On a recent trip abroad, I visited the GiveLight home that is situated in the mountains of Takengon in the region of Banda Aceh, where the tsunami hit worst in 2004. I took my 10-year-old son with me; it was a life-changing experience for both of us.
While on the way there, I had been expecting to encounter hot weather and an old building full of sad orphans living in mediocre conditions. Instead, what I found was the most peaceful place on earth and the happiest children alive. These children could really teach us what true happiness is.
The home is shaped like the letter U with a house out front, where the man who donated the land lives with his wife. The two of them play the role of mother and father to forty children. What is unique is that the whole home functions like a large family. Since “Mom” and “Dad” are semi-advanced in age, the older kids help by taking care of the younger ones.
The children have a daily routine: they wake up early for morning prayers, read the Holy Qur’an, and then eat breakfast and get ready for school. Before they leave, they receive their daily allowance of money. When they are done with school, they come home, change their clothes, eat lunch, take a nap or play, and then do their homework. In the evenings, they have English and computer lesson than they read more Qur’an from Maghrib prayer until Isha prayer, followed by dinner and then they go to sleep.
We took a few field trips with the children, one was to the coffee bean farms and another was to the water park (yes, believe it or not, there is a water park in Takengon). But our best trips by far were the unplanned ones, like the time we visited a fish farm right on the lake and drank the local fish coffee drink (it wasn’t really made out of fish but it sure tasted like that to me), or the time I asked the children when we could go to the lake and they exchanged confused glances and answered me, “Right now!” I was dumbfounded. We took a five-minute stroll to the lake, where they asked us whether or not we knew how to swim. I responded, “Yes, but first let’s get our swimming suits.” That didn’t translate well and they gave me another confused look that seemed to say, “Do you really want us to wear special clothing just to go in the water?” Then they ran off, so I assumed they were going to get their swimming shorts, but it turned out to be just a warm up because they came running back and jumped in the lake, just like that, fully-clothed and laughing like crazy.
I don’t know why, but that struck a deep chord inside me. These children are not only happy, but they are also free. I was told that I was supposed to teach these orphan children something, something special about life and faith. I soon found that I was learning from them. Faith is not a piece of information that one is supposed to learn, but rather a transformation that one must go through. These kids were already transformed, and their characters were contagious – knowing them transformed me and my son also.