Crushed Goldfish and A Semi-Crushed Ego

On my flight from London to Doha, I sat behind a very active (read: rambunctious) five-year-old Qatari boy. His mother and I chatted in broken Arabic as he loudly chomped on Goldfish crackers. During our conversation, I realized that Kathmandu was going to be way out of my comfort zone. This would be the first time since starting school at Davidson that I would not actively be studying Arabic and the first time I would live in a country outside of the U.S. that wasn’t in the Middle East. I had spent the previous summer learning Arabic in Amman, Jordan and the spring semester of my sophomore year in Beirut, Lebanon, where I would return after my time in Nepal. It feels strange to write that my comfort zone is the Middle East, but it’s true. Living in Nepal was going to be hard. I didn’t know Nepali and barely knew anything about Nepal’s history–I was going in as ignorant as the foreigners I had made fun of in Lebanon a few weeks earlier. “Why would you bother coming to a country without learning the native language first?” I had learned my first lesson of the summer without even stepping foot in Nepal: I was a huge hypocrite. Despite my mediocre efforts, I could not memorize all of the basic Nepali sayings provided by a quick Google search during my flight to Kathmandu (I did, however, learn how to say “Hello, my name is…” and “thank you” which did earn me some ~cool girl~ points in the office). With crushed goldfish in my shoes, I made my way through the Tribhuvan International Airport. I was greeted by a familiar face, Melech, and a girl in a red shirt. Melech, a Davidson student on the same program, had arrived a few days prior and came with Eve, our program director, to pick me up. We put my bags in the back of the taxi and headed towards my home for the next two months. On the way back from the airport, Eve explained the layout of Kathmandu and gave a brief overview of what the next two months would look like. We’d have a seminar every week to talk about Nepali history, the current political climate, voluntourism, and our roles as foreign interns in Nepal. In addition to our seminars, we’d be working a full-time internship at Open Learning Exchange (OLE) Nepal. Upon arrival at the apartment, Eve let Melech and I know that we’d have our first seminar over dinner in a few hours. I walked into the apartment feeling a little bit overwhelmed, I put my bags down, emptied the goldfish out of my shoes, and took a deep breath–this was home now.

Fueled by an incurable jetlag and a recent obsession with fitness Instagrams, I decided I was going to run my way around Sanepa, the area in Kathmandu where I was living. I noticed a few things on my morning runs:

1) everyone in Sanepa seemed to be awake and fully functioning by 4:30 am

2) there were dogs everywhere

3) a thick layer of dust and car exhaust covers the city around 7:30 am

4) I was very out of shape

Running gave me the ability to explore Kathmandu in ways I wouldn’t be able to since I was working full-time. The weekends were reserved for tourist-y activities and outings with friends at their favorite restaurants, bars, and cafes. On my morning runs, I could zigzag in and out of the back roads–seeing hidden street art, passing by people walking to the temple, and saying hello to the kids outside of their parents’ corner stores. I became a familiar face to my new neighbors and learned how kind-hearted they were—shooing away dogs who had started chasing after me and offering me water and food when I was red, tired, and sweaty. I would soon come to learn that openness and generosity were not characteristics exclusive to my neighbors, but rather that this was the Nepali way. Within my first few weeks here, I already feel loved, welcomed, and at home. I can’t wait for the rest of the summer and I’m so incredibly lucky to be living here.


Street art (1/3)


Street art (2/3)


Street art (3/3)

In an attempt to practice my Arabic over the summer, I frequented the only Syrian-owned restaurant in Kathmandu (and I believe Nepal). My coworkers came with me to try Middle Eastern food for the first time. Here they are enjoying zaatar w jebneh and chicken shawarma!

Jakarta, Indonesia Part 3: Connecting with your “Inner Source”

I first learned about YCAB while watching an Indonesian talk show featuring Veronica Colondam, CEO of YCAB. Her talk really inspired me and I wanted to intern at YCAB to experience first-hand the inner-workings of the organization. Naturally, one of the things I was most looking forward to during my internship was getting to meet Veronica Colondam in person. Turns out, when I first met her, she asked me to accompany her to two of her talks over the weekend and be her assistant for the day.

One of the highlights of my internship was listening to Veronica Colondam speak to a group of young high school and college students. While addressing the topic of being a true leader, she referred to a book written by Otto Scharmer titled Theory U. The book brings up the point that in order to bring about transformational change, we need to not only focus on what we do or how we do it, but also explore who we are and understand the inner place from which we operate. The idea is that successful leadership comes from being able to connect with your “inner source”. Her talk provided me with a fresh perspective on leadership. To be a strong leader for others, one needs to first establish a strong spiritual anchor within. This spiritual anchor can provide a purpose to the things that we are fighting for, and it helps us persevere when challenges come in the way.

Veronica Colondam speaks on being a true leader

Spark Indonesia members after the talk by Veronica Colondam (college students interested in social entrepreneurship)

Throughout my internship, YCAB was more than just a workplace where I was exposed to a professional setting, but it was also a nurturing environment where I found inspiring mentors and formed valuable friendships. I engaged with people who understand and share my passion for service. In a classroom setting at Davidson, I learn about theories of change—but working at YCAB allowed to me to go beyond understanding theories; I learned how such theories are implemented into different programs that impact individual lives. All in all, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to intern at YCAB and work with people who share the same vision of touching deeper into people’s lives.

Fellow YCAB Interns

Farewell with fellow YCAB interns

Last but not least, I’d like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Freeman Foundation for making this treasured experience possible. Truly, my two-month internship allowed me to grow both personally and academically in so many different ways.

Internship at AmCham China: Beijing Post 2

I arrived an hour early to my first day of work at the American Chamber of Commerce in the People’s Republic of China, or AmCham China. I arrived at 9, the doors didn’t open until 9:30, and I wasn’t expected to arrive until 10.  I was given a brief tour of the office, introduced to the other interns—all of whom were Chinese—and I was shown to my desk. I sat there for a while, nervously refreshing my email every few minutes.  After about an hour, I got an assignment: polish the English for an event advertisement. It was only about 6-7 sentences, so it didn’t take long. That was my only assignment that day.

My official role was to provide support for the company’s Training and Professional Development services and its lecture events. This meant preparing advertisements for the events, calling attendees, managing each event’s budget, facilitating the check-in processes, and taking notes at each event.  

By the end of my internship, I had helped to run about ten events, some more general professional development events and some programs more tailored to an attendee’s specific line of work. I also helped to facilitate events with a few speakers, such as David Dollar from the Brookings Institute and a prominent Beijing executive coach named Gao Lin.

The most valuable part of this internship was getting to connect with so many people working in Government Affairs roles in the commercial sector, a career path that I was highly interested in when entering into this role. A lot of our training sessions were tailored to Government Affairs practitioners who worked for consulting firms or American MNCs operating in China. After this experience, I’m more interested in exploring experiences in other sectors.

Pictured with the US Ambassador to China at AmCham’s Annual July 4th Party. 

AmCham’s lobby.

My Chinese business card to use for collecting Fapiao and exchanging contact information with members of the Chamber.

Jakarta, Indonesia Part 2: Working with Rumah Belajar Students

At YCAB Foundation, I had the opportunity to work with both the Partnership and Program Development Teams. One project that I was particularly invested in was a partnership program between YCAB and Danone Indonesia. Danone wanted to fund a nutrition-oriented program for YCAB’s beneficiaries, so YCAB was in charge of designing a nutrition intervention and education program based on the needs of its beneficiaries and some criteria provided by the funder.

Several YCAB Partnership Team members

The first task assigned to me was needs assessment. My mentor, who is also the head of the Partnership Team, helped me to think through the logic of developing a program, and one of the first things she encouraged me to do was to figure out the various potential stakeholders of a nutrition-oriented program. I decided that in the case of nutrition intervention, potential stakeholders would include children, teachers, parents, as well as expecting parents. Reaching out to parents and expecting parents can come in the form of training and education, which can be provided through community events or directly given at the homes of YCAB beneficiaries on a weekly basis. Similarly, teachers can also be trained to integrate nutrition education into the curriculum. The stakeholders that I was most interested in, however, were the children themselves. As an intern, I had direct access to the Rumah Belajar (Learning House) students, so I set out to observe the students’ eating habits during snack times and interview them to get a better sense of their daily eating habits in general.

I found that there were many issues involved with the students’ eating habits. First of all, there are two groups of students that attend Rumah Belajar: the morning students that come from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the afternoon students that come from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. After interviewing the morning students, I quickly found that many come to school without having breakfast. At first, I thought that this problem would be less prominent for the afternoon students, but it turns out that the majority of the afternoon students also come to school on an empty stomach. Both morning and afternoon students are given a 30-minute snack time in the middle of their school hours, and based on my observation and conversation with the students and teachers, I found that the students can be grouped into three categories. First, there are students who come to school with pocket money, ranging from Rp. 5,000-10,000 (approximately  50-75 cents). These students end up buying snacks from street vendors, but none of these vendors serve healthy options. Most students rotate between buying cold sugary drinks served in a plastic bag or meatballs that are mostly made of flour. Second, there are students who pack their own lunch, and these packed lunches are very modest, often consisting of rice and egg or rice and a small portion of fried chicken. Lastly, there are also students who neither bring pocket money nor packed lunch, and spend their snack time simply playing or chatting with friends. Other problems that come up frequently during interviews include having less than 3 meals per day and the absence of milk consumption.

Rumah Belajar students during snack time

At the end of my internship, I compiled the results of my observation and interviews, and presented them to my mentors at the Partnership Team. I also provided them with suggestions for program components and different types of interventions that can be considred. For example, I suggested some improvements for the clinic located at Rumah Belajar. I noticed that the clinic operates on a treatment-based approach, but does not emphasize prevention and health promotion. Therefore, I suggested that the clinic can offer workshop days where students are given vitamin deficiency check-ups and nutritional supplements. Working on this nutrition project with YCAB also led me to do more personal research on the relationship between nutrition and educational outcomes. I learned that nutrition and education are very much interconnected. When working to improve education, it is not only important for us to consider the information and skills we teach to students, but also the nutrition we supply so that students can perform optimally. Although I did not stay long enough to be able to fully participate in the long-term project with Danone, I was glad that that I can contribute my knowledge in Public Health to the team, and I am very much looking forward to the implementation of a nutrtion program at YCAB.


Jakarta, Indonesia Part 1: Home at YCAB Foundation

I’ve always had bittersweet feelings towards Indonesia. On one hand, I feel a lot of love for the country. It is, after all, my birthplace and the country where I spent the first 10 years of my life. But I also harbor a lot of frustrations towards Indonesia. The corrupt government. Endless loopholes within the country’s laws. The people’s resistance towards change and progress. Prior to my internship this summer, I had not been back to Indonesia for more than 4 years. Honestly, I was not sure what to expect out of the next two months living and working in Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta. In fact, just a couple of weeks before my departure to Jakarta, the city was politically and socially unstable. The controversial imprisonment of Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese and Christian governor had generated much racial tension and religious divide throughout the country. I knew that I would be living in Indonesia as an ethnic and religious minority during a sensitive time, and I was concerned about how well I could integrate myself into the society. Turns out, the two months I spent in Jakarta would become such an invaluable experience. If anything, my experience there only made me realize even more how much my heart still reaches out to Indonesia, particularly the progress of its underprivileged population.

Jakarta was PACKED. Traffic jams were unavoidable. Malls are ubiquitous. Something new in the streets of Jakarta that I did not see four years ago was the presence of Gojek and Grab motorbikers. Gojek and Grab operate based on a mobile application and offer various services, such as ride, courier, and food delivery service. GoFood, a branch of Gojek, is the Indonesian version of UberEat that provides food delivery service via motorcycles; and I found this service extremly helpful since it allowed me to survive two months in Indonesia without having to cook my own meals everyday. I found this new development in the city very interesting. On one end, it created a lot new jobs for the lower-middle class of the society.  At the same time, however, it was perpetuating the severity of Jakarta’s traffic problem.

Gojek driver and his passenger on the street of Jakarta

But despite the hectic city life, I found home within my workplace at YCAB Foundation. I’ve always had a lot of interest in social enterprises, so being able to witness how to run an actual social enterprise was a dream come true. YCAB focuses on youth development and empowerment, and one of the organization’s main channel of impact is the Rumah Belajar (Learning House). Rumah Belajar are built across the country to give underprivileged children the opportunity to receive quality education. On my first day at YCAB, I was taken on a tour around a Rumah Belajar located at Duri Kepa. The Rumah Belajar offers both basic education and vocational training for enrolled students. Vocational training includes certified programs in sewing, hairdressing, and mechanical skills.

A sewing classroom in Rumah Belajar Duri Kepa

A classroom in Rumah Belajar Duri Kepa

Some of the works created by Rumah Jahit (Sewing House) students

In addition to working with underprivileged children, YCAB also works with the mothers of these children through their microfinancing program. The program allows these mothers to receive small loans to expand their modest business efforts. I had a chance to witness one of the microfinance transaction process at one of the houses of YCAB’s beneficiaries. Through a conversation with one of the beneficiaries, I discovered that she was able to expand her business by opening a second street stall through the microfinancing program.

Microfinance transaction at a beneficiary’s house

Being able to interact with the children of Rumah Belajar and chat with benefiacries of the microloan program allowed me to understand the impact of social innovation from a closer perspective. I saw a two-pronged approach in the way that YCAB puts children in school. One was the brick-and-mortar approach of building the Rumah Belajar itself, and the other was the community development approach that allows women to participate in the microfinance program under the condition that their children are enrolled in school. I realized that opening a modest street stall may not seem like a big deal to many people, but to these women, it is a symbol of empowerment and a step closer towards having a self-sustaining family. I learned that impact is most complete when people are able to stand up on their own feet, and continue that chain of impact by channeling the positive changes that took place in their lives to those around them.