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.

3/3 The Views Make Up for the Flight Delays

Looking back on my two months in Asia, I had many incredible experiences and learned a few lessons along the way thanks in part to my first year at Davidson College. One of my goals for this trip was to improve my fluency and confidence in speaking Chinese. What began with me hesitating when trying to speak Chinese during daily conversations such as ordering lunch and buying a train ticket quickly turned into me being able to hold conversations I never imagined possible. Long flights to destinations that I did not know existed before arriving in China often turned into Chinese practice sessions. Whether the passenger seated next to me was a schoolgirl from Chongqing, or three teachers from Mongolia headed to Guilin, or a flight attendant on a Cathay Dragon flight departing Hong Kong, I found myself delighting in the shocked expressions of people throughout China who were excited to learn about who I was and what had brought me to China, while I was able to learn about their life and our cultural differences in return.


Caroline, Alex, and I at the top of Elephant Hill in Guilin, China.


More than practicing my Chinese, this ability, along with an East Asian History class I took my freshman year at Davidson, landed my friends and I in situations and places that were as incredible as they were, for lack of a better word, quite sketchy. My friends and I were wandering through the city of Guilin one night trying to enter a park when a simple “hello” on the street turned into a man telling me that he wanted to show us a temple that was a twenty-minute walk from where we were. While we followed him through a run-down, dimly lit alley alongside Guilin’s Karst Hills, I was feeling considerably uncomfortable as this man did not speak any English and I was not sure if I was even correctly understanding where he was taking us. After walking in near silence for a while, we came across this beautifully detailed and elaborate Buddhist temple nestled into a cave. From what I could understand, the man explained to the monks that we were foreigners and simply wanted to take a look around the inside of the temple. We were shocked when the monks allowed us to enter the temple since only a few weeks earlier, we were denied access to a temple in Beijing (the monks believed we were Christians and therefore said we could not enter). For some reason, the monks allowed us to enter this temple, walk around and take pictures, which I am grateful for as I have not been able to find any trace of this temple existing in Guilin anywhere online. I was able to understand from our new friend that the temple was built about 300 years ago during the Qing Dynasty after connecting the dots between the word “Qing” because of learning about it in my East Asian history class and the Chinese word for dynasty, which I did not previously know.