A sweep that weeps

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Studying abroad may sounds scary to some people but it has given me many opportunities in my life. Flew up to 24 hours to the United States of America, a country profile that I am pretty much familiar with from what I have seen on the Hollywood movies. Living for a year in a college town named Champaign in Illinois with 4 seasons (summer, fall, winter and winter). This would absolutely be a new experience because I came from a totally different culture country. Not only a different region but this is a different continent with up to 10 hours differences. “How will my life gonna be there?”. This is an absolute big question for almost all foreign students. Either you will enjoy it or hate it.

Being accepted in a community college program is one of the best things that I have ever achieved. As a grantee, I was obliged to study like other college students and do internship at the same time. Additionally, everybody in my program must also do voluntary activities up to certain hours. So, basically for a one-year program, almost every week we should do voluntary activities on the local communities.

Ugh..at the beginning, this volunteering obligation sounded so boring for most of us. Since it was called volunteering but it was an obligatory for us. Then I realized that this was my chance to meet the real Americans and mingle with them. It was just the best place to encounter the Americans. As this is also the mission of the program for direct exchanges between Americans and foreign students to create better understanding. Are the Americans just typical like in the movies where they always eat hamburger with soda?. On the other hand, for the Americans, they were about to know how the Indonesians if we must eat rice three times a day.

Apparently, there were so many types of volunteering that we could do. Taking care of children in the church on Sunday services?. Preparing and serving food for the homeless people at the social shelters?. Standing up for 5 hours to give water for the marathon runners?. Collecting unused clothes from the community?. Selling valentine cakes for Children’s hospital cancer research centre?. Or raising coins for the American Diabetic Association?.

Well, I could not believe that I had done all of those above and many more. Were they good or bad experiences?. I would say each of those was great and special on their own that I will always remember. I could tell you every single experience in details. I had met and talked with so many diverse people. There is one of the most unforgettable volunteering experiences that I would like to share. It is when I was doing a fundraising for a youth international organization called IFL (International Friendship Link), an organization where the American could spend quality and fun time together with the foreign students. Sometimes we called it International FOOD Link because there were always good food on our reunions (this is why I had gained weight).

Well, the voluntary activity was quite different this time. Basically, we were doing fundraising for our organizations, however we would not having a table in a public place and asked for donation. In fact, there were some people who were in need for assistance to tidy up their houses. As the result for the assistance, we would be given contribution or donations for our help. Or sometimes even vice versa. They would like to donate and we just offered our help on their houses as gratitude.

So, we, groups of students were excited of this work. Sounds simple, cleaning the house like what we should have been doing on our own house everyday (unless on the exams weeks, the most standard excuses for students like me at least). Uhm..maybe we just need to sweep the floor, mop it, clean the dust of the furniture, do the dishes or tidy up a room. Ah, very normal tasks. Those were our guesses. We did not know the exact tasks or assistance that the host need until we get there.

I was with a team of American student as the leader and 10 international students who mostly were from China. We were departing together, carpooling from the Illinois campus center. After 15 minutes, we arrived on our target house.

A modest house with a car parked outside the garage, surrounded with a small park and a huge tree, that seemed very normal. Maybe just looked kind of old.

“Knock Knock…”
A fair lady opened the door and was excited to see us a bunch of young people greeting her.
I was near the door and at a glance, we could see and sense that the house was extremely unorganized and stuffed with so many old and unused things. Clothes were here and there. Impossible to walk around the house because the floor was covered. Dusts, spiders webs on the ceilings. Moreover, no fresh air inside. You would not want to breathe as you can smell some odors. Far away from our imaginations.
It was hard to believe that someone could live in such a house and there were so many things that had been left undone, very unhealthy environment. And there we were… a moment where we actually could choose to really help or not to help. There were obviously so many works to be done and for some might be unpleasant to stay in the house as it was not nice to inhale through the nose. However, we continued on our one and only mission, to help her out. No matter what could be the unpleasant reasons why the house was left like that?.

Firstly, our team leader tried to discuss with her about the things that she would like us to help with in her house. Then, few minutes later, our leader came out with a list of places divisions on where we could work on. Bedroom, living room, bathroom, kitchen, front yard, backyard, garage or wash the car. I was assigned on the backyard behind the house, a spot where I had not seen yet.

Okay, so this yard was scattered with fallen orange leaves. It was November at that time, changes from fall to winter season. The leaves were leftover since the fall. I and the others went into the garage and picked our own tools now. This work was harder than I thought before. Moving the leaves in a windy weather…My very first time to sweep up the leaves with a giant fork-like tool and it was not easy.

Long story short, after several hours, I finished my part and went into the house to see the others. Amazingly, overall we could see a big difference compare to the first time when we arrived. Many unused things were thrown away and reorganized, cleaner surfaces, wider spaces in the house, and cleaner yard. For sure, now people could walk through the house or sit down properly on the sofa.

And the time to say goodbye had come... The lady was so happy for our assistance and she appreciated our work. We were offered drinks and we took pictures together with her and then we left. We figured out that actually the lady was sick and were limited to walk around her house to clean up. It was very sad to know that she had to live with nobody else with her condition..kind of heartbreaking to know it..

At the end of the day, we did some sharing among us. We realized that this lady was just one of many people out there that might need our little favor. We had made the day of this lady just by spending few hours of our Sunday free time. It was our lesson, my lesson of the day.

“It is not easy to make everybody happy, but it is possible to make a smile on somebody’s face”.

Wherever we go, we might be offered and asked to do so many things. The things that we like and we don’t. But in the end, it is our choice, our decisions and actions, that would affect how our story would be and how it would affect others.

“Everything happens for a reason and there is always a lesson to learn.”

If we still believe in a change that we can make for somebody, there we go. We do really can make a small change and sometime we even don’t realize it. In volunteering, we can offer many things that we possess. Our time, our energies or maybe our ideas… So, it is not just about money on helping others. Most of the time, even with our one hour presence for somebody who is in need, it is already abundant and helpful.

Fifth Edition

5While closing the 4th edition of Scriptamanent, after the final meeting in Izmir, we are already preparing the new call for the next edition of the project. Stay tuned!

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