Monday, July 26, 2010

Community Service in Indonesia

The Navy loves acronyms, and COMMSERV is fast talk for “Community Service.” On their days off, staff and volunteers on the USNS Mercy can sign up to participate in activities designed to foster new relationships between people of different countries. The fact many more people sign up than can go is a sign everyone here is excited to be an ambassador.

Yesterday, Project HOPE’s Sheila Cardwell, a surgical nurse, and HOPE ICU nurse Laura Schlansker, visited with forty or so teenagers who live in an orphanage in Ternate. Some live there because they have no parents, and some are from poor families who have found a sponsor for their child to live where he or she can be educated. All of them basked in the attention of the group in which Sheila and Laura participated.

Sheila is a rare breed of American who actually grew up in an orphanage, so she was particularly interested to see how this one compared. She saw some parallels. “There’s a religious component to both; mine was Catholic, this one is Muslim. And the children are very well-mannered, just as we were taught to be.” “And then,” Sheila continued, “There is the lack of ‘stuff’ in their lives. That felt very familiar.”

The children were lively, friendly, and anxious to talk with the first Americans they had ever met. Sheila brought a cache of inexpensive beaded bracelets and necklaces, and the girls took a long time looking them over, chatting with each other about them, and deciding which ones they wanted to select.

For Laura, it was her first chance to really experience Indonesian culture. “It was hard to communicate with words,” she said, “But we colored and used sign language, and laughed a lot anyway.” Laura was particularly touched when the children sang for them at the end of the visit. “I found out later that the lyrics were about children missing their parents,” she said, shaking her head.

About a week ago, I visited an orphanage in Tidore. I’d been on the waiting list, and at the last minute got the green light. I took along a Slinky and an Etch-A-Sketch, and the organizers brought bubbles, crayons, puzzles, Play-do, and soccer balls. I’m not sure who had more fun, the kids or visitors. I especially connected with three teenage girls –Adi, Tihi, and Veni - who after laughing with me over my attempts to speak Mahasa - gave me a tour. The stucco buildings were clean, and the grounds were lush with vegetation and flowers. But just as Sheila had noted, there was a startling absence of “stuff.” The girls’ bedroom was pleasant but stark, and there were no visible closets or places to store clothing. Despite the lack of things – or maybe because of it? – the children here seem happy, inquisitive, and engaged. Each one has a dream for the future, as do our children everywhere.

Thanks for your interest in Project HOPE -- Kathryn Allen, HOPE Public Affairs Officer

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