What I have I give to you – Lessons in Wellbeing Part 3

Sometimes the problems that we see in communities are so big that we don’t even know where to start working. It can be incredibly overwhelming to see the lack of clean water and realize that the project is so hard, and so huge—where do we even begin? Or maybe it’s nutrition—the kids are malnourished and the feeding program we developed doesn’t work. How do I begin to see transformation in the community relating to the food they feed their kids so that the kids are not malnourished and then stunted? Where to begin? It is often in that overwhelming moment that we freeze. We don’t know what to do so we do nothing. Or we charge ahead thinking we can solve the whole problem ourselves with our own ways.

Yet, as I have been talking to the mothers in the trash dump community, I am learning that often the solution to a huge problem is for a community to come together and everyone just do their part.

Saturday morning I was talking to a young mother, Lindawati, about what she loved the most about her community. As we were talking, she shared that she loves how within the community they take care of each other in their need. Yully, our community partner, cut in and explained what Lindawati meant. Whenever a family in the community has a huge financial need that they cannot cover themselves, a community representative (often Yully herself) goes around house to house for a collection. Each family contributes whatever it is that they have to spare, it didn’t have to be much—but everyone who could, contributed. The need is often huge and overwhelming. No one family can solve the problem. Yet they have discovered that if everyone just contributes what they can, they are a lot closer to the solution than waiting for a silver bullet solution that will magically take away the problem.

As I reflected on this, three lessons occurred to me.

First of all, when was the last time we gave to someone in need? I don’t mean we gave our extra Starbucks money—I mean we risked not being able to feed our families vegetables that week because we gave to someone in our community that had a need? If I am honest with myself, I don’t know when the last time I gave that way was…I wonder if this is how those who heard Jesus praise the widow who gave her two mites felt in Luke 21?

Second, while the community contributions may be monetary, what they are giving is more than money. By sacrificially sharing, they are standing in solidarity with each other. It is supporting each other through the difficulties life throws at them. Wellbeing has to include this kind of dimension—it has to have room to understand that while they may not economically have much—their relationships are rich and strong.

Third, I learned that there is value in just doing something rather than sitting by. Problems around us are huge and they can be overwhelming. But what if instead of waiting for a silver bullet solution, we decided we were going to do something about it, even if it’s just a small step? I’m not talking about haphazardly going into a community to solve a problem without thinking through the consequences. I’m talking about working together as a community to take care of one’s own. Of saying that a small step forward is better than waiting for there to be a giant step. And maybe a series of smaller steps will lead us to an unexpected breakthrough.

 

Works Cited:
Lindawati. Personal Interview. 5 August 2017.

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Moder-day gleaning – Lessons in Wellbeing Part 2

Ani is approximately 55 years old. She has six children and lives in a small one-room shack over the sewage canal right across from the main entrance to the trash dump. She has lived in this community for almost ten years. I met Ani for the first time about three years ago when she came to one of the free medical clinics my organization conducted in her community. She is usually one of our best participants and whenever she is around, always comes to say hello. Ani is one of those people in the community that you can tell gets a little more grace than most people.

I have found that generally people are quite guarded talking about the structure of the trash dump, but Ani was excited when we started to ask her about her life and her job.

The trash dump is owned entirely by one “big boss.” He rents out large sections of it to several “bosses,” which in turn each rent sections of their plot to a few “little bosses.” Each little boss hires approximately five to six full time workers to sort through what the trucks bring to their section of the dump. Ani explained that it is a highly organized system with lots of bosses.

However, there is a segment of people who collect trash who are “independent workers.” They do not work for any one of the bosses—rather they are allowed to pick through the leftovers that the official crews have cast aside. Generally, Ani explained, they pick one type of trash that they want for that month and then if they collect something else, they exchange it with other independent workers. For example, if she is collecting plastic aqua cups and another person is collecting toys, if she finds a toy she can exchange it for a certain amount of aqua cups so that they can more quickly reach their goal to collect the same type of item so they can get more money. In addition, if the official worker crews find fresh fruits and vegetables or items good enough to be sold, often they will give it to the independent workers for either very little or even free.

As Ani explained the arrangement of independent workers at the trash dump, it occurred to me that this sounds very similar to the Old Testament principle of gleaning. In the Old Testament, the harvesters were to leave some grain or barley behind so that the marginalized could come behind them and be able to collect grain and barley to be able to survive. Through gleaning, the gleaners were able to survive, while maintaining the dignity of working for their survival rather than just being handed free charity. This is very similar to what the trash crews do. They leave some trash to the side so that those who cannot work as official trash crew can still work to survive. The trash dump community has created their own system for caring for the marginalized in a way that retains their dignity and self-worth because they are still earning an income and providing for their families.

What an incredible lesson in development! How often do we create programs that give people free handouts, rather than work within the system already present in the community to help them, while still allowing them the dignity to provide for their own families? Work is important because providing for one’s family gives them dignity and self-worth. Ani was incredibly proud that she could provide for the school fees of her children through her trash collection. It would be easy to just give free vouchers for the school feels—but wouldn’t that rob her of the ability to have provided for her kids herself? Isn’t what the trash crews are doing, letting her go behind them to collect, more compassionate? They are showing mercy in a way that builds her confidence and self-worth.

As we develop programs in communities, this principle of modern-day gleaning reminded me that we need to be careful to in our pursuit of “help” not rob people of their dignity. This is why developing programs the community identifies as important is a good starting place. As they identify their needs and are a part of the solution, their confidence is being built as they realize that they have enough value and worth to determine their own future.

 

Works Cited:
Ani. Personal Interview. 5 August 2017.

What do you see? – Lessons in Wellbeing Part 1

When you look at the picture below, what do you see? It seems like a silly question, but actually take a minute and think through what you see.

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I remember the first time I went to this trash dump community, almost four years ago. I remember getting out of the car and being overwhelmed by the heat, the flies, and the smell of trash. As I looked around, all I could see was shacks, trash, kids playing in heaps of garbage, and a sewage canal. I saw people having to slave away in the heat of the day with such a demeaning job as picking through trash. Poor community, I thought. I felt sorry for them. I thought I felt compassion, but really it was pity.

Over time, though, my perception of this community has shifted. I had not realized how much it has shifted until a couple weeks ago when I took a team from America to visit this community. After we got back to Jakarta, as I heard them make the exact same reflections I had made after my first visit, I realized that I no longer shared their observations about the community—I no longer saw what they saw and felt what they felt. As I thought about why that is, I realized it’s because over time I have gotten to know the people in the community. I have started to learn their stories. It’s not about the physical environment they live in; it’s about the people who live in that environment.

Now, as I look at this same picture, I see something completely different. I see hard work and determination. I see positive attitudes in the midst of difficult situations. I see a group of resilient people who keep pushing on, even when outside forces seem to be against them. I see a close-knit community that is constantly connected and in each other’s homes. I see fathers providing the best they can for the needs of their families. I see a clear community organizational structure that takes care of the most marginalized within their community. This community is not to be pitied—it is to be admired. Their resilience, their ingenuity, their strong community bonds are inspiring.

You see, often there is a lot more going on in a community beneath the surface. But do we take the time to ask people their stories? Do we take time to ask people what their dreams for the future are? Do we even care if they told us? When we look beyond the surface, when we truly talk to people on a deeper level, it is amazing what we will find.

That’s not to say that health and education programs are not necessary in the community—I really believe they are. But the community is a strong community and they should have a voice and an opinion as to what they want. What is their idea of a healthy community? What do they think are the next steps to a healthier place for their children? What programs do they want to see in their community? What structures are already present that can be built upon rather than reinvented? It is important to discover what the women in the community believe an ideal community looks like and help them figure out how to get to that dream.

As I’ve gotten to spend time with and get to know the mothers in this community, I have realized that true development is about this idea my grad program calls “co-powerment.” I don’t just empower them, they don’t just empower me—we empower each other. Through working together to make the community a better place we both grow and develop in the process. It is in this co-powerment that we both get closer to wellbeing.

treasuring the small victories…

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How do you even begin to make an impact in communities with deep distrust of medicine and doctors? Over the last few months I’ve begun to learn that you do it through building trust. Topics that are easier for the women to agree with–like nutrition and first aid–are great places to start. When you start from a place that is more familiar and doesn’t have as many preconceived ideas, you don’t have to take them as far and you can begin to build trust. After you’ve begun to build trust, then you can start addressing issues that are harder—like immunizations and family planning.

At our last seminar we had 48 women attend, 8 more than at the last one that we did! And the cool thing is that not only did they just sit through the whole seminar, but they also asked questions for 45 minutes after the seminar was over. They were engaged, they were excited, they were comfortable enough to ask the tough questions and listen to what Dr. Elva had to say in response.

We are still a long ways off from a completely healthy community, but I think it is important to recognize the little steps and be excited for small victories…because a series of small victories is a large one.

to change a generation…

The last two weeks I have had the opportunity to host an amazing team of girls from Australia who came to teach English for a week at one of our Partners for Compassion sponsored schools. After talking with them, the importance of our education programs and the importance of what we do really hit me in a new way, and I want to share a few of my musings with you….

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Education. Education is a part of life that we generally take for granted. It is a part of our childhood that we may have loved or hated—but never questioned it being a part of our lives.

Imagine a life where education is a luxury and not a basic necessity. Imagine a life where having a middle school education is a milestone achievement. Imagine not having the option to go to school, not because you don’t want to, but because the cost for registration and books is more money than your family can afford.

Education is not supposed to be a privilege or a luxury…it should be a basic part of life. I believe that is why our schools are so important. We provide the best education we can to students who would otherwise not be in school. By investing in the next generation—equipping them to be thoughtful and productive citizens—we can change a generation and maybe even a whole nation.

What better gift can we give a child than a quality education? We may not be able to change the whole world…but we can impact the one. And that one may just be the one who changes the world.

I believe that if we say that we love, than there should be an action that follows. Because to love is to do. Love is a VERB.

it’s all about relationships…

I like lists. I like the feeling of checking tasks off a list. It makes me feel like I have accomplished something. Since coming to Indonesia, though, I have learned that life is about more than simply checking tasks off of a list…it’s about building relationships with people.

The other day I had to go to the trash dump community to meet with the community leaders about our next phase of health programs. Traffic was surprisingly good and we arrived about 30 minutes early. Our hosts slowly assembled everyone who was supposed to be in the meeting, and brought us drinks and snacks, and then started to converse with us. For the next hour and forty five minutes we talked about everything under the sun—the weather, Independence day celebrations, families—everything, that is except our health programs, which is why we were there in the first place.

Though looking back, I would have expected myself to be frustrated, I actually really ended up enjoying the conversation a lot. Not only was it great to be able to finally have enough language skills to follow the conversation, but it was also great to get a glimpse into how they really live and what they value. After the chit chat started to die down, we were able to bring up our proposed health programs, and in fifteen minutes, the community leaders had approved our health plans. Because you can’t just leave abruptly after discussing business, for the next thirty minutes we continued to talk about life in their community. After about two and a half hours of talking, we finally finished our conversation and headed back home.

In previous places that I have lived, business was just business. It was all about the efficiency of the meeting. You go in, get straight to the point, and then leave right away. If you are feeling particularly friendly, you might chit-chat for a couple of minutes, but then you get right to business. It’s not that people don’t care about each other, it is just that in the West we tend to value efficiency…we get things done and check them off of a list.

In Indonesia, though, it is not about getting a task done, it is about the relationships that you form with the people through the process of accomplishing tasks…It is why a fifteen minute meeting ended up taking two and a half hours. I am discovering that I really am learning to value relationships with people over being efficient at accomplishing tasks. When you take time to really listen to people, not just about what a specific meeting is about, you give them value, you build relationships, and it is through these relationships that you can get things done. Without relationships, you may have great ideas, but they will never go anywhere. Even when things do not go according to plan, if you value the people more than the task, then the situation is much less stressful, because it was not a complete waste, because there was a relationship formed or deepened through it.

Though I have learned many things in my time in Indonesia, I think this is one of the most life changing lessons. Building relationships with people should always trump tasks.

to eastern Indonesia I go…part 2 (the village)

My time in Samasuru village was absolutely amazing!
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CONSTRUCTION: 
    Before last week I had never really seen the whole process of building a house from scratch. I’m not exactly sure what I expected…but having a whole house framed, partially roofed, and part of the cement walls put finished in two days was not exactly what I expected. To see something start from a slap of stones and cement to a clear house structure in such a short time was absolutely incredible.
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     When we arrived at our village the wood for construction hadn’t arrived yet, so instead of just killing time, we decided to work on finishing details on the existing church. We put plamir (kind of like plaster) on the walls, which would serve as a primer for future painting and look much better than grey cement walls.
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     After a few hours, our team finished the inside walls and so we moved on to the outside walls. When I started to plamir the walls outside I had a whole group of ladies come up and started intently staring at me while I was working, which was quite disconcerting. Being quite self-conscious about my plamir technique, I made a joke that I was a little slower than the guys. One of the ladies responded in a very serious tone, “Of course, they’re men.” That was the first time I got a feeling that being one of two girls in a construction team of men might not be as smooth sailing as I thought it would be. However, I pressed on and we were able to finish all of the walls of the church both inside and outside before the start of our afternoon kid’s program.
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     The second day our whole team got up and met at the construction site by 6am…even before coffee! The carpenters had been working all night to get the pieces of the house all in the right order so that it would just be a matter of pegging the pieces together and then raising the walls. I have never actually seen a barn raising in person, but I think this was probably very similar to what that would look like.
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     After a little bit I saw Korry working with a guy on the edge of the construction site; she was using a machete to form pieces of wood into pegs. I decided to head over that way and see if maybe I could help too. One of the guys handed me a machete and a small piece of wood and I started on my peg. I worked for about 10 minutes and was almost done, when an old man came up to me, took away my machete and told me that he would “help” me by finishing it. I was a little disappointed, I had really wanted to at least finish my one peg, but I knew that I was a lot slower than they were, and we needed the pegs quickly so they could keep building, so I let it go.
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     A couple hours in, our IES team realized that we had some free time before the carpenters would be ready for us to be able to help them with the next phase. Instead of just standing around watching, we decided to take a break and go to explore the beach a little bit. We put on our sandals and started our 15 minute walk to the beach through the woods/jungle. We had to wade through some water to get there, but it was completely worth it, the view was incredible! It was so refreshing to walk through the mini-jungle and then see the ocean and play and goof around a little bit with the rest of the team.
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     After lunch we were able to start “chor-ing” on the walls. We had to nail wooden boards on both sides of where the walls would be and then pour cement inside of the boards. At first I think they only let me start mixing the cement because they thought I wanted a photo of me with the shovel, but when I didn’t give the shovel back after a few scoops, I think they realized that I really wanted to help. It felt so good to have my sleeves rolled up and finally be doing hard work…I guess my inner “farm-girl” came out and it was great! The fact that it surprised all the guys that I could keep up the mixing speed and quantity was also an added bonus. After about 15 minutes, though, they decided that I should help transport buckets of cement back and forth to the house (since I was a girl after all), so I changed jobs. I actually really ended up enjoying that too. I learned an interesting fact about myself on this trip…I don’t do well sitting still when there is a job to be done, I much prefer to get my hands dirty and be in the midst of the action.
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     Our last full day in the village we were able to finish up all the chor we could do with the supplies that we had, which lasted until right before lunch. After lunch, a bunch of the kids from the village decided to take us to the nearby river for some fun before we had to get ready for our last kids program of the week. I think playing in the river was one of the most fun things I have done in Indonesia. The kids were so unbelievably excited to play with us. Korry and I decided that we were going to sit on a log in the middle of the river and watch the kids and our other team members swim and play in the current. Well, the kids decided they would swim towards us and give us pretty stones as a “toll” for passing by. We laughed, we splashed, we got some sun…it was amazing. Definitely a great final afternoon in Samasuru.
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     Not only did we get to work on construction projects, but we also got to work with children…both during our organized kids program, and throughout the week in any free time that we had. The pastor’s two children, Icha and Jael, became my best buddies. One of them was always grabbing on to me or Korry. It took me a while to earn their trust (as I don’t think they had ever seen a white person before), but once they decided they liked me, we were best friends.
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     For our kids program, we had been expecting 35-50 children maximum. We were going to do music, games, a craft, and story time. By the time our first afternoon kids program started, we had 147 kids…but only supplies for 50! Thankfully Korry is great at thinking on her feet, so we were able to adapt our program, and no one but us knew that it wasn’t how we initially planned it. The kids laughed, danced, and were just full of joy. For much of the story, they were laughing so hard their eyes were watering. It was better than we could have imagined!
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     The last afternoon after the story we took time to pray for each of the kids. While we were praying they were singing the most beautiful song in Indonesian. They sounded like a choir of angels, their voices were so beautiful. After spending three days with them, it was such an honor to get to pray for them.
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     Though our organized kids activities were awesome, my favorite part was just hanging out with the kids after the scheduled program. We had a group of about 8-10 of them that would take us on walks, or just stay late and sing every Sunday School song they knew with us. It was so special to get to know them a little bit, to play with them, and to show them love. They are so full of joy. When I was with them, I just couldn’t help but feel full of joy too. Though I am not fluent in Indonesian, my language was good enough to be able to communicate and chat about life, about school, about what they do for fun. They told me about their culture and some of the weird things they eat, like giant snakes. I feel like they gave me a small glimpse into their world, and it was such an honor.
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    After our last kids program, we had to get ready for the evening service. It was so cool to worship with everyone in their language one more time before we headed back to Ambon. After the service we took a bazzilion pictures, loaded up the ancot, and headed back to Masohi to meet the other half of the team.
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     It was sad to leave them after having really connected. I learned a lot about myself, about them, about life…I will forever be grateful for the three days in Samasuru. But while I was a  little sad to leave, I was also really excited to catch up with the other half of the team and hear what had happened in their village for the past three days.
(to be continued) 

the first steps to better health in the trash dump…

After months of preparation and planning, and against all odds, our weekly free medical clinic in the trash dump community is now open!!!!

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We tried to open the clinic a few months ago, but had to relocate due to issues with the landlord. Then once we moved and we were going to open, the flooding season started, which meant our clinic building was under water, so that delayed the opening again. But now that the rainy season is almost over, we decided to just go ahead and open it now.

The reason we have a clinic in this community is that there is no access to medical care for them within a reasonable distance. The closest clinic they could go to is 5km away. Though this may not seem that far to most people, when it costs them almost a day’s wage to get there, they just cannot afford to go…especially when they have had previously bad experiences there so they feel they might not even get the help they need if they do spend the money to go.

The day of our clinic opening I was a little nervous. How would the community receive us? Would we have any patients? Would we have too many patients that we couldn’t handle the volume?

I arrived ahead of the midwife and got a chance to talk to our community partners a little about the clinic. My language is still quite limited, so our conversation was very basic, but we were able to understand each other enough to figure out some final details. A little bit later, the midwife arrived. The only problem was there were no patients yet…

Instead of just sitting around and waiting for patients to arrive, we all got to work sorting through medicine donations to see what was expired and what could be used. We worked quite efficiently as a team and before we knew it, we were done!

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A little bit after we finished sorting through the medicines, the patients started arriving.

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Our first patient was a little boy who had been having diarrhea for over a month with bleeding.

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I cannot imagine being four years old and being continually sick for that long. I am so glad our midwife was there and was able to help him. Though she saw many other patients with all sorts of problems that day, the young boy stood out to me as why we are there in the first place. People shouldn’t have to live in sickness, especially children. They should be learning, playing, and growing strong and healthy—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I know that the clinic cannot solve all of the medical problems in the community. But you have to start somewhere, and this is our first step. I am excited to see the impact on the community for years to come and how we continue to develop our strategy for better health for the Cilincing trash dump community

my first health seminar…

Two Saturdays ago I was able to plan and facilitate my first community health seminar!

For the past six or seven months I have really been feeling that health education area of health that Partners for Compassion should focus on, as Jakarta’s health services have been getting better. Plus health education is very relational and long-term, which suits our model of operation really well.

A couple months ago I met with our community partners in North Jakarta and asked them if they would want us to offer health seminars and they said they would love it! I was able to find an awesome doctor from my church who volunteered her time to teach a class on first aid in the community. We spent time planning and preparing  and coordinating with the various parties involved and set the date for Saturday, November 21.

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While preparing the logistics for the event, I learned an interesting cultural fact. Apparently when women attend this kind of event it’s expected that they get “simbako” which is a package of rice, oil, sugar, and instant noodles that they can take home with them to their families. Though the concept was a little weird to meet at first, I jumped on board and went to the store to buy all the stuff. While I was loading up my card with 35 packages of 1KG of sugar one of the ladies passing me asked if I was opening a little store. I laughed and told her no, that I was making simbako packages for one of our communities. It kind of felt like I was opening a store, though, as I had never in my life bought so much food at one time before.

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At home my roommate, Korry and I put on a Christmas movie and packed everything up into 35 simbako bags.

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On the day of the seminar I was so nervous. What if something went wrong? What if the doctor had a terrible time and never wanted to help again? What if the moms hated it and our relationship doing health education was closed forever? What if our partner thought it was a disaster? Though the thoughts were all slightly irrational, I was a bit apprehensive. But the event could not have possibly gone any better.

I was able to open the seminar with my first speech fully given in Indonesian! Though it was just a simple greeting and thank you to the various people who helped, it still felt like such an accomplishment to get to say it all in Indonesian without a translator.

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Doctor Elva did a fantastic job teaching. She was funny and interactive and all the moms were on the edges of their seats listening to what she was saying and fully participating in her interactive portions. At one point one of the moms had to get up and blocked the projected and she was immediately told to sit down by the other ladies because they all couldn’t see around her. Even after the seminar they spent about 15 extra minutes asking various follow up questions.

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I could not have asked for it to go any better. I am so excited about continuing to expand our health education program!

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to the trash dump community we go…

Taking volunteers to the communities where I work is one of my favorite parts of my job. This last outreach event was particularly fun because I got to take a group of 15 teenagers in addition to our amazing regular adult volunteers!

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Right before we take groups to the community you can just feel the excitement of everyone– particularly the first-times (which we had a lot of this time around). Before we left for the field, Lew gave them a brief overview on the community, what we did there, and general guidelines for the day. Then I got to give the volunteers a short overview of what they would be doing and explaining how we would break up into different smaller teams once we were there.

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After that, we got on the bus and headed to the trash dump community!

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The tone was set right away as we got off the bus in the community and were immediately greeted by some of our kindergarten students in their uniforms, waiting at the door shaking our hands and greeting us.

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The clinic was as usual a huge success. The community members do not have adequate access to health care facilities nearby, so the fact that we would come and provide them with free care is always amazing to them.

I think my favorite part of the day in the community was the different games that we had the teen volunteers and kids play together. Though all of our games were fun, my two favorites were the relay race and the balloon dance competition.

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For the relay race each team had four kids and three teen volunteers. Each participant had a plastic spoon in their mouth, which they had to use to transfer a kelengkeng (kind of like a small lime) from each spoon to the next all the way to end of the line and then back. Now, the community has one small dirt road and shacks on either side, so we had to play on the road. So as the kids and teens were trying their best to transfer the kelengkeng trash trucks and other vehicles were coming by and we would have to temporarily stop and start back up. You would think that they would have been frustrated by that, but it just added to the competitive nature of the game to have to run back to position after getting out of the way of the trucks. It was hilarious to watch and I think the kids (and teens for that matter) really loved it.

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My second favorite game was the balloon dance competition. By this point the kids all knew who their teen partner was, so we had them run to find their partner (since we had just come back from a short lunch break). The kids were so excited and jumped up and ran as fast as they could to get their “teen.” The goal of the game was to see who could dance the best with their partner without dropping the balloon that was between the kid and the volunteer. At the end of each round whoever got the loudest applause won. The kids and volunteers really got into it and it was absolutely hilarious and fun.

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In addition to the fun of the activities themselves, it was also really great to see some of the ladies and kids that I had met and chatted with on previous visits to the community.

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 I am always amazed and humbled that I get to work with such an incredible team and that I get to go to such amazing people in the community.