Dian's Letters

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Dian's visit to Aceh Noordeen home 2014I arrived at our Aceh home on a windy, bright sunny morning. The children had been anticipating my arrival and I had been anxious to see them. As I got out of the car, they rushed to greet me with their warm smiles and hugs. Two years had elapsed since our last reunion and we all felt a strong surge of happiness to be reunited in our beautiful home after such a long time.

 We quickly gathered and made plans for the next 6 days that we would spend together. A lake trip, a mountain hike, a big feast, a trip to a water park, all sorts of competitions and performances were on our list of things to do.

My entire family of eleven travelled together from Jakarta to Takengon where our GiveLight home is located. We flew to the closest airport, which is in a city called Medan and the flight took over two hours.Then a 12-hour bus ride was our only option because the next flight to Takengon did not leave for another 4 days! And we did not want to waste any time. The long bus ride was the part that we all wanted to avoid because our young boys were coming with us and so were their cousins. But we had no choice but to brave the journey that took even longer than expected. The next morning we arrived safely after spending 16 hours on the long and winding mountain roads.

My parents have been blessed to spend 50 years together. All of us wanted to celebrate their 50th Anniversary and to share the blessings with our GiveLight children. We decided that a private party at our GiveLight home followed by a picnic at the lake would be the perfect tribute to thank God for such a blessing. A goat was to be sacrificed and we were set to hold a big feast and make our own "sate kambing" or "lamb satay", which is one of local delicacies and everyone's favorite.

The kids were very excited about the idea and everyone wanted to help. The girls helped with all the chopping and marination of the meat and the boys were in charge of grilling, supervised by my own brother. It was initially a bit chaotic to have 40 kids working together, but we quickly created a few assembly lines and it ended up working flawlessly. After our collective effort and team work, we enjoyed the "meat" of our labor and everyone raved about how delicious the food was. We enjoyed our togetherness and everywhere I turned I saw big smiles.  My parents were happy to be there and the kids ate with big appetites. We shared the joy of family over succulent, delicious satays. One of the things we emphasize is that the kids eat healthy meals, not just on special days but every day. Their menu often consists of fresh fish, vegitables and fruit: a menu that is difficult and pricey to maintain even here in the US on a regular basis.

After our al fresco lunch, we moved inside for the more formal segment of the program. Two of our brightest girls opened the floor with poise and confidence. We began with Quranic recitation, then words of advice from me who they all call Bunda  (mother) and my dad who they call Kakek (grandpa). During my talk, we called out 10 most accomplished children and asked what they want to become when they grow up. We heard "doctor", " teacher", "police", "engineer",  "lawyer", "writer" and we said Ameen to each dream.  Next, fifteen girls sang beautifully together to the beat of a drum. Then 10 boys sitting in a circle sang traditional songs with synchronized hand-clapping as the musical background. This is called "Didong", a unique art form that's still preserved and performed at big gatherings such as weddings. We all sat in that big room feeling the happiness of a large family. Sharing such a special milestone with the kids filled our hearts with joy. May God bless my parents for raising me with such love and affection and for sharing the love with my Givelight children.

The next day we headed to the lake for a swim and family picnic, 46 children and 20 adults packed in 2 large vans. We enjoyed the breathtakingly scenic view as we drove around the beautiful blue lake. I got to relive the happy memories of my childhood through the eyes of these children. The lake of my idyllic childhood has not changed much except that it was a little more crowded than I remember. It was Eid so the beaches and picnic areas were jampacked with people.

We found our spots and tents that had been reserved for us right by the waterfront. We spent the next few hours
together enjoying our meal, which was "mie goreng," another favorite. Conversations flowed freely and the cool breeze swept over our faces. The boys decided to jump in the lake while the girls stayed around under the tents chatting along and discussing the next adventures. A trip to a water park was on the agenda for the next day. It turned out to be cold, raining and windy the next day so we proceeded with another plan : shoe and bag shopping! We had to do two trips to the stores as our mini bus could only take up to 20 people. We managed to accomplish this mission within 2 hours and the outcome was happy kids hugging what they would be wearing to school the next morning.

The next thing on our list was the hike. After school and homework, the hike took us over an hour to complete as we climbed really high. But we were all determined to make it to the top. My uncle Samsuddin (who is the head of our home and the beloved father of the children) came with our minivan to offer a ride to those who were too tired to continue. He also brought water and snacks for everyone to enjoy after the hike. Only a handful of the younger ones agreed to hop in the van. As we reached the top, we all looked at the view with awe and admiration. Our house was visible from the top and it certainly appeared to be the most beautiful of all the houses around it. The lake, surrounded by soaring cliffs, was gleaming in emerald green against the clear cloudless sky. I felt as it we just climbed into a perfect painting.

Of course we had to take lots of pictures against this backdrop. Healthy snacks and drink followed, while we enjoyed the view. We lingered for a while and wanted to stay longer but sunset was upon us and we had a big night ahead of us.

As we started our descent we noticed how dirty some parts of the mountains were with trash scattered all
over. I felt sad about this but then saw it as a good "teaching moment" and decided to mobilize our kids to collect the trash and found garbage bins when we got home. We collected two boxes of empty bottles, candy wrappers, and all kind of trash that people had left behind. The kids were actually happy to do the task and vowed to always keep the environment clean and green the way we raised them to do at home.

After congregation sunset prayer, we spent 20 minutes reciting Quran together which was the ritual every night. After another delicious meal, we gathered the kids for a written competition jeopardy style with questions ranging from the subject of Religion, Math, Physics and Geography. It was a fun way to gauge their knowledge and motivate them to study harder. We also planned to announce the new GiveLight Ambassador as a successor for Samha who carried the title from 2012-2014.

The next day we held a speech competition among eight interested participants. Then we proceeded to dinner before we gathered for my last night with them. The kids had been practicing for months and they put together a series of wonderful performances to send me off. Ten girls decided to perform Gayonese dance in traditional outfits that they rented for $8 a piece using money from their own savings. By the way, we opened a bank account for every one of our kids since we opened our home in 2005. Today some of them have saved $600-$800 (about Rp. 8 millions), which is a lot for local currency and more than the average child in Indonesia has.

The kids did poetry, songs, skits and the boys performed Didong for one last time. Zulfatmi who is 10 years old was brave enough to to perform a farewell speech in English while Sofi, 15, did her speech in Arabic. I was in awe of their talents and moved by their sincerity in giving me a night to cherish and remember. Almost 10 years have passed since the tsunami. My wounds from that time have been healed by every child we’ve helped and every stranger and friend who chose to embrace the cause. The flickers of light are shining through the hearts of everyone who is a part of this work.  May we all live to carry the light until we save as many lives as we possibly can through His Mercy and Grace.

Your friend Dian.View Gallery

Sunnyvale, August 28 2014