Project Connected is an annual international community service project organised by IMU Community Service Club, conducted under the supervision of A/Prof Ranjit De Alwis, the club advisor. Prior to this, project teams have visited Laos in 2012, Myanmar from 2014 to 2016, and Sri Lanka in 2017 and 2018. This year, the project was carried out in Medan, Indonesia from 9 to 15 July 2019, participated by a total of 35 IMU students from a diverse range of programmes, namely Medicine, Chiropractic, Dietetics with Nutrition, Psychology and Foundation in Science. This year’s project emphasis was slightly different from that of the past. This time around, instead of providing temporary aid or relief which might turn out to be insignificant over time in this country of low labour cost, we focused more on human-to-human interactions and empathic connections. Our main objective was for the participants to get an opportunity to properly interact with communities that they would not normally encounter, and learn to be grateful and count their blessings. Through these interactions, Project Connected 2019 also strived to ignite the passion of the volunteers to get involved in more community service projects in the future.
The project proved to be extremely humbling for all the volunteers. We visited the specially-abled at Pusat Rehabilitasi Penyandang Cacat Fisik Harapan Jaya, the drug addicts at Gerakan Anti Narkoba Sibolangit Centre, the orphans at Panti Asuhan Betlehem Bandar Baru, the inmates at Lapas Kelas I Tanjung Gusta and the impoverished at Perumahan Cinta Kasih Tzu Chi Bakung. The interface has created a deeper understanding of societies beyond our own and, simultaneously, provided an opportunity for the team to unravel personal experiences about them. With such exchange, we have inspired and motivated these communities to strive for possibilities they might be shying away from due to their circumstances. We believe that the project had served to be a mutual learning experience for both the volunteers and the communities.
|Day 1||We visited Pusat Rehabilitasi Penyandang Cacat Fisik Harapan Jaya, a rehabilitation centre for children suffering from cerebral palsy. Many volunteers were deeply touched by the children’s ‘You Raise Me Up’ performance, through which they proved that their disabilities were not the reason for them not to strive hard and live life to the fullest. Their fiery determination and strong will to live struck a chord in our hearts, further demonstrating the saying ‘when there is a will, there is a way’.|
|Day 2||We had a leisurely morning, cruising Lake Toba via ferry for island hopping to witness the beautiful Batak cultures and lifestyles of their native people. We then departed to Gerakan Anti Narkoba Sibolangit Centre, one of the best drug rehabilitation centres in North Sumatera. This drug rehabilitation centre paints the story of a father’s love for his son. Some ten years ago, Bapak Kamaluddin Lubis lost his only son, Baron, to drugs. Baron unfortunately passed on due to infective endocarditis related to intravenous drug use. Instead of giving up after this tragedy, Bapak founded this rehabilitation centre to save other victims from drug abuse. Ever since then, Bapak has stayed true to his principle, ‘mereka semua anak saya’ (translation: they are all my children). The centre unconventionally takes a humanistic approach in rehabilitating the addicts; it rebuilds their self-esteem by providing them job opportunities within the estate, rather than condemning them for their wrongdoings.|
|Day 3||We participated in the drug addicts’ morning meeting where they motivated each other and decided on the motivational concept of the day. We sat in on their evening encounter session where they vented their emotions by yelling at the top of their lungs at the other party, under the supervision of a daily moderator. This helps to settle any conflicts once and for all under one roof, and the session ended with them hugging each other as a symbol of forgiveness. We also had the opportunity to interact with the addicts and learn more about their lives. In exchange, we shared our stories as well, and motivated them to get back on track through words of support and encouragement. It was very sad to learn that one of the addicts was once a medical student, and another one was merely 13 years old. This made us realise the importance of choosing good company. We interviewed Bapak Kamal and learnt about the touching story behind the founding of the centre, and spoke to the medical staff to get a deeper insight into drug rehabilitation. In loving memory of his son, Bapak Kamal named the hotel in the estate as Hotel Baron, and this was the hotel that we spent the night in. The team also paid a visit to a nearby orphanage, Panti Asuhan Betlehem Bandar Baru. We performed for the children and helped raise awareness about the importance of both hand hygiene and balanced diets through a series of interactive games and demonstrations. We gifted them goodie bags containing fun games, school supplies and hand sanitisers. The children enjoyed themselves immensely and we were so glad to have brought a smile to their faces.|
|Day 4||We had the rare opportunity to interact with inmates at Lapas Kelas I Tanjung Gusta, the largest prison in North Sumatera. We were surprised to learn that all the inmates are required to participate in a six-week training programme prior to being put behind bars, aiming to diminish their ego and teach them about morals and ethics. As the saying goes, ‘to err is human, to forgive divine’. Many of them have already repented and miss their families immensely. From this experience, we learnt to not be judgmental, an essential trait of a good health professional. In the evening, we paid a visit to the medical faculty of Universitas Prima Indonesia and had an interactive session with three of their final year medical students. It was eye opening to see a medical school in a foreign country and learn about their course structure.|
|Day 5||We went to Rumah Sakit Murni Teguh for a hospital tour in the morning, to learn more about the medical field and explore foreign medical settings. Later in the day, we had the opportunity to pay a visit to Perumahan Cinta Kasih Tzu Chi Bakung, a village was built by Tzu Chi for victims of a deadly fire in 2012 that led to devastating losses from both physical and emotional aspects. We went around the neighbourhood to get a better understanding of their living conditions and also interacted with the residents. There was a little boy who gave two of our volunteers his favourite plush toys without any second thoughts, but instead with a huge smile on his face. It was extremely humbling for all the volunteers to see how content they were with their lives despite how little they own, and to witness how those who have less give more.|
|Day 6||We were subdivided into eight groups, with two teams each heading to north, south, east and west Medan respectively to pay visits to cases aided by Tzu Chi. One team took a ferry out to a poor fishing village to distribute ration rice, whereas another team travelled to a rural school, Sekolah Putra Bangsa Berbudi Delitua, to give out shoes to the students. The other groups paid home visits to different underprivileged communities, which made us realise how grateful we should be for all that we have and not take things for granted. Some volunteers performed the Tzu Chi song, ‘One Family’, in sign language for the communities, overwhelming them to tears of gratitude. This was definitely an unforgettable day filled with powerful emotions and big realisations.|
|Day 7||The final day was just a touristy day where the team had the opportunity to visit some popular attractions in Kota Medan, namely Masjid Raya Al-Mashun, Maimun Palace and Tjong A Fie Mansion. With this, our one-week project drew to a close.|
Why do we need to go overseas for this, you may ask? Many a time, we do not notice what we have within our proximity. It is often necessary to begin somewhere beyond our reach to come to this realisation. The project was undoubtedly a once in a lifetime opportunity for our team, seeing that we had the opportunity to interact with a plethora of communities in a span of merely a week. The diverse interaction has exposed the team to a world very different from our own, and simultaneously to common adversities seen across the globe. As we broke through barriers such as cultural and lingual differences together, an enthusiastic team, enriched by the possibility of making a contribution to the wider society with the knowledge and resources available to them, was built.
We believe that Project Connected 2019: Indonesia has succeeded in nurturing kindness, compassion and empathy in the hearts of the volunteers. It is our sincere hope that these future health professionals will contribute positively to the global community. Vlog of our trip: https://drive.google.com/open?id=14cE6iI-7CwffxfekEcBfT1a6MnLtcoIT Related article: Educating and Empowering Sri Lankan Primary School Children – Project Connected 2018: Sri Lanka