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This first in-country post by Courtney Walls was originally published on the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy website. To view the original article please click here.
Honestly, I was terribly nervous to endeavor on this journey to Indonesia to spend 6 weeks of my summer living and working all the way on the other side of the world from my family, friends, and home. Upon arrival, I was too tired from traveling to notice all the excitement around me and immediately fell asleep when I arrived at my new home. Although I had been apprehensive about embarking on this trip, I must admit I felt quite comfortable the next morning when I woke up completely refreshed from my 36 hour long trip from Miami to Yogyakarta. It was though I hadn’t even left home. I was ready to explore.
The first week was so invigorating that I couldn’t even catch my breath or take a moment to reflect on all the cultural information I had taken in. I was completely absorbed with my new environment. We explored the hectic city of Yogyakarta, ate delicious (yet bizarre) foods, and dove right into working with NGOs and schools. I had so many moments during the first week in which I didn’t understand where I was or how I got there. I felt so fortunate to have the opportunity to travel so far away from home and to completely immerse myself in a culture different from my own. I couldn’t believe that the faint dream of traveling and working abroad had finally become a reality.
I felt so incredibly excited to meet people at work and to converse with them in half English half bahasa Indonesia. They were all so welcoming and just as excited to learn from me as I was to learn from them. I can’t say I was completely prepared for this cultural exchange, but I didn’t even care. I was so caught up in the excitement of it all that there wasn’t time to be worried or scared. Besides, they made me feel right at home. At the end of my first week there I was already giving them a presentation on Art Therapy which they are hoping to implement in their counseling program for abused women and children (and perhaps even men in their new men’s awareness program!). I’ve never met so many people so eager to learn. They all attended and asked many questions (some of which I couldn’t even answer). I also had them all participate in a group drawing activity which they ended up becoming immersed in and addicted to (so much that they stayed 20 minutes into lunch time drawing!). I felt that I wasn’t accomplishing much all week, but as soon as one of the Rifka Annisa employees said to me that she feels blessed to have rediscovered her favorite hobby: drawing, I knew I was beginning to make at least a small impact.
However, the biggest impact was not made by me so far, but instead by all the people I’ve met so far. This journey has opened my eyes up to so much that I had previously been somewhat blind to. I began to feel as though I belonged. Never before in my life have I felt such belonging as I have felt these past couple weeks here. I’m not even sure if there’s a way to express everything I’ve experienced so far, perhaps I can with a drawing or photo…or both.
Some of the Rifka Annisa employees holding up their group artwork after a long day of drawing. They are all artists and they didn’t even know it!
This moment was most certainly the highlight of my adventure so far. I was surrounded by good, happy people who were thriving to make a difference in their community.
I’m excited to see what lies ahead of me in the near future here in Indonesia as I continue to explore this beautifully diverse and colorful country.