer me food and invite me to join so many activities. They have been very caring to me. I am so grateful to them for all the love and understanding, as well as for treating me as a part of the family. I feel very lucky to be here. Although I have been here only for a short time, I already feel like it’s home to me, and I really enjoy volunteering here. So, thanks to the co-directors who have made volunteering for IHF a truly wonderful experience for me20150818_195840

70th Indonesian Independence Day

by Zoe, Voluntourist, IHF Bali

On the first day we spent at the IHF center in Bali, we took on the task of making a poster for Indonesian Independence Day. At that time, we didn’t realise the importance of the festival for Indonesian people. After one week of teaching and getting familiar with the local students, lots of my lovely little friends told me that they would march and have a competition on Independence Day. That 11951927_10206800492762408_8993827940135182969_nimpressed me and I made up my mind to watch them. In China, we also have a national celebration but the people who march are all adults. I could not imagine how the primary school students could be so in unison to march together. I tried searching online to find some pictures of this huge event (for the students) but nothing could be found.

On Wednesday morning, students started their proud march at 7am. The weather was not really good enough to carry on the celebrations. It was rainy for half an hour and the high humidity was terrible. At this time we were planning to give up watching this event. One childlike loud shout came to our ears from the main road far away. We ran as fast as we could to get to wher563A0713e the sound came
from, and the scene was very surprising. Lovely school girls, united in colourful clothes, and vivid make-up, stood straight together. Around 20 girls composed one team and when the judge blew the whistle, they yelled out a slogan simultaneously from 20 mouths. The average age of the girls was only about 11 years, so the unity which they displayed was big shock for us, and we are from a very ordered country. That morning will be my best memory from Bali and I got know a lot about the culture of Indonesia.

by Mayu, Voluntourist, IHF Bali

August 17 was my second day in Buitan and I was fortunate enough to take part in the center’s Indonesian Independence Day celebrations. This was an opportunity for me to grow close with563A0763 my fellow volunteers, director and children of the centre. Our volunteer group of seven members brainstormed various games and a
ctivities to run during the day and split the large group of 40 children into three smaller groups. In the beginning, I was unaware of the group’s English speaking abilities, but as I spoke to more children, I was astonished at how well I could connect with them. I took part in a similar volunteer initiative two years ago in South America and these experiences are always     enlightening for me.


It continues to amaze me at how interested the kids are in learning and playing outside as opposed to being glued on television screens and phones. Looking forward to teaching English and growing closer to the community over the next two weeks.563A0911563A0723

From Medan to Bali, but always IHF!

by Lissa, Co-Director, IHF Medan

This is my 11th month at IHF as a Co-Director in the Medan Center. I’ve been really enjoying working as a volunteer. Getting a chance to teach the children, play with them and working together with all the volunteers from various backgrounds.IMG_20150729_072357

Last week I had my long weekend off and took this chance to visit one of the other IHF Centers in Bali. I met Esther, the current Co-Director in Bali. I’ve actuLissa & Estherally been working with Esther on the international team and we have been communicating with each other for a long time, so I took this chance to meet her and the other volunteers in Bali. Bali is completely different from Medan. The first time I landed in Bali I really didn’t feel like I was in Indonesia, as the City is really touristic. The first time I arrived at the center, I was welcomed very warmly by Esther and the volunteers there, Carlos, Caro, Laura and others that are too many to name.

The Bali Center set up is a little bit different from Medan. Every center is different and gives a different experience when spending time there. I got a chance to meet the kids in Bali. I was so impressed when the kids spoke Indonesian with me. This is because their accent sounds really different than the accent of people in Medan. I couldn’t stop giggling especially when they asked me if I’m from Indonesia. The people are really friendly in Bali. It was a very relaxing way to spend my days off. I made nice new friends who are like family.


From an Airport still far from home

by Emily, Co-Director, IHF Banda Aceh
I’m sitting in the Medan airport, my flight delayed and bags overstuffed with the little sentimental items I couldn’t bare to leave behind. And it still hasn’t hit me. I’m gone. Aceh is behind and I’m not coming back any time soon. It’s with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to Indonesia. My time with IHF is fulfilled and I’m moving on, leaving the center with Nazma and Dustin. Just writing that sentence feels fake, like I’m only imagining my departure instead of living it. I’m off for a short holiday in Thailand on my own, then a longer one in Kenya to give an unexpected romance a chance and then an NGO advising position with the Peace Corps in Armenia come March 2016. Lots ahea
d, and yet I still haven’t wrapped my head around what I’m leaving unnamed-3behind.
This year has been the craziest, most challenging and most rewarding of my life. I learned a language, ate more rice than I thought any one human could consume and made friends whom I will count dear for the rest of my life. I feel so blessed to have been welcomed into the IHF Banda Aceh family and I thank all the people who made this year so special – my fellow co-directors, the short-term volunteers, the local volunteers and especially the kiddos and their families. It was an honor to be a part of the lives of these children aunnamednd saying goodbye was physically painful. I didn’t want to stop hugging some of little ones (despite their squirming and insisting it’s time to go home, miiiiiiiissssss). I almost made it through my farewell shindig without tearing up, until Bunda – our house mum – leaned over, kissed my cheek and told me I had a mother in Aceh forever. Cue loss of control over my emotions.
I’d like to give a special thank you to the two men whom I spent the most time with in Aceh – my co-Director Dustin and our local volunteer Anggara. I wouldn’t have been half as decent at my job or even moderately as sane without their guidance, advice and late-night trips to the store to get me sprite when I was too lazy to go. It was fun to learn about the differences between American guys and Indonesian ones – what I really learned is that there’s no difference at all, at the end of the day. And teaching you two about the world of American women was always a blast in cultural/gender comparison. Yes, there’s over 27 ways to style short hair. In fact, there’s more. I’ll send you pictures when I get my hair cut in Thailand.
At ends, I think most people are keen to reflect back on beginnings. I recently read an article about a study into false memory creation – the way our brains reform neural networks every time we recall a long-term memory, thereby rewriting the memory as us remembering it, rather than the event itself. In short, every time you remember a moment, you really only remember the last time you remembered it. And so, our memories are edited. Unreliable. They’re constantly reformed by our changing emotions and maturity levels. I think back to my first day at IHF Aceh and vividly remember spilling coffee all over my computer. I remember which cup I was using, because I never used it again – I avoided it, blaming its shape for the tragedy rather than my own clumsiness. I remember Anggara driving me around to various computer repair shops. I remember watching Timea, my co-director at the time, working diligently on her computer and feeling that I hunnamed-1ad really messed up right away. I remember a few kids whose names I learned later but have rewritten into my knowledge at the time. I remember being very hot. I remember being optimistic, despite totalling my computer, that this year was going to be good. And finally, I remember wondering what I what I would be thinking at the end. Everything else from that day is rewritten into blurry half-images. And those moments that I do carry in detail feel like good memories, because I look back on them fondly; I rewrite them in my neural networks with happiness.
That’s what I take I take from Aceh – more a feeling than detailed or even accurate memories (as those don’t exist, because our brains are crazy and everything we think we know is a lie – I’ve been reading too much about this stuff lately). I take love from Aceh, positivity, confidence and a sense of completion. Mostly, I have gratitude that I was welcomed fully into this amazing community. Thank you Aceh, thank you IHF, thank you nassi goreng! Saya cinta kamu!unnamed-2

Take part of our new community in Chiang Rai!

by Ushmi, Co-Director, IHF Chiang Rai

We have been holding fundraising events every fortnight and after hosting four events I can say we have been successful beyond expected.image

The primary idea of holding regular events is to raise awareness about IHF and our projects. But, we also wanted to engage more with our community. I believe in a two-way development- through IHF and to our community. I wanted the event to present an opportunity for anyone to showcase their work, share their passions and also partner with us in building the support we need to help those that need us

A local photographer and a good friend only took pictures as a passion and never believed others would see what she saw in her pictures. After agreeing to share her work at our event, we managed to auction four pictures at astounding prices. She is now developing her skill as a profession. Seeing tears roll down her mother’s cheeks as a picture was auctioned to a guest made me smile at our achievement. The money she received, she gave back to IHF.

Our latest event took a leap I never imagined could happen in such a short time. This time we decided to play charades with superb prizes at stake. One of these prizes was a painting done by our very own teenager at IHF Thailand. He was proud to make a piece for our winning supporter and was even happier to present this prize to the well deserved. Darid is a shy young man and can be lazy like any other teenager so I was even more amazed at how happy he was to do this without being pushed- at his own will- in front of a crowd we were only but acquainted with. Darid sees a future and that is what we want for our children.

The coffee shop that hosts our event is a special venue and this adds to the idea of our project- creating a place for the community to come together, making new friends with a common understanding of socio-economic development.a3

The founder of the coffee shop promotes healthy, environmentally friendly coffee. A female entrepreneur, she cares deeply not just for her coffee but also for her customers and our environment at large. Our regular event has also allowed us to raise awareness about this sustainable development vision, a vision that must be known and believed by all if we want to finally succeed in eradicating poverty and establishing equality.

We, IHF, are making a difference even without knowing it and not only for our children but for the surrounding environment that they live in. We are helping the children but I can finally feel my heart smile when I see the children help their community.

Getting to know the neighbourhood: The Hindu Street

by Elisa, Voluntourist, IHF Bali

After finding my place in the center and gaining some consciousness of the surroundings of the village, I decided to go around the neighborhood where IHF Bali is located. There are two main streets in Buitan eachd of them marked by their religion: the Hindu and the Muslim street.

I decided to start a research about the way of life of the Hindu families of the village and how IHF is helping them, so that. Another IHF volunteer, Carlos, helped me to introduce myself to the families. He has been already living here for 5 months, and he is so close to the community.

This is how I discover Yaya’s house and her life. Yaya is a 8 year- old student from Buitan who attends the center regularly. As soon as Yaya’s mother, Putu (which is the name used for the first-born in Balinese Hindu families) saw us, she invited us to come in. I was impressed about Yaya’s house because her whole family lives there: grandparents, siblings, uncles.. At first, I wondered how it would be possible to get some words out of the conversation from the local people, but the reality is that some of them are able to maintain basic conversations in English. That is because some of them realized long time ago the importance of English language in Indonesia, particularly in Bali. Truly, working for the tourism sector in Bali is regarded as the best of the options here and the most profitable way of making a living. That is why IHF can play such an important role in children lives.

We reached Yaya’s house and we took our shoes off as we got inside as a domestic ritual before entering in any Hindu house, and as a way to honor the Gods (don’t forget we can find a temple in every Hindu house).c

The first I asked Yaya’s mother was about what she thought about IHF center, if she considered it more like an educational or rather an entertaining center. She was absolutely aware of the contribution of the center to the English knowledge of Yaya. She thinks that the good thing is that the kids are learning while they are having fun, and the fact that they are spending time with volunteers from all around the world it helps to raise their English level. The children in Bali start English Lessons at regular school at the age of 9-10 years old. However, Yaya is only 8 years old and she already has a basic knowledge of the language. How advantageous sounds that, right?

Her mother is so proud of Yaya’s learning at the IHF foundation and so aware of the importance of English. She sees how she is learning every day, “if you speak English you can get a better job. English a4and computer are so important nowadays” she said. It seems to be a plus, given the high cost of the university here. “It is so difficult to join the university here; you need to save lots of money for years (…). Also, there are no helps or grants provided by the government no matter how intelligent the student is”.

When I was a child I wanted to become an astronaut (surely because of the cartoons I used to watch at that time). What would Yaya like to become when she grows up?-I asked Yaya’s mother. “Well, she would like to work in a spa, give some massage, like her aunt”-she replied me. “But I would like her to get out of Bali, get a job with computers”. I really hope Yaya will attend the university because she has great capacities. Fortunately, her mother is aware of the English and she work as cooking instructor. Also, her father is a taxi driver, so they encourage her daughter to learn English and attend the center regularly. However, there are other children whose parents just do not feel that motivated to do so, or maybe they are just not aware enough. Maybe they don’t have time to control their children´s progress, so I can tell Yaya is a fortunate girl.


Later that, I decided to get a massage a few meters away from Yaya’s house so I could clear my mind up. There are two mothers of our students working there. After the pleasant hour of massage I asked them about their vision of the center. “My daughter goes everyday there, also when she does not have class, so that she can speak English with the volunteers there”- Kadek’s (Yaya’s classmate in SD2) mother told me. What is the best job you can dream of here? I was curious to know. “Everybody here wants to work for the government, but that is not easy you need to have plenty of money. Apart from that (and maybe more a realistic thing), everyone wants to become supervisor in a hotel in Kuta (the most touristic place in the island).

After the conversations with the families I got some things clear: the importance of English to get a better job and increase the quality of life. But also the great impact and help that this type of foundations can have on the communities.

What to expect from IHF Banda Aceh?

by Balbine & Jonathan, Voluntourist, IHF Banda Aceh

As we flew into Banda Aceh our anticipation grew about the upcoming seven days and what was in store. Were the affects of the Boxing Day tsunami still visibly apparent? Was civil unrest still brewing in areas around the city? Wouidulfitri-152ld Shariah law be as prevalent and as strict as countless people had cautioned us it would be? More importantly, how would the rich yet tragic history of Banda Aceh manifest itself in the lives of the children and families we would be meeting and working with? Needless to say, we were a tad uncertain and not quite up to date with all of our info.

As we soon found out, the information people are quick to take as fact about Aceh, is often dismissible and often outdated. When we arrived at the center we were told that it was the last week of Ramadan, a time of intense prayer, fasting, and reflection, as well as a time of celebration for the majority Muslim community. Many kids spend this time with family observing the holiday traditions and as a result, there are very few children who come to the IHF center during this time. However, the days students were present at the center as well as former students, were days filled with an eagerness for learning, the likes of which we had never quite seen before. Not only were students interested in practicing as much English as possible, they were also interested in asking questions about our American culture as well as sharing their Indonesian culture (specifically Aechenes) and language with us. The environment provided through IHF for this cross cultural learning is the greatest thing we experienced and will take with us as volunteers. The center in Banda Aceh felt less like a classroom and more like a family room, where bonding between volunteers, local volunteers, and students could develop quickly and meaningfully. Ultimately, the past decade had not seemed to deflate the academic goals or overall outlook students had on the world.idulfitri-121

Through this shared experience that developed between us and the local people we met, we were able to get an amazing feel for what Acehenes society and living is all about. We were invited to multiple dinner celebrations for Ramadan with families of students as well as families of local volunteers. Through the friends we made during our brief week, we saw firsthand what living in Banda Aceh was really about. To us it seemed the locals are hard working people in a tight knit, interactive community who share a common history that binds them to the past, yet motivates them to create a better future. The sincere generosity, hospitality, and caring of those in Banda Aceh are as much if not more a part of the city as the recent history and rumors that surround it. In all, this was a truly amazing experience that we would recommend to anyone looking to step outside their comfort zone with a willingness to learn about a very unique culture and the interactions that take place between people of separate and distinct backgrounds.

The best birthday present ever

by Muxin, IHF Chiang Rai Voluntourist

After spending only two weeks at the center, we already feel like a part of the family. The children have so much love to share. Although they are not so expressive, it is the little things they dao unexpectedly that make my heart melt.

I was very lucky to spend my 18th birthday at the center. I had a beautiful day enjoying the treats that Chiang Rai has to offer. Although I suffered an ice cream-overload, it was a day I will never forget. Turning 18 at IHF has been the best present I could ever ask for. It has not only shown me the love and care that the human race has for each other no matter where you come from, but it has given me the experience of a lifetime – one that will continue to live with me for the rest of my life.

When the taxi arrived to fetch us to the airport, I was sad to say goodbye, but happy to have had the chance to meet these beautiful people, live with them, share memories and be a part of their precious lives for this moment.