Assalamu Alaikum Wa RahamatuAllah Hey Wa Bara Katu Hoo! This is how all the children greet people in Takengon. It doesn’t matter the age of the child. They are honored and happy that people come to visit them. Sometimes they wonder and ask why someone would make the long journey from America to see them. However, they are constantly saying thank you for coming.
A little over a year ago, my daughters, Amina, Rabia, and Leena, became involved with the Give Light Foundation, with Leena holding lemonade stands to donate the proceeds and the older two organizing a women’s retreat (this was a group effort with their cousins). As they were getting more and more information about what is done for orphans through the Give Light Foundation, all three of my girls could not stop talking about what more they could do. In the meantime, my son, Tamim, and my girls were having discussions with me to do something for myself for once. What have I always wanted to do or where have I always wanted to go to that I never got a chance to do when I was younger? It all started to come together as my children got to meet and spend some time with some orphans from the Bay Area. We all thought we should spend some time volunteering to a good cause and go somewhere new to do this. What I personally love about Give Light is that 100% of donations go to the children. Now was going to be an opportunity to see those dollars in action.
My girls asked Dian, the head of Give Light Foundation, where we should go and she suggested Takengon in Indonesia. We were able to take three weeks this past May to travel and meet the children of Yahyahsen Noordeen Orphanage in Takengon. It was a three-day journey to the orphanage. We were met by Rose at the airport in Banda Aceh, and she took us to her home. She was kind enough to let us freshen up, do our salat, and then took us out and showed us the city of Banda Aceh. There were still reminders of the tsunami everywhere. It has been about eight years since that disaster and things are still not completely back to normal. We saw little children walking to read Qu’ran at the Masjids, the beautiful beach area, the museum with information about the tsunami, and a cargo ship in the middle of the city that the tsunami had carried in.
The next morning a van arrived for the eight-hour journey to the city of Takengon. It was a beautiful but hot drive.
The exotic forest was green and full of so many plants we had never seen before. Pineapple farms, banana trees, date trees, and rice farms. Some we did recognize, house plants with beautiful blooms. I never knew that our “house” plants could grow so tall and have such beautiful blossoms. I did not sleep the whole eight hours of our curvy journey through the mountains, as I was so engrossed in the beauty of the areas we passed through.
Our van arrived in Takengon around Maghrib (7:00 pm) time. There were some children who awaited us in the front courtyard area of the Noordeen Orphanage. Waiting along with the children were Dian’s uncle, his daughter Beti, and the secretary of the orphanage, Adadzar. My girls and I were happy to be getting out of the van and meeting our new friends. That night we got to meet all fifty children! The youngest was eight years old. They were all just as excited and curious to meet us, as we were them. Immediately, the person all the children were most curious about was my daughter Leena.
Leena is seven years old. She didn’t need any transition time to get used to the place, food, language, or start playing with the children. While my other two girls and I were trying to figure things out, Leena already knew the layout of the place and was walking hand-in-hand with many of the girls. We had taken little gift bags for all the children and one of the items in the bag was a balloon. The children immediately blew up their balloons and displayed them on the walls next to their beds. We prayed Isha salat together and went to bed.
The next morning at Fajar salat, Leena was the first child in the masjid. As the other children entered , they stayed still and quiet until salat. This was very different than what happens in the masjids I’ve seen in the U.S.A. Usually, the children are running around making lots of noise. I was impressed that these children knew exactly what to do (without being told). I also noticed that after salat, many children stayed in their places. As I watched to see what was happening, the full time Imam of Noordeen came and sat with the children silently. He wrote down their names and then looked at each child and the children said something in Indonesian. He then took out some money and handed different amounts to each child who spoke. The money was for whatever the child needed (school, personal etc.).
This was the first of many systems that I was impressed with at Noordeen. The children all have their own bank accounts and they are regularly given money. They are required to use a certain amount of the money towards their education , but the rest is theirs to do with as they choose. Some children have saved their money over the years and bought a motorcycle for transportation. Others have bought chips, clothes, etc. This gives the children more of a family atmosphere at the orphanage. Their every move could be controlled but instead they are allowed many freedoms as well as behaviors that are expected of them.
They are expected to keep their areas clean, do their best in school, do their share at the orphanage, but they still have free time during the day. The children attend public schools. When they arrive back at Noordeen, they have the opportunity to attend English classes, Qu’ran classes, or take that time for themselves. My daughter Amina taught a few art and English classes during our stay. Leena taught an art class (water color stationary), and Rabia taught a yoga class. On our arrival I had asked some of the older children what they wanted to learn and they responded with history and English. For the two weeks we were there, I taught history lessons and English. The students chose to come or not to come. The classes that were the most popular were the art classes. The children had so much fun with the classes at Noordeen, they asked me to teach some classes at their public schools. I am a teacher, so it was not difficult for me to just walk in and start teaching whatever they wanted me to. I think it made the Noordeen children feel special when I went and taught in their public school classes. I know they were very popular for the day.
Our friends at Noordeen were very concerned with how happy we were during our stay. Uncle made sure he took us sightseeing around Takengon. The power of the sightseeing was that all the children that could fit in the van, got to go with us. Many of the children wait for visitors like us, so that they can go to places too. We went around the lake, the water park, hot springs, tallest peak in the area, and into town. I think that was the children’s favorite. They got to go to an arcade and I was able to take them out to eat.
The roads, houses, bathrooms, and driving were not a problem or really that new for me as I have been to countries with similar accommodations. For my two older girls, however, the conditions were a shock. Food was a challenge for both of them. It was very different from what they were used to. Amina finally said one day, “We usually eat, just to eat. Here people eat to fill their stomachs.” She also remarked, “Our entire childhood we always heard was that some children would love to have the food on our plates that we didn’t want. Now, they are not some children, they have names, faces, and stories.” We washed our clothes by hand, learned to use the toilets, and warm up our water before showers. However, we saw all the children doing all of this for themselves. One of the most heartbwarming things for me was when the rain came every day, the children would run out and grab our clothes off the line before they got theirs!
This experience certainly was a wake-up call on so many different levels. Amazing how the children cherished their balloons and displayed them on the walls. The smiles when they made their watercolor stationaries and wrote their names in glitter. One afternoon I found the little girls under the staircase in front of their personal items, displayed, just staring at the items they owned. Two cards lost out of a deck of cards, a sticker, items that we would throw away.
The night before we left, some of the little children had some gifts for Leena. I was overwhelmed when I saw the first gift she opened, a personal item that one of children had taken out of their collection. The next gift was the most precious item that one of the children had, a stuffed animal. When I insisted we could not keep it, the little girl started crying and said, “That’s all I have and I want to give it to Leena.” Yes, Amina , Rabia, and I had to fight back our tears and our hearts just melted!
The old cardboard box that the stuffed animal was in, Leena threw away. The next afternoon I saw several younger girls cutting it up and creating a doll house. They didn’t have any dolls but they had caught a grasshopper to use as a doll. As they released it in their new doll house, Leena jumped. When she saw that no one else reacted to her, she started to play too. Amazing, amazing how these children solve problems!
One of the most memorable moments was attending a wedding of a former Noordeen girl. She worked at a bank in Takengon. All of Noordeen was excited about the wedding. Many of the children went to the wedding with us. I could see how much this wedding meant to the girls of Noordeen. They practiced some songs and let Amina and Rabia know that they would be joining them during their karaoke moment. This was the first time my girls had ever done such a thing and they had a blast with the encouragement from their new friends. It was amazing to see the confidence of the Noordeen children.
Mashallah, in many ways, the children and people of Takengon taught my girls so many things about confidence, problem solving, patience, and being thankful. The children stayed busy for hours just playing with Leena’s balloon. On another occasion, sitting bored under the shade tree watching people on the street go by, the children started reciting surahs from the Qu’ran and my children joined in. Yes, this was without an adult giving the suggestion. Moments I will cherish forever.
We went into Takengon calling the children orphans but they are truly are our children and friends. I know all three of my girls have made life-long friendships and will never be the same. We were able to make more connections with the girls than the boys and I certainly felt my son’s and husband’s absence. They would have been able to build a relationship with the older boys.
The kindness that was shown to us by Rose, Beti, Uncle (and Auntie), Adadzar, and others in Indonesia, was amazing. Everyone was concerned about us and wanted us to be comfortable. We felt like we were treated like royalty during the trip. Our friends in Indonesia did far more for us then we did for them. They are in our prayers and Inshallah we will continue to support them.
My children and I have decided to visit orphanages instead of taking vacations. One of my lessons in this is that Dian cannot do everything on her own. It is going to take all of us to support the orphanages and help be her eyes and ears as to what is happening at the sites. As well, the children love visitors. I thank GiveLight and Dian, for the opportunity to visit Takengon and for making all the arrangements to get us to Takengon from Banda Aceh. It’s amazing, how Dian’s entire family is involved in this organization. Her father called us several times from Jakarta to make sure all was well with us. What a priceless experience, Alhamdulillah!!!
My first day at the orphanage began at 5:00 A.M. when the Adan was called for Fajar prayer. After making wudu, I walked into the small masjid that is built in the middle of the orphanage. As I approached the Masjid, I realized that the children were already there – reading Qur’an quietly and waiting for prayer to begin. Some of these children were as little as 8 years old. I was amazed by how self-disciplined and well behaved the children were.
During my time in Indonesia at the orphanage, I quickly realized how nurturing the environment the children were living in actually was. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this situation, however, I was pleasantly surprised to see bright flowers blooming around the orphanage, children playing, and smiles all around me. The children are so grateful for everything they have. In addition to going to school and working hard academically on a daily basis, I observed these children attending Qur’an classes whenever they had free time. There pronunciation of the children’s Qur’an was so amazing that it sounded like I was listening to a fixed tape. The orphanage that is built in Aceh is the necessary foundation and platform these children need to become successful individuals both academically and Islamically.
The children are absolutely amazing and I can see them having great success in their future, Inshallah. In addition to everyone being sooooo kind in Aceh, it is unbelievably beautiful and I feel so grateful that Allah presented my family with this trip – it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. My little sister Leena, who is 7 years old, had the absolute time of her life! She made so many friends and the little children welcomed all of us into their home with open arms – it was amazing to see and made me feel so good inside that these children have so much love to give. My family and I made lifelong friends who I will never forget. I am awestruck by how kind, intelligent, and talented the children at Noordeen are, Mashallah. This trip has motivated me to be a better person and be even more involved in the Give Light foundation. I am filled with immense gratitude towards everyone at Noordeen and everyone who has contributed to Give Light in any way. It is my hope that Give Light continues to expand and help children reach their full potential globally, Inshallah.
About a year ago, my family became involved with the Give Light Foundation. We have always been indirectly related to the cause, as my aunts and grandparents have been familiar with Dian and her organization over the years. However, it was not until one of my aunts hosted a Give Light party at her house, and asked my cousins and I to help with planning, that we realized the beautiful cause that it truly is. We had so much fun with decorating and organizing, yet the true calling for all of us, was looking into the depth that Give Light has to offer. They have orphanages all over the world, and all the money collected goes directly to them.
In spite of our expectations beforehand, nothing could have prepared us for the experience to come. After 23 hours of flying, many layovers and an 8-hour bus ride, we finally arrived in Takengon around sunset. The adults who run Noordeen, Dian’s aunt and uncle, as well as Adizar, the director, greeted us with a quick tour, while showing us to our rooms. The children were praying Maghrib at a beautiful mosque located in the courtyard at this time, but as soon as we stepped into our rooms, we heard a knock at our door. The footsteps and giggles behind the door belonged to a few girls who had finished prayer, and called us to the classroom. All 47 of them, as well as the adults at Noordeen, had gathered to introduce themselves and welcome us to their home.
Over the next two weeks, everyone truly became an extended addition to my family. We held English class everyday, and every single one of the students were dedicated, passionate and patient with the material we gave them. Qur’an classes were held after Maghrib, and the athan was called every morning by one of the older boys before Fajr. We had yoga lessons, swam in a local hot springs, attended weddings and visited the children’s schools. Amina and I taught the kids to play hide and go seek, and they taught us how to ride a motorcycle! Everyone took care of one another, and the structure being instituted helped balance academics, social time and all the Islamic aspects in the lives of the children.
Beyond all of this, the most remarkable thing about Noordeen was the character of the individuals there. They displayed such creativity; always singing, making up dances and playing with one another. The older ones share rooms with the younger kids, so they can help with homework, and aid with Qur’an. Gratitude is instilled in all the children; they are unbelievably kind and eager to learn.
It was a pleasure teaching all of them. Similar to the children, the adults are incredibly gracious, and take the children to the mountains, lake, and into town whenever they desire to go. The atmosphere there was nurturing, and although many of the children at the orphanage did not have parents to return to, they had established a family at Noordeen. At the end of our trip, I felt so unworthy of all the love and compassion bestowed upon us; they gave us much more than we could ever return.