A Long Journey North

Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta

I decided to go to Lake Toba for my August days off based totally on the recommendation of a friend.  I did a little research and made my arrangements to go.

Lake Toba is located in the north of the island of Sumatra – that’s the same island where Aceh is located.  Actually, technically Aceh is located in the northernmost section of the island but since they basically consider themselves separate and independent from Indonesia, Aceh is Aceh and the area below it is north Sumatra.  Go figure.

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Anyway, Lake Toba is located in north Sumatra.  In the middle of the lake, there’s an island called Pulau Samosir.  Yes, you read that right – there’s an honest-to-goodness island in the middle of another island.  Samosir isn’t a small island either.  It’s a properly large island with mountains and everything.  The entire area was formed by the eruption of a supervolcano tens of thousands of years ago.  Lake Toba is actually filling up the volcano’s caldera and the volcanic activity pushed Samosir up out of the caldera and formed an island.  Seriously, isn’t nature amazing?

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So this area was where I would spend my 4 days off.  Getting to Samosir would require a 2 and a half hour plane ride, a 4 hour drive and a 1 hour ferry trip so I booked a 5 am flight to Medan.  To get to the airport on time, I left the centre at 2 am.  Of course that meant I barely dozed for an hour before I got up again, worried that I’d sleep through my alarm and miss my flight.  After a thankfully incident-free ride to the airport (the cabbie drifted off once and I had to wake him up and eye-drive the car from the back seat for the rest of the way).

I had decided that to get the most out of my 4 days, I would have a driver.  So we found each other at the airport and, after a quick stop for a cup of tea, we set off for the long drive to Lake Toba.  I slept for the first 3 hours of the drive but I woke up for the best part – when we got near to the lake and the views started getting beautiful.  By the time we got to the ferry, I had found my second wind.  Since the car had to go with us across the lake, we would be taking the car ferry.  After an hour of waiting, the ferry came and we drove aboard, along with other cars, buses and trucks

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Before I knew it, another hour had passed and we were driving off the ferry and onto Pulau Samosir.  By this time, it was just after 3 pm so my driver dropped me off at my hotel with instructions for what time he would pick me up in the morning.  I had planned to wander around the area a bit but a heavy tiredness came down on me so I had some gado-gado at my hotel (it was loaded with lettuce and was pretty good) and went to bed at a ridiculously early hour because by that time I had been up for about 36 hours.The day had been long but I had enjoyed my travel process and I was happy with where I was.  I was surrounded by beautiful views, I was on an island in the middle of another island, my bed was comfy, my room was clean and my food was rice-free.  I had absolutely no complaints.

Moving ahead. Together!

Written by Aditi, Co-Director, Medan

The week began on a good note with a birthday celebration of one of our co-directors! A small surprise was planned for him; we cut the cake and had a good laugh together.

During the week, Mehdi, another co-director at the center organized a stress management session for the children.  We took the children to an open field and began the session with games to physically tire them. The games were thoroughly enjoyed by them. All the co-directors and teachers had fun too.

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Later, we started with a discussion on what is stress and what are the different ways to handle it. We also discussed the difference between good and bad stress. The children were made comfortable and it was heartening to see that they were open to talk about the triggers that lead to stress and anxiety and the techniques they use to reduce it. Together, we shared some ideas on ways to deal with stress, along with a breathing exercise that helps to calm oneself immediately. Overall, the session went well as the children seemed to be satisfied with the discussions and shared their feelings openly. We hope to continue and organize more of these sessions in the future.

At the center, we have also started making preparations for the upcoming Midterm Exams. Exam schedules have been prepared and children and parents are being informed about the dates. Also, we will be starting preparations for the ‘Pass it On’ ceremony in the coming weeks. The ceremony is a time to appreciate the efforts the children and teachers have put throughout the semester. The ceremonies in the past have been a success and we hope it would be the same this time as well!

My first days in Nakuru

written by: Robinson, Co-Director, Nakuru
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Today marks exactly one week that I have been at the IHF Nakuru Center, and the experience i have had is indeed amazing though there have been a few challenges along the way. I arrived to Nakuru from Nairobi on the 1st of November. Since it was my first visit in Nakuru I had to be picked up from the bus stop by Joyce and Eunice. I was excited about my decision to leave behind the hustle and bustle Nairobi and move to a destination that would be a more humble existence for me, but filled with well behaved and energetic kids.
The kids around here are really jovial, and welcoming. I am enjoying every moment of socialising with them. The boys love playing football and cards every evening. I always go to the pitch to watch them play.  The girls like to play “kati” (a game where they throw a tiny ball around). They usually play immediately after they eat breakfast.
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Unfortunately, I have arrived at IHF Nakuru Center when the kids are on holidays, so I haven’t been able to help much with their school work but I will still be here in January 2017 when the schools open, so I am looking forward to that experience. I am very impressed by the kids’ excellent command of English language.
The kids have big dreams for the future. Some of them want to be engineers, doctors or lawyers while others are still undecided. For my part, all I can do is to passionately appeal to them to work hard and be dedicated at school so they can achieve their dreams.

Kenya is beautiful and filled with wonderful, welcoming people. I, myself, am a Kenyan. The local staff and the directors at IHF Nakuru Center are fantastic people. The have been very helpful while I become adapted to my new position at the center.

Learning to Teach

Written by: Kari, Voluntourist, Bali

My volunteer position is unlike any other position for IHF. I was partnered with IHF through a program called Accounting for International Development, an organization based out of the UK that partners accountants with nonprofit organizations in developing countries. This means that I am working with IHF as more of a consultant rather than a volunteer teacher. I look at the behind the scenes side of how the organization runs. Even though my role is a little different, living and working at the Bali Center puts my right in the action with all the kids and other volunteers.

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We have a large dining table in the downstairs area of the main house at the Bali Center. This is where I sit, along with the other volunteers, to complete most of my work on my computer. I work with Clara, the Co-Director in charge of finance, on day to day finances, and I am also in constant contact with other Co-Directors at all the Centers, as well as, Arnau, the Executive Director. Each day starting at around noon the students begin to fill the center with the sounds of laughter, playing and if you listen carefully, evening the learning happening upstairs in the classroom. Since IHF is an organization based around helping support these student’s education, I also try to help out teaching whenever I am needed. To be honest working with the student is a nice break from the numbers and computer work.

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This past week I played substitute teacher for an SD 6 class at the Bali Center. Being an accountant, numbers are my specialty not grammar. Therefore, before teaching I had to review the lesson plan prepared for class to make sure I wasn’t going to teach the students anything incorrectly. I was a little nervous going into the class, but the students were welcoming, cheerful and helpful when I needed help explaining things in Bahasa. We reviewed adverbs for the week, and had a blast making up sentences with all the adverbs they had learned. It wasn’t long before the students and I were joking and playing throughout the lesson.

This week I was honored and excited that the students asked about me when their regular teacher was back to teaching their class. I poked my head into class to say hi, and was welcomed by many smiling faces and cheerful hellos! We sang a round of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” as they seem to love when I do the actions that go along with the song. I am glad I got the opportunity while I am here to work with the students. My role here is removed from directly working with the kids, therefore, it was rewarding and heartwarming experience to be part of helping these students out. It may have only been a few days of teaching, but it helped to remind me just what IHF is all about, helping students have a brighter future.

Let’s dance

written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta
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My last stop on my Jogja journey was seeing a performance of the Ramayana Ballet.  The show is usually done in an outside, open-air theatre with Prambanan as a backdrop.  However,  it was raining when it was time for the show to start.  The organisers tried to wait out the rain but they eventually decided to move the performance indoors.  This meant that I wouldn’t see it with a stunningly lit up Prambanan as a backdrop.  This was a little disappointing but didn’t dull my excitement.

whatsapp-image-2016-11-02-at-17-46-22The ballet was absolutely beautiful.  It’s not a ballet in the traditional sense but it’s just as good, in my opinion.  It is done in traditional Javanese dance with opulent costumes.  If you ever go to Indonesia, be sure to go to Jogja and see the Ramayana at Prambanan.  Five minutes after this 1 and a half hour epic drama was finished, I wanted to see it again.  After Borobudur, this was my second favourite experience in Jogja.  Unfortunately, I have no good pictures of the performance because my camera failed me and my phone camera takes awful night pictures so although I tried, the pictures I got were horrible.  But it’s all wonderfully burned into my brain.

I got back to my hotel at around 10:15 pm and I showered (divine!) and snuggled down into bed.  My time in Jogja was just about over and it had truly been a joy.

My time with IHF

written by: Isra Yauminnisa, a local volunteer, Aceh

I have known about IHF since my third semester in school, I am now in my fifth semester of college. I have loved to teach since I was in elemetary school. I always pretended to be the teacher when I was a young student. Sometimes my friends didn’t want to play that game, because they were bored. But it was never boring to me.

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When I heard about IHF from my friend I was so interested and I wanted to apply to be  volunteer right away. I suddenly I lost my confidence to apply because I was afraid I wouldn’t be as good as the amazing volunteers at IHF, and was concerned IHF might not accept me.

This semester I changed my mind and thought, “you will never know untill you try”. I encouraged myself to apply for a volunteer position at IHF. I was told by brother Sahat, a Co-Director at IHF Chiang Rai Center, that they already had enough teachers for all classes, but I could help a volunteer who taught one of the classes. This is no problem for me because I can learn everything from another volunteer before I teach alone.

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I started to volunteer with IHF, and learned while helping a volunteer teach their class. After 3 weeks at the IHF, brother Sahat assigned me to teach a SD 5 class. Since I started teaching SD5 I have met funny and smart students. They make me happy, increase my spirit to teach, and have my working on how to be the best teacher I can be.

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At IHF I have not just met amazing students, but also amazing friends, one of them is brother Sahat. Brother Sahat is a very friendly person, he always gives his full attention to all volunteer, and he also appreciated me for my work. He does everything to help the volunteers during their time with IHF. He holds art class for the students, and he helps me to prepare to teach my classes. I hang out with the other volunteers and sometimes learn from their teaching styles. I’m so blessed I can join IHF I get to experience teaching, learn more and improve my English, and I meet amazing students and friends. Thank you IHF!

Hiking trip to Sibayak

Written by Mehdi, Co-Director, Medan

Last weekend me and Letizia, the other co-director, went for a hiking trip on mount Sibayak and it was an unforgettable experience, to say the least!

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We left Medan around 4pm and found ourselves stuck in traffic for about two hours. After a long journey crammed inside a very compact minibus we arrived at the entrance of the park, ready to take on the mountain. Since it was already dark we couldn’t see much of the nature around us. All we could see was the concrete path that would take us to the top and we had no idea how long the trekking would take (estimates by our Indonesian friends ranged from “30 minutes” to “4 hours”). After about 45 minutes of walking we reached a small outpost. Apparently we were already halfway to the top!
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The weather was gradually getting cold and windy and in addition to that it was starting to rain. By the time we reached our camping spot we were all incredibly cold and wet. We couldn’t see much of the place, except that it was very rocky. We could also hear some geysers in the distance, spouting hot steam. When we finally found a place (relatively) suitable for camping, we started setting up the tent. This was quite a challenge as we were operating completely in the dark, with only a few flashlights to guide us. The wind was also getting stronger, making it difficult to keep the tent on the ground while we tried to tie it down.
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When the tent was finally set up we all just jumped inside, trembling from head to toe and completely wet. We were so desperate for some warmth that we decided to light our little gas fire inside the tent. A risky move, but at least we got to warm our hands a bit! Well-prepared as we were, we had no cards or any other games to keep ourselves occupied with so we went to sleep quite early, hoping we’d be able to get up early in the morning to explore the area. Unfortunately none of us managed to get any sleep whatsoever. We spent the entire night snuggling together just to get a little bit warmer and cursing the gods every time our tent’s covering sail blew away, exposing us to violent winds and rain. I believe it was one of the longest nights I’ve ever experienced in my life.
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We “woke up” around 6:30, exhausted, cold and in a very bad mood. I decided to get out of the tent to get a look of our surroundings and I was amazed by the beauty of the place. It was rocky, as expected but there was a very jurassic feel to the place. The geysers looked dangerous and the sharp cliffs around us looked intimidating. In the distance you could see the immense volcano, Mount Berastagi. Unfortunately we didn’t have much time to stay longer so soon we found ourselves hiking down the trail again. But this time we could actually see where we were going and the path took us through rocky mountains and lush jungles.

It was all incredibly beautiful and almost made the suffering worth it. Almost.

Another day in Jogja

Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta

The day after my magical Borobudur morning in Jogja, I started out at about 9 am, headed for Taman Sari.  Wow, what a rundown, poorly maintained, nothing-to-see-here disappointment.  On top of that, I had a guide who spoke terrible English (I understood maybe twenty percent of what he said) and who actually told me to tip him after the really bad tour was over (side eye).  I tipped him, not a lot because he did a bad job, but people are in such need and every rupiah counts; I just couldn’t bring myself to not tip him at all.

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I hotfooted it away from Taman Sari and headed out of the city to Ullen Sentalu museum.  This is a museum in the woods, on the way up to Mount Merapi, that houses the recent history of Yogyakarta and Solo’s royal families.  I wasn’t impressed by the royal people but I really liked the museum itself.  It was so cool (temperature-wise) and quiet and tucked away in the woods that I could easily have spent all day there sipping hot chocolate and reading a book while lounging in a deck chair.

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Prambanan was my next stop.  Like Borobudur, this is also a 9th century temple but this 1 is Hindu .  I was impressed by the architecture – building these huge temples back in the 800’s could not have been easy – but I didn’t get the point of it.  Basically, these temples are huge structures that have a very small open chamber about two-thirds way up, in which there are 1 or 2 statues of different Hindu gods.  My question is, what else is under this huge building?  What’s the point of building it so big if you’re only going to use 1 small chamber?  There are no other openings, so what’s the point?  I still have no idea so in the end I wasn’t overly impressed.

taman-sariBy this time it was almost late afternoon and I was starving so I got mie ayam to eat while I made my way to Candi Ijo.  I was trying once more to see the sunset but again got beaten by the rain.  Still, before the rain came, I got a stunning view of the province of Jogja spread out below me.  I was only there for a few minutes before the rain forced me to leave, but the view made every minute getting up there totally worth it.

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STRUGGLES OF KENYAN EDUCATION

Written by Joyce, Co-Director, Nakuru

Last week I spent most of my time visiting primary schools, and it wasn’t the first time I went to schools our kids enrolled in. Most of my visits are because of school fees.

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Primary education in Kenya is supposed to be free and all of the text books are provided by school. It sounds very promising, and in favor of children who are from less privileged background. However, education for these children is far from free. Children are asked to pay tuition, to donate money for school to buy footballs, to compensate teachers’ tea expenses ( teachers claim that they come school very early in order to tutor kids to better prepare for coming national exams so they need to be compensated morning tea), to buy text books, and to pay for school desks. Everyday kids get beaten for different reasons. I refused to give children in primary school tuition that I know will go into the pockets of their teachers and not to the students education. I went to school every time a child told me that they had been beaten at school for not paying school fees. When I asked what the tuition is for, teachers will respond that it is not required but it’s good that if children could pay as they work day and night for these kids.

IMG_6406.JPGYou will never be able to imagine how abusive the words from these teachers and principals as educators are to the children. I understand that these teachers, as educated adults, do not get paid a fair amount for their work, but it is not the innocent kids that should pay for this unfairness. Children are quite used to be beaten. When talked about it they act like it’s no big deal, this is the most depressing part. As a result, kids grow up with an ideology that it is okay to beat someone if she/ he makes a mistakes.  Sometimes I think the children would be better off staying home with qualified teachers we hired ourselves. However, at this moment, it is not financially and legally feasible. What is the solution?IMG_6540.JPG

A Visit to Lake Toba

Written by Mehdi, Co-Director, Medan

After a rather hectic week at the Medan center I decided to spend my weekend at Lake Toba. It felt good to be out in the nature again after 2 weeks of non-stop traffic noise and smog.

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I left Medan very early in the morning and arrived at Parapat just before noon. I crossed the huge lake on a small touristic ferry playing upbeat 90s songs while violently going up and down on Danau Toba’s restless waves. By the time the ferry reached Samosir island I was happy to have my feet on a dry land again!

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On the island I rented a scooter and spent the rest of my day exploring the small fishing villages and surrounding hills, enjoying the many beautiful views it had to offer. It was very nice to get around by scooter for a change, instead of a local Becak. I had to quickly learn how to ride a manual scooter as I’d only driven automatic ones before. I used my new antique friend to get from one village to another, only to get off and take a stroll along the hundreds of souvenir shops in Tomok village. I even saw a glimpse of the traditional Batak dances there and met an older Belgian couple. It was a relief to be able to speak in my own language again, for however brief it was.

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Due to Samosir island’s location there was always a very cool breeze present, sometimes making me regret that I left my sweater at the center. The weather wasn’t always as sunny as I would have hoped so I didn’t have the chance to take a swim in the Lake’s blue waters. Nonetheless, I was glad to get some fresh air away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

All in all I loved spending time there and could have easily stayed another two or three days. However by nightfall it was time for me to leave again. Another 5 hours of travel later I found myself back in Medan, but this time feeling more relaxed than before and being slightly more appreciative of Medan’s hot weather!