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Passing it forward in Aceh
09 January 2009
by Ken To

Despite the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, some children still enjoy the waves. (K. To)Despite the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, some children still enjoy the waves. (K. To)IHF's The Education Program pays for school-related expenses through overseas sponsorship. (K. To)IHF's The Education Program pays for school-related expenses through overseas sponsorship. (K. To)Ken To from Hong Kong volunteered with International Humanity Foundation in Aceh, Indonesia. (K. To)Ken To from Hong Kong volunteered with International Humanity Foundation in Aceh, Indonesia. (K. To)
Banda Aceh, Indonesia: I feel so thankful for this invaluable experience. Not only could I reach out and help others, but it was also a unique opportunity for me to learn and grow as a person.

Why Indonesia? Indonesia is my mother's homeland and one of my favourite countries. Since I was young I learned a great deal about the country and become interested in and attached to it. For a long time I had wanted to do something to contribute to the country and people there, and I thought volunteering would be a good and fun way to do so.

I received the greatest satisfaction from being with the children.

Teaching my first English class in Aceh was exciting but I was rather nervous. As time passed I learned how to be a better teacher. Preparation was time-consuming but necessary to ensure every class was fun and fruitful. Teaching was actually the most enjoyable of my many responsibilities.

The children were simply adorable. Many were shy at first. But when they relaxed, they would start talking and telling you a lot of funny things. I believe we were helping them build up their confidence.

The fact that the children kept coming to our classes was encouraging. It shows that they enjoyed the classes and appreciated what we were doing, which was such a great motivation for all of us.

For the children who are more in need, IHF also runs The Education Program (TEP) which is a sponsorship-funded project. Monthly donations pay for school-related expenses such as school fees, transportation, uniforms and books.

As a volunteer, I had to visit the TEP children at home once a month and help them write a thank you letter to their sponsors. This was a way for the children to communicate with their sponsors.

Sometimes the sponsors would write back to the children. Seeing the children’s happy faces gave me a great sense of gratification, and made me think of how blessed I was that I had the opportunity to serve at IHF and contribute to the community there.

On 26 December 2004, one of the deadliest earthquakes in history occurred in the Indian Ocean, with an epicentre just off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The 9.0 magnitude earthquake, which triggered a series of waves up to 30 metres high, killed hundreds of thousands of people in several countries.

Indonesia sustained terrible human losses and physical damage. Four years on, Aceh's provincial capital, Banda Aceh, has been completely rebuilt, but there are still areas not very far away which remain deserted wasteland.

Seeing the tsunami sites in Banda Aceh was deeply moving and memorable. I could still feel how the survivors were traumatised when I heard them talking about the disaster. Many of them have developed a phobia of water as a result of the disaster.

We take so much for granted. What a cliché! But indeed I realised just how true this is when faced with such a different environment. Very often we do not tend to realize, let alone appreciate, that we already have so much more than most people in the world.

Think about the love and peace that we enjoy, and the abilities that we have. Be grateful for the things around you no matter how simple and subtle they are.

IHF is an amazing organization filled with interesting people. Working with numerous volunteers from around the world – from Singapore to Slovenia, from New York to the Netherlands, and all walks of life was an incredible experience. I made many good friends and was impressed by their heart and dedication.

If you would like to help, donate or volunteer like I did, more information is available online: www.ihfonline.org.