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? Would 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As we soon found out, the information people are quick to take as fact about Aceh, is often dismissible and often outdated.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.
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.