Teaching design thinking in Cambodia

Throughout my study experience in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) in the last 4 years, I have led a small number of design-thinking workshops under the Student Innovation for Global Health Technology (SIGHT) program. This program aims to combine design-thinking approaches in generating solutions in addressing global health issues, with a particular concentration in Asia-Pacific region. As of now, projects under SIGHT have been deployed to various locations, mostly in Phnom Penh (Cambodia), Guizhou Province (China), Hong Kong, and several cities in Indonesia (namely Jakarta and Yogyakarta).

However, under a fellowship program offered by SIGHT program, by which I would have to stay in Phnom Penh from June 5 to June 26, we are required to lead a design-thinking workshop, this time for an education NGO in Cambodia. While at that time I was partly nervous (I have never led such a workshop outside Hong Kong before!), I was also partly excited, because it was a brand-new challenge to test whether the design-thinking approaches we have highlighted can also be applied to other parts of the world, with varying degrees of economic and social development.

On June 11, 2017, together with a Hong Kong friend of mine, Jonathan Yang, we conducted a design-thinking workshop in one of the slum areas in Phnom Penh. Literally, in one of the poorest areas in the city. However, throughout the workshop session, we uncovered so many fascinating insights about the way the participants think, devise ideas, and build prototypes based on their own critical thinking skills and the design-thinking framework (in this regard, Stanford’s 5-step design-thinking process) we have provided in the workshop.

We held the workshop in one of the five schools operated by Empowering Youth Cambodia (EYC), by which majority of the students originate from this slum area we referred to. To make it clear, I would label it as a ‘railway slum’, as the trails we walked by used to be railway tracks, with slum dwellers living on both sides of the rail. Two days before, on June 9, Jonathan and I had a preparatory meeting with two of the school staff, Synoeun and Bondol. They showed us the surrounding slum area; Synoeun highlighted that many adults living here have been engaged in small-scale drug trading, prostitution, family violence, or worked as trash collectors. The school, in this regard, offered a ‘shelter’ for children among these families so that they could pursue education, and in this way, increase their chances for upward social mobility and exit the cycle of poverty. The school provides these students English courses, computing classes (mostly focused on Microsoft Excel), as well as yoga classes.

Picture 1. The setup of our design thinking workshop in EYC school in ‘railway slum’

Picture 2. The ‘railway slum’ by which this EYC school is located

Originally, there were supposed to be 30 students from 5 different EYC schools to participate in the workshop. Here, the participants would be randomly assigned into teams, each team having students from different EYC schools. However, only 16 eventually showed up, because the rest had conflicting schedule or had unexpected clashes with other activities. Still, having 16 participants was already a quite good thing for us. Throughout the workshop, Synoeun and Bondol – and in particular Synoeun – provided us with a lot of assistance, especially in how she helped us explaining some of the design-thinking content in Khmer.

We gave the participants the five-step design-thinking processes that had been pioneered by Stanford University’s d.school, that is the empathize-define-ideate-prototype-test pattern. To simplify the matter pertaining to what set of problems we would like to present in this workshop, we simply referred to one very simple question: how students can contribute to improving classroom designs. Rather than making text the dominant content in the slides, we focus instead on visuals, presenting to them various pictures of the classrooms, and other scenarios related to a typical school class, in order to give them a better framework of what kind of ‘ideal classroom’ they had in mind that can be introduced in adjustment to EYC’s setting.

I was initially nervous about the predicted outcome of this workshop, because of several factors that – from my own, personal worldview – could hinder its effective implementation. First, this workshop has only been tested in Hong Kong for now, and my impression shows that design-thinking workshops are more suitable if applied in developed countries. Second, our workshop was situated inside a slum area that is not only poor, but also infamous for illicit drug trading, prostitution, and family violence, and your guess is as good as ours about ‘expectation gaps’ between what we wanted and what they actually needed. Third, Synoeun told us – based on her review of our presentation slides – that the students have never been exposed to the pictures we posted there, and in this regard, their designs of ‘ideal classrooms’ may look not much different from each other, given what she described as ‘relatively rudimentary critical-thinking skills’.

However, we chose to remain optimistic about the workshop because the staff has also positively reviewed our slides, highlighting that our slides focus more on visuals than on texts, which can be much easier for the participants to understand and follow our message. Moreover, if EYC could successfully and smoothly  operate a school in this area despite the surrounding circumstances, why not with our workshop? Lastly, we stick to our beliefs that individuals, deep down their hearts, have aspirations regardless of their current conditions. The only question is what would be the best approaches to truly understand what they really need inside their own hearts. And indeed, our expectation of the workshop worked well; to be quite frank, it even slightly exceeded our initial expectation.

Picture 3. Participants discussed one of the questions we posted on the slides, in relation to improving the classroom setup and design

Picture 4, 5, 6, and 7. Further discussions

Picture 8. Jonathan (left) and myself (right)

Although the participants occasionally get confused by our explanation about those various design-thinking frameworks, they pretty much have understood the design-thinking steps we have highlighted. Indeed, the final outcome was quite unexpected. Synoeun has previously cautioned us that their “ideal classroom designs” may look quite similar to each other. Moreover, given that the participants had been randomly assigned into teams, interaction may be a little more limited due to their unfamiliarity. However, in reality, throughout the discussion questions that we posted on the slides, the communication and exchanges of ideas was very active among the teams, and indeed, their designs appeared to show some degree of variation. One ‘envisioned class’ aspires to have Internet Wi-fi in order to allow the students to browse Google and other websites for more knowledge and information, while another ‘envisioned class’ is to be equipped with laptops, computers, tablets, air-conditioners, discussion tables, bookcases, etc. Although some of the ideas they exhibited tend to be quite abstract (such as: “good English-speaking teachers”, “students must listen in the class”), overall their creativity was very evident in the designs of their ideal classrooms. It looked like our 5-step design-thinking processes that we introduced to the participants could be applied quite successfully.

Picture 9, 10, 11, and 12. The “Ideation” stage of the workshop, by which the participants put in as many ideas as possible on post-it notes

Picture 13. I drew a sample of my “ideal classroom” design on the right side of the whiteboard

Picture 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19. The “Prototyping” stage of the workshop. The teams did a very nice job in designing their ideal classrooms, using all the stationery materials we have purchased back in Hong Kong: post-it notes, rulers, coloring pens, scissors, and glue sticks. Synoeun, meanwhile, provided 5 sheets of A1 papers, as well as lunch packs for all of us – by which we were served Khmer-style BBQ pork rice with pickles and rambutans!

Picture 20, 21, 22, 23, and 24. Designs of ‘ideal classrooms’ by various teams of participants. And I have to tell you, I am absolutely impressed by all their designs of ideal classrooms!

Picture 25. Our workshop ended at 2 pm, as the class we used for this activity would be used for another yoga class. We happened to briefly meet EYC’s Country Manager, Delphine Vann. A half-Cambodian and half-Swiss, she was the daughter of a renown Cambodian architect, Vann Molyvann. The family once migrated to Switzerland in order to avoid the political crisis in 1970s – as highlighted by Cambodian Civil War and Khmer Rouge – before returning back to the country in 1991. In addition to working as a country manager, Ms. Delphine Vann also works as a yoga teacher.

Picture 26. This is me and Jonathan, with Synoeun in the middle. We want to thank you and Bondol for having assisted us in ensuring the smooth execution of the design-thinking workshop. We wish Bondol were there with us in the photograph though!

Welcoming 2016: a brief reflection about this blog in 2015

welcoming 2016

 

I am not writing here to make a reflection of what happened around the world in 2015 – it’s too broad, worldwide, and by the time I finish what I want to write about things occurring in 2015, it’s already the first day of 2016. Anyway, I’ll just create a ‘self-assessment report’ of my own blog throughout this year, precisely on its last day.

I could call 2015 a year of courage; from previously very actively updating my blog with posts (or I could call ‘spamming social media’ with my posts?), this year I muster up my courage to reduce the intensity. It’s not simply a slight drop; from publishing over 300 blog posts in 2014, I only managed to release a little above 20 in 2015. That’s a more than 93% in decline! If you notice a bit carefully, you can even see I didn’t put anything online in November. However, it did not exactly correspond with a massive drop in my blog views. By 2014, there were over 8,400 views the whole period. This time, nearing the end of 2015, the WordPress statistics revealed to me slightly above 7,200 views, or ‘only’ 14% decrease. Well, that’s not too bad.

Afterwards, someone asks me this: am I going to gradually put an end to my blog? It’s too early to speculate. Although countless Youtube videos outside have attracted views in days more than what my blog does in 5 years and a half, I would still do my best to continue managing this blog in 2016. Truth be told, publishing 300 blog posts in 2014 was a deeply exasperating – and also frustrating – experience. Even though I mostly ‘reblogged’ other people’s posts and content, I would still have to ‘wreck my brain’ to comment on their stuff, and post them here. I called it quit, and began to shift from only quantity-based posting to quality one. Wasn’t that enough recipe for your consternation when one blog post you really wished to attract a lot of views, gained attention only countable by the number of fingers in the end?

I began pushing for ‘quality posts’ by early January, as well as ending my years-long hiatus of writing thousand-word articles by my own. The last time I did so was in mid-2013, and even then I did it on Facebook Notes feature (it used to be popular in 2010; for 2015 kids, it’s okay you have no goddamn idea about that). Writer’s block was common in the middle of the process, and indeed, I had to tell you, there were 3-4 long-read posts on very serious topics I planned to publish, but didn’t manage to do so in the end as writer’s block – and lack of time for in-depth material research – ended my attempts. Still, despite repeatedly wrecking my own brain, I did manage to release over 20 (one was written by my close friend), and the views per blog were significantly larger than previous one. Total blog views might drop slightly, but I was glad the ‘transition’ fairly succeeded.

By 2016 (or tomorrow), I may try my best to keep the similar target of 20-30 posts, but I can hardly guarantee if I’m going to do so. Given that more new projects (other than this blog) are coming in, I may have to carefully manage my time in updating this blog. I suppose it would be acceptable, gradually, that I don’t publish stuff on a monthly basis. You may expect to see ‘holes’ in some months next year, and I really expect you understand my reasoning. Again, referring to my previous argument, I would now only opt for ‘quality-based’ posting, so that means I may take extra time to review my future posts more deliberately than ‘generic previews’ I did back in 2014.

Originally planning to only put a cap of 300 words on this post, it now exceeds 600. I need to stop adding more crap right now. I wish everyone out there a better 2016, and in the ideas of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a more anti-fragile version of all of us.

I won’t stop my blog, my promise.

Much ado about love

being single

 

It’s the first time in this blog I want to discuss about romantic relationships. A temporary break from serious discussions firsthand.

Awkward posting? Potentially yes. I’ve never truly fallen in love with someone else.

Wait, what? Fallen in love? Love at the first sight? Is that even a correct definition?

Truth be told, back as a child, I used to believe – thanks to all these lovey-dovey dramas – that there was always this possibility of ‘love at first sight’. An attractive, shy-pretense (or just snobbishly cool) guy got into some minor war of mouth with a fair-skinned, big-eyed, and long-haired girl (okay, this makes me somewhat like Nabokov), before in what we can call as economists’ ‘theory of luck’, unexpectedly meet in an unexpected event at an unexpected place, and the first signs of affection became slowly inevitable among the two, and they fall in love ever since. Ceteris paribus.

Probably the boy (or the girl) has to move somewhere else to work, or to pursue further studies. Or that something’s wrong with economic conditions that the boy can hardly get the girl to go for a date. Or that the girl or the boy can barely stand up with the other’s family members due to conflicting life principles, habits, and social values. Or even something catastrophic happens, say, in many dramas, either one of them contacts a deadly disease, a war happens, or simply, a sudden, unexplained, Murakami-esque breakup. Well, too many maybes.

After all, love, just like acing As in exams, is itself a hard work and an uneasy commitment. In my point of view, if you love someone, that means you really do love that person. A person is completely different from an item; an item can depreciate in terms of values, but not with the loving partner! It takes commitment, perseverance, faith, and sometimes, sighing all the while, some conflicts. As human beings, we all are entitled to different values and ideas, and stemming from these differences, oftentimes we can barely avoid conflicts. Nonetheless, for all the unpopularity, it is from those conflicts that we can obtain better understanding of each other, and we have to admit that no couples are perfect.

Too often we are drawn into Facebook posts, or Instagram pictures, of lovely couples posing with numerous cute-looking postures, or sometimes with these quotes, say: “My baby is so handsome, don’t you see? (wink-wink)”, or “You are always in my heart forever ❤ <3”, or just anything in the social media that you can figure out. From the perspective of a single person like me, yes, to be honest, that makes some of us jealous, or even envious of how they can have such ‘loving’ relationships.

In such a world of randomness, some of these people indeed have enduring relationships. Others, not so much, or they simply call it quits at some time. Believe me, we have seen so many of such pictures and make-believe love statements of one and the other, and almost similarly many do we ever hear stories of their breakups, their private fights, or that either one of them cheats the other. A-ha! Lesson learned: a relationship belongs to only two persons, not to 500 Instagram followers or 1,000 Facebook friends. But, again, even switching our relationship mode to private doesn’t guarantee a relationship will last longer: we do still hear stories of how people simply end their relationships.

What are the secrets to everlasting love, then? As someone who has yet to have a relationship partner, I don’t have much to offer. But I can learn some things from my parents: they dated for 7 years, only once, and got married afterwards. What do I learn from their relationship? Well, honestly speaking, way a lot. Patience, compromise (even though it’s uneasy), agree-to-disagree motion, understanding of each other, open acceptance, long-term outlook on anything, and most difficult one, willingness to sacrifice. That’s what my parents (and myself) have always advised me. If you indeed love someone, it is, indeed, inevitable that some sacrifices have to be made, say, investing extra time for your partner, or some portions of your money to ensure that both of you remain happy.

And, again and again, I’m sort of unready to implement my own advice pieces. Indeed, it will take me quite some time to learn loving someone as time goes by.

This is my ’embarrassing’ confession: I told my parents that I already fell in love with someone, and I did that repeatedly. As kids mostly had no ideas about ‘serious love’, I simply called ‘being attracted to someone’ as ‘being in love at first sight’. I couldn’t remember how many girls I had “fallen in love” with, but probably the figure was 3, 4, or, well, just forget about it.

I had my first crush, nonetheless, in my high school. Indeed, it happened two times. Each of them lasted not beyond one semester, as, you know, the lesson that ‘I have yet to learn so much from it’. I tried to declare my love on one of them, and I was rejected.

In university life, things were completely different. As we are no longer pure teenagers (heading towards adulthood, yes), definitions about love – and romance – also need to change, subsequently. Not outdone with my prior failures, I again tried my luck (well, that’s ironic) on three other friends of mine, but again, each of these efforts lasted not more than one semester. One of these efforts even almost jeopardized our friendship.

I learned my lessons in the long run: I hardly matured up myself while attracted to someone, and I spied on them. It took some time off to reflect on my mistakes, and, well, these were my hard-earned lessons in at least trying to show that if I like someone, I also have to respect her. Now that I have my sixth crush, which to be honestly speaking has lasted over a year, I am still learning from past mistakes (I won’t describe in details about the sixth person I have been pursuing in the last year). I am still hardly ready to be engaged in a relationship, because I know one main requirement I want to emphasize on myself: once you love someone, you should really show that you love her, no matter what. For me, this will really take some more time.

Well, much ado about love.

We can neither love nor hate motivators

 

Bookstores are never devoid of self-help books. Piled up in racks, with these self-titled ‘inspirational speakers’ portraying the so-called three-finger smile, with jargons typed in eye-catching font size, with edgy messages, and their invigorating might to make laconic people look sprightly, all-do-well again, these books have never ceased to enrapture our eyes, and enigmatically magnetize our attention to these contents. Flipping the books pages through pages, you feel as though you had found the ‘genuine’ medication for your ailing soul, as though it were an elixir even more sacrosanct than the mercury meccas of the kings and potentates in the past had ever drinken were of null-and-void advantages. Life starts to be so beautiful. The usual wallowing of toddlers is conceived ‘just another variety of soundscape’. The daily dishes either your mom or your wife cooks sounds to taste like as though they had been possessed by Alain Ducasse, or Ferran Adria. One then has a greatly, pushy urge to encourage his or her fellows, the ones having the same mindset as he or she used to be, to ‘make them envision their greatest dreams, take whatever risks, to achieve goals no matter how preposterous they sound to others (being richer than Rockefeller in 10 years, perhaps?), and to leave your own ordinary, Euclidean-box life what these motivators call ‘tedious’.

Up to this point, the eulogy we pay to motivational speakers (attending a Jack Canfield training program, for instance, costs one, suppose a premium, nearly 30,000 US$, similar to paying for TED Conference for 5 years) has somewhat turned into a deep devotion. We feel it keen that they are some kind of messengers, like they have the providence the so-called ‘Divine Creator’ has assigned them in this planet, and like all their advice should be thoroughly followed and savored utterly contemplatively.

 

 

I need to be honest about such happening. Having read such books, our existence becomes so highly enlightened, we cherish the fact that everybody of all those 7 billion spectres in this planet, whether it is United States or Indonesia or even Malawi, can be one, to an extent, as splendid as Bill Gates, or as investment-savvy as Warren Buffett, or even as relentless as Mother Theresa. Everybody strives to become the best individual he or she has sought to be.

A conclusion is drawn: like economic textbooks, these motivational books also present ceteris paribus cases. Assume there is no luck, no divine intervention, no geographical, political, economic, social boundaries, nor even social stratification and segregation, and only failures as the main variable needed to be tackled, success is a stone’s throw away from our toe-nails.

Success turns out to be even more complicating than it seems.

Imagine these questions: how many million people in Nigeria do have the same talents as Bill Gates does, while regimes, despite multitudes of coup d’etats and uneasy elections, largely overlook the country’s decrepit infrastructure? How many thousands of Albanians have the same IQ (and logical conscience) as Warren Buffett possesses when an MLM fiasco in 1997 almost sparked a civil war? What ‘loopholes’ can only some of the world’s richest persons access while those readers think they themselves can even surpass these individuals? What, in addition to one visioner’s grandiose dreams, that propels him or her into an ‘outlier’? Do even motivational speakers themselves probe deeper to such inquiries?

 

 

Briefly to say, they are no more than your next-door neighbors, having the same humanly sensitive traits like I and you possess. They may be at times depressed. Or get knocked down by something they can no bearably imagine in the sweet-talk seminars they usually host. Or become rambunctiously ill-defined to mark a meaning of life. You think they may always begin their day quotidian, readily charged with full-power, turbo-charged ‘positive thinking’, and chant ‘my dearest, god-blessed wife, I am gratuitously thankful for having such a cute sweetheart’, while at times you feel a bit humiliated, thinking she’s way towards obesity?

Still, despite our uneasiness with motivators, it’s wisest that we do not ridicule them for the job they are doing. Motivating people, say the least, is the ‘right’ thing they ought to do, instead of promising them blessed heavens after committing suicide. What they are doing is no different from what an MLM agent does, or what a company advertises. They market the ideas of success like the agent (a very alternative naming for their obnoxious job) promotes the wellness of the products they purchase without further consideration regarding the contents. Or like how a company, capitalist alike, markets the definition of ‘dream lives’. Luxurious cars, two-storey minimalist-design mansion, once-in-a-year globe-trotting takeaway to exotic beach resorts, million-dollar businesses, and grandiose paychecks made to charity trusts per annum. Life must be luxurious and do-gooder, mustn’t it? I have such dreams, you have such dreams, too, and I even dare to bet that in minimum half the worldlings must have dreamt such enormous expectations. That’s very ‘normal’ once we get seduced by the motivators’ wordings.

But wait. Is the definition of success constricted to sports cars, mansions, holiday trips in resorts, and big donation? That’s all?

Turns out motivators have paradoxically attempted to ‘square’ the audiences’ minds regarding the notion of success, while they repeatedly ‘force’ us to get all the hell out of our self-made boxes.

 

 

Warren Buffett remains modest with a 50s-type two-storey home (though he owns multiple construction and real-estate businesses, and he could make a great, hellish chunk of capitalist fantasyland based on his own imagination), boards an economic-class airplane (though he controls the world’s largest private jet maker), drinks Coke and eats sweets (though he can afford caviar three times a day), and builds a hundred-million-dollar skyscraper rivalling Donald Trump’s.

Even with 60 billion US$ in hand (most people dream of being like him when they are, instead, becoming his Doppelganger), he could afford many more impossibilities else, once in a century’s lifetime. He could have bought nation-states, built a starship, and set up a skyline-tinted metropolis the life size of Doha or Dubai, but he realizes squandering way too much money only generates more waste. He doesn’t seem so much affected by the ten-digits he has accumulated, up to his octogenarian period. He’s even never aimed to have had so abundant amount of money like now he’s attained during his childhood. “I was plain fortunate that I was born in America. Had I been born somewhere else, I could have not been the man I am today.” He said in an interview. It’s reminiscent of Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘outliers’ theory’.

There is nothing wrong with dreaming up the impossible, but it is often – either motivators or the audiences listening to their preaches – that irrational expectations come out. I vividly recalled the moment I read ‘The Secret’, in which one of the chapters suggested that the readers make ‘highly classified personal dream notes’, keep them somewhere in any boxes except Pandora’s, then repeat and reiterate their dreams, making a subconscious recital over and over, and our dreams would ‘definitely’ come true. The book even emphasized in this form (I had bequeathed it to our home’s ex-servant, however, so I could not quote it here, but say the least I still remembered, quite much, about the wordings): you do not have to think too much about your dreams. Your mind is all-connected with the universe, that is bound for life, that amplifies the subconscious waves of all your deepest, childish dreams. You do not have to attempt too much; all you need to do is ‘believe’.

So just close your eyes, lo and behold, believe that 2 trillion dollars could appear in your banknotes in 15 seconds, and all of a sudden, Japan has lost 40% of its GDP.

 

 

I read The Secret when I was a first-grader in Junior High School. The time when I did not recognize the word ‘lacklustre’ in dictionary, when every additional book that I brought to school was always related to motivation and inspiration, when I thought that disseminating ‘positive thinking’ could make this world a better place, when I absolutely remained confident I could be in the school’s top 10 parallel ranks and got a full-year scholarship, and when I kept on taking chances to speak in front of the class to provide them ‘role models’ they could use to make our lives more successful.

I only came to realization that I still saved my ‘personal dream notes’ I had long concealed somewhere else that was instead placed in one of my flash disk’s folders, which I had never read for the last 6 years.

At first, I thought such dreams were ‘exhilarating’. Now, 6 years later, they sounded ‘way too humiliating’.

 

SEVEN AMBITIONS

1.At age 40, my net worth is 1,000,000,000,000 £

   At age 55, my net worth is 100,000,000,000,000 £

   At age 75, my net worth is 10,000,000,000,000,000 £

   At age105,my net worth is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 £

2.I wish to marry a beautiful blonde-haired girl, 7 years younger than me, when I reach my age 30.

3. I wish to learn more about computer system and creating the biggest “search-engine robot” in the world,  so it will produce “instant-money” for me.

4. I wish to have 7 handsome, pretty, smart, helpful, and ambitious children.

5. I wish to live in Monaco, forever.

6. I wish to create the greatest business empire, from my own computer.

7. I wish to change my name, to William K.Chang.

Nothing is impossible.

I will be legend in everything.

Priceless.

Rockefeller’s Oil Business Producing 1,000,000,000,000 US$ for him and his family. As rich as Rockefeller, must be possible to change the world.

 

Having read this testimony (with hell so many grammatical typos), I bet my bottom dollars that I am ready to vomit up if I have to. Unless I live in a parallel world.

 

 

I was highly misunderstood to think that John D. Rockefeller had persevered all by his own to reach the undefeated status even the richest men today could hardly outperform him. I even thought he had 1 trillion dollars in his personal cash, when historians and economists instead came to a consensus that his 1-billion-dollar opulence he obtained in 1911 is now, adjusted to inflation, valued at approximately 375 billion US$ in 2011. In my point of view, this remains dubious, especially after I realize that bulk of the businesspeople around the world, and throughout modern history, had never remained ‘honest’ about their actual size of wealth. I am still used to believing that his wealth may have actually surpassed 12-digit marks (that’s my own instinct), but I absolutely believe that my personal claim is too lackadaisical of concrete evidence. That’s for sure.

However, what does ‘a paramount of wealth and Midas-esque overabundance of gold’ translate when he used unscrupulous strategies to acquire oil companies operating in United States, mostly by coercive forces? What does such digits mean when many of the people employed in his business empire, Standard Oil Group, now dissolved into ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhilips, were living a destitute life?

Life changes every often, and so do I. As time goes by, I became increasingly fed up with all these Baedeker. If the universe were finely tuned for life, would the NASA astronomers keep patrolling everyday to watch out for asteroids? Would there by countries, nations, military forces? Would there even be mass media? The world envisioned in The Secret were way beyond utopian, briefly speaking.

 

 

In the final year of Junior High School, I ceased hinging on motivational books. That was when I barely made my name among the parallel-rank list. I realized my dreams were too innavigable, and life burdens all of a sudden seemed like peaking up exponentially. Freeing myself off these stuff, at first that was uneasy, because people addicted to ‘motivitamins’ were as likely to reiterate ‘have you achieved your great dreams today? If not, shame on you!’ mantra on people everyday as drug addicts might possibly dream the dreams of their own imaginings. I became easily skeptical, and at times, cynical about the whole world. That was also the juncture where I abandoned my dream of obtaining 2 trillion dollars (rather than crucify Japan’s GDP), of writing larger-than-universe fantasy book I aimed could surmount Harry Potter’s 1-billion-mark record (I still keep one in my flash disk, though, as a memento), and of surpassing Rockefeller’s record. Opulence, wealth, and towering affluence seemed no longer efficacious for me. At that moment, I had a reversed mindset about motivators, switching it so rapidly that as though it were just so langsyne. Their words were applesauces, their books fiddlesticks, and their appearance superbly artificial. Their messages did seem contradicting with the chaotic reality of this world, the inapprehensible nature of the universe, and the fragile traits of human nature. Are we programmed only to smile and say ‘I’m so happy today’? Can’t we learn to cry, to express sorrow, to feel wrath, to get our hearts beat, and to live the way we are humanly are? What is the meaning of life? Everyone figures out one by his or her own. From that question, my mindset gradually changed.

After the disappointment, there came a moment of self-reconciliation, exactly on the first year of Senior High School. After further thought experiments, I concluded that it was my fault that I firstly believed, and disgusted, those motivators too deeply. Motivators are not cherubs sent from heaven; they are only doing the job they are supposed to do, nothing else. They know sweet-tongued words translate as higher pay, and higher sales in seminars and book quantity. Who can resist that offer? And who makes the fault when one takes their words overtly funereal? Ah, I just made a huge mistake I thought I had been correct.

Now I do not have to be so namby-pamby about them. It’s nicest to remain neutral regarding all the self-dubbed spirit-inducing wordings they utter. You still listen to the talks, but you know which ones are relevant and which ones are castles in Spain. Motivators are still ordinary human beings. Even spreading out positive thoughts does not make a better world today; skepticism is always the beginning of knowledge. What you see, on a subatomic level, as particles, others may perceive as waves. Changes are imminent, mostly beyond our predilection. And for that thought, we need to watch our minds very closely.

 

 

 

Vote!!

To be honest, the decision that I joined Canon Young Photographers Award competition was partly accidental. As I saw that a friend of mine had uploaded her picture, I was – okay, using a motivator’s vernacular should be no problem – highly motivated to submit some pictures I took as well. Well, I didn’t use paraphernalia like DSLR or EOS; I was only equipped with a ten-year-old Canon camera that my mom had just recently given to me. I don’t want to be trapped in the vicious cycle of ‘wishful thinking’, but regarding winning competition and getting an all-expenses-paid trip to US to attend National Geographic’s photography workshop – one of my lifelong dreams is to, at least, be able to join a Nat Geo project – who would dare enough to refuse these efficacious offers?

 

Therefore, do please vote for my pictures by clicking these links I provide below (I submit 2 pictures, in fact):

http://celebrationofcolour.com/gallery/#/keyword/a%20meditation

http://celebrationofcolour.com/gallery/#/keyword/to%20the%20sea%20and%20beyond

 

I will really, really thank you very much if you either vote or like my pictures. I wish you countless blessings!

 

As an indirect reciprocation, to thank my friend, Adriana Salim, for indirectly, and unconsciously, ‘alerting’ me to join this competition, I’ll also enclose another link for you to vote for her picture as well:

http://celebrationofcolour.com/gallery/#/keyword/solitude

 

Thank you!

 

SEALNet – an epilogue.

 

Having looked at the title, please don’t infer that SEALNet Medan Chapter is going to end. I mean, in brief, not too fast. Perhaps not in the upcoming years, not even until this decade submerges. But knowing the fact that I should let go the title and the organization, and leave this job to my successors, I am primarily concerned on the long-term existence of it. I have no precognition on where direction exactly they are going to bring it to, nor do I possess prophetic skills to see what they are exactly going to do – whether in accordance to all the visions I have set forth in my outline or not – after leaving this CCA, and more exactly, this school.

I have never been updating any information about the progress in the last 6 months. And now I see today it’s my obligation to inform those in the headquarters, after myriad times of procrastination, while at the same time, to announce my resignation from SEALNet Medan Chapter. In general, workshop condition was slightly better off compared to that in the first year. The materials were a bit more structured, but we had not brought significant satisfaction for all the mentees, as there remained some complaints regarding the ‘boredom’ our tutelage induced. We also did not fully manage to implement all the outreach plans we had designated before the chapter’s new formation: out of 8, we only succeeded to make 3 out of them. This was largely due to the ‘overspending’ we had had in ensuring their success. Nevertheless, instead of merely paying visits to orphanages, we had diversified the scope, including visit to an NGO-operated school on the railside (which I myself did not participate in due to being abroad) and ‘study tour’ in a cow livestock and a strawberry farm in Berastagi.

 

 

The school’s name is, for your information, PAUD Dian Bersinar Foundation. It even has a blog.

 

 

Our trip in Berastagi.

 

Some of my friends inquired me, “What did you feel after being positioned for almost 2 years?” Well, there were the best of times, there were the worst of times, and, you know, it’s kind of hodgy-podgy. I had personally gone through the zenith, through the abyss, pulchritudinously, like a continuous array of longitudinal waves. Doing something that is not of your particular interest, particularly in leading it, is never as simple as I had imagined before. At least, that’s what the ‘leadership’ itself tries to define. Reminiscing through all the experiences I had felt until these penultimate moments, I had garnered a few conclusions on being a leader. First, a leader is no different from a servant; both have the needs to serve, one for the masters and the other for the public as their ‘bosses’. Second, no leaders ever believe that what is meant ‘take it easy’ dictum is entirely ‘take it easy’; some of them merely conceal such worrisome attitude, only to convince the outsiders that ‘everything is going fine’, while the others had a penchant for emotional outburst by expressing their frustrations. Third, you realize who, upon your subordinates, that are seriously committed to realizing your goals, and those who have a ‘parasitic’ tendency to stay indolent. Every institution, as I believe, has ‘germs’ by its own that leaders can’t ever purely eliminate, for whatever reasons, like, you see, having been acquainted with them for so long that the bond can’t be let loose by dismissing them. I had, personally, witnessed such phenomenon. I feel no necessity to leak it to you who these persons are, that I still have to respect their decency of privacy. But I know who upon them are willing to work, and who simply stick their names unto it.

Only in these last months I had kind of burdensome feelings in managing SEALNet, honestly. Obviously because of the amounting tasks I gotta prepare in the last year I’m in school. You know, being faced with TOEFL IBT tuition, SAT preparation, AO Maths tuition, excluding the overwhelming school exams that confiscated my time in evaluating all the progress we had made in this second year. And there was pretty much dwindling interest, as shown by the number of mentees admitted this year; no more than 70 students applied for us, and only 1 first-grader (compared to the burgeoning 70 in its first year) registered. A little more than half of them were already third-graders, clear signs that our ‘organization’ is experiencing over-rapid ‘aging’ (mini-Japan?). Taking its positive remarks, we had better capability in managing these mentees. Nevertheless, on its negative side, it just made me fully concerned on its future fate, in years to come long after I have graduated. I comprehend the adage of ‘everything that has its beginning has its own end’, but realizing its promising prospects, it was just, you know, a ‘waste’ if they simply ended it up within 2 or 3 years. The organization has yet accomplished many feats, and tackling all the problems it encounters would be a huge responsibility for future mentors to solve. If they were willing to endure a bit longer, that would be a pride of their own of having resolved the first years’ challenges and let it grow exponentially. If they gave it up, I had no more words to say. Knowing that it will be no longer my own to make it progress, I have to let it go, leaving it up to my juniors to complete the unfinished businesses. I could only, so far, outline long-term goals and visions for SEALNet Medan Chapter in years to come, but it has been up to them whether to follow my ‘instruction’ or make one by their own.

 

One of our workshop sessions included a ‘simulated mayoral election campaign’ between 2 competing pairs.

 

All of us do have still so much yet to learn. And I myself have particularly realized that there is still so much yet to gain having led it. To admit it, I have not succeeded in bringing concrete unity to the organization. We lack of promotion, for sure, that many even doubt whether SEALNet is actually ‘a  leadership-nurturing CCA or just another Facebook Starcraft-sounding online game’. Many others, meanwhile, still prefer extracurricular programs (and I don’t have to mention which they are) that will score them straight As only by ‘writing down’ their names on their membership list. It’s not uncommon in our school, to be honest, but I also do not see it as rightful and wise to describe them here. But, just, in brief, I think that’s plain unfair. I believe that I always have to make sure that all the members are evaluated and scored based on how much, and how often, they have done in accordance to whatever tasks we have assigned them and ourselves.

Well, I am, given my nearly 2-year bond in SEALNet, concerned about its fate in the near future. Its ups and downs are inextricably connected with our win-and-lose experiences as well. It still has tremendous space to grow and expand, major potential yet to be explored, more problems yet to be solved, a plethora of potential mentees yet to diminish, and, most importantly, a fact that I love to hate, a school to sustain. (of course it closes down if the school collapses!)

In the long run, I want to thank a lot of mentors (whose names I tag here) who have assisted me a lot in making this organization progress every time. I want to thank Elvira, my co-partner in leading SEALNet. You have, given your animating attitude, so many creative ideas that you embody in the outreach.  Then there is Vinnie, our lil’ petty Secretary. You are active, and you are fierce. But only through your ‘ferociousness’ (does it seem exaggerating?), you can emulate pretty much useful suggestion to improve our workshop materials. Then there is Grisella. You are smart, and you are such a great idea shower for us! I felt so guilty that I had, instead of assigning you in Project Division, placed you in Publicity. Then Lily. You are strict, well-disciplined, and despite your mere two-week post as Head of Project Division, you made me really learn how to manage a project really well, as seen by your capability in directing any outlines you have set to your subordinates. Then there’s Cindy, our treasurer, who has arranged well our cash reserves in the last 5 months. Then this ‘couple’, Iin and Riyan. Both of you have contributed pretty much in this recent year for the betterment of our workshop and outreach sessions. And there are Anthony and Budi, who have helped us in negotiating economical bus fares each time for our outreach sessions. Then there’s Ricky, who has also helped very much in our outreach. Then Ferry, who has helped quite much during our workshop session. And to the rest, all of you, exactly, (I can no longer mention their names one by one specifically here), thanks a lot!

Last but not least, I also would like to thank our coach, Mr.Supian, who, despite his occupied schedule as a teacher, a lecturer in many colleges other than our school, and a church speaker, has been an ardent supporter, and an idea-shower as well, for the betterment of our organization.

And particularly to all my seniors now scattered in universities, home and abroad, like Edric, Riandy, Winnie, Desilia, Adeline, Ricky, Juned, JA, and a list too long to go on, thank you for giving me this opportunity. I hope we’ll meet someday!

 

 

 

Well, it’s old days recalled.

After a full-month hiatus, here’s my latest post….

Well, I’ve got little enough words to say, but this was the very first time in my lifetime my face (altogether with my shorty body) was exposed to TV station, and well, it’s a general-knowledge competition about ASEAN and its member-states!

Note: I bet you won’t be able to see me (hint: I’m the one in the yellow, ornamental Riau Malay clothes)

 

20120808_TVK_The_5th_ASEAN_Quiz_Competition.php

 

Click on the link above. Oh, one more thing worth telling you : it’s almost 40 minutes long. Expect no tedium to serve your eyelids.

Another outreach. Completely done.

 

Call it a sequel of my previous note about our third outreach. We still headed to the same subject (orphanage), of the similar background (set up to accommodate many children from Nias who fell prey to 2004 Aceh tsunami), and of the same religious denomination (Christian), but exactly of a distinct location (though quite near), different owners, and undoubtedly for sure, different name. This time, we paid a visit to Yayasan Terima Kasih Abadi.

The outreach held on 29th April was perhaps the most rumbustious one compared with the others. In average, in every session that we conducted, the maximum number of participants ever involved was no more than 30. But this time, it was at the point of 50. Unfortunately, our coach, Pak Supian ‘the motivator’, was not able to make it given that he had been invited to give a fundraising speech in the church he is used to doing his hebdomadal visit. Thus, as a resolution, all the tasks he was supposed to complete were substituted by Evando, a newly-appointed head of Project Division.

 

 

This time, quite many participants in this outreach were non-SEALNet members. Some of them had recently been faced with National Exam, some others are my classmates, while the rest are currently studying in University of North Sumatera (thanks to JA’s – nickname of Jesselyn Angellee – efforts in persuading her friends to join with us). In addition, it also appertained mentees from Tuesday class (fewer mentees from Tuesday class join our outreach as frequent as those of Saturday’s).

The orphanage itself we visited gathers approximately 115 children and teenagers, from various places in Nias, and some rural areas throughout North Sumatera. Talking about gender, the people out there are dominantly boys and young men (83 versus 32). From the age perspective, almost half of the populace are currently Primary-class students, while the rest are in Secondary levels. Around 4 of them are at the moment collegers.

Anyway, let me describe further about what we had experienced almost the whole day, before, during, and after the outreach.

 

 

It started with a minor problem: school gates, through which we were supposed to gather, were intentionally locked. Eyeing through the keyhole, we found out at least 4 security guards were sitting, perched on their chairs, listening to the radio, reading the newspaper, and playing chess game. I knocked the door, and the guard refused to open. My dad, at the same time carrying carton boxes of Yeo’s Chrysanthemum tea, called upon the guards. 5 minutes had passed, and still the gates remained stiff. Two drivers whose buses we rented for the sojourner also helped us in continuously knocking on the gates. Probably having succumbed to the loud rataplan, they did happen to unlock the gates. There was some minor debate, though, but having explained to the guards that our teacher-in-charge, Pak Supian, was not coming, and again having shown them his phone number, they allowed all of us to get in, but only in the school’s front areas, while only me and the duo drivers who were permitted to come to one of our mentors’ class, to carry some behemoth cardboards, all stuffed with hundreds of school textbooks, and second-hand clothes (matter-of-factly speaking, one of the donators bequeathed mini-skirts). The Gummizeit soon followed. Originally scheduled to have hit the road at 12 pm, we instead managed to make it half an hour later.

The trip was fairly smooth, but as we approached nearer to the orphanage, I was distracted by the exact route into the location when asked by one of the drivers. How poor my memory storage was. Having surveyed the place 3 months prior, I was almost completely oblivious regarding the position. After 15 minutes of itinerating throughout the surrounding roads, we managed to reach there (and I remembered vividly that coping with a very narrow gangway was a struggle reaching it, but I had forgotten exactly where the gangway was precisely). Time showed 1.10 pm when we boarded off the buses, 10 minutes behindhand the scheduled time.

 

 

We came into the orphanage. Almost all the people there were present, including boys and girls, kids and teenagers. And a fierce-looking lady with a rattan wood on her right hand, organizing the rows and columns of populace being seated on the marmer floor. We were offered seats on the chairs, facing the kids directly. I asked myself: wow, must it be that formal? We are not government officers, nor are we over-the-top businesspeople. Having sat only for a while trying to figure out what we would do during the outreach, we decided to divide them into three groups: one aimed for primary-class students, another for junior-high-school students, and the rest for senior-high-school ones, and university students. We played one different game for every group. The most junior team were seated in a circle, over the chairs, together with mentees, volunteers and mentors, and they played fruit salad (more friendly version of Jumanji game (to know further, please read ‘the days I had in SEALNet’). At around 2.15 pm, we stopped the games, and distributed drinks for the buddies out there. Originally, we intended to hand out snacks as well, but given that students from SMA Sutomo 2, all third-graders, were also present at the same time and had previously dispensed each of them with a colorful pack of snacks, all of a sudden we decided to allot them only after we had accomplished everything in the outreach.

 

 

Having stopped the games and rested for a while, we went on with doing activities, at a more serious pace. Firstly segregating all the persons into two groups, one supposedly for primary-level students and the other for high-school- and university-equivalent, each group was afterwards given a different activity to do: all the juniors would be asked to draw their future in the papers we had distributed, while the seniors had to answer the questionnaire given in so-called ‘interest quiz’, sort of.

What the high-school students and collagers aspire to be in the future sound fairly good, as told by one of the mentors supervising the test, Lily. All of them, in general, do seem to embrace quite high expectations, such as of being a successful entrepreneur, well-known fashion designer, critically-acclaimed novelist, reknown poet, professional, over-the-top accountant, et cetera. Quite many of them opt the former, on being able to employ rather than to be employed. Talking about reality, nevertheless, seemed to be overtly burdening for them to overcome. This is the fact, though this might be pain-staking: in spite of the superb facilities they offer, ranging from projectors to musical instruments to the well-built multi-function hall, they even had not enough numismatics to pay for these students’ registration fees for selection tests to state-owned universities (Seleksi Nasional Masuk Perguruan Tinggi Negeri, abbreviated as SNMPTN). Out there, it was almost raining cats and dogs, before the sky again turned out plain white. The rain was like a brief, metaphorical reminder of the difficulties facing the populace in this building.

 

All of the teenagers were trying to figure the interest-quiz well.

The next activity was some kind of IQ test, hosted by Nico. As shown in projector, he presented all the questionnaire, one by one. It took more than 30 minutes, before Evando proceeded the schedule by hosting a motivational speech. Throughout the motivation session, we filled the time interval by playing out 5 videos, one about a Mongolian orphan singing in full commemoration of his deceased parents in China’s Got Talent, another about a blind beggar, the next about handicapped athletes, and the other two about Nick Vujicic, the miracle-man, who without hands and feet, could still be able to set the world on earthquake, through his magical, invisible, and sizeless limbs.

 

Evando

 

Nico

 

We ended the overall outreach by singing a Christian-themed song (only to entertain the buddies). As the sky ended up darker than before, we rushed by quickly handing out all our donation to the staff in charge of the orphanage. As the wind blew more boisterously, all of us swiftly made rows, and we had our last moments captured in front of the cameras.

Honestly, we do not expect the next outreach to be visiting another orphanage. As Mauren, one of the mentors, had told me: we had had it enough 3 times of visit to different orphanages, but the feeling remains the same.

What if we make a forest trip our next outreach?

Briefly explained. Our third outreach.

Panti Asuhan Kasih Indonesia

 

One of my friends (also a mentor and secretary in SEALNet Medan Chapter @ SMA Sutomo 1 Medan), Adriana Salim, posted a video in Youtube about our outreach to Panti Asuhan Kasih Indonesia we visited on 15th April, Sunday. As you could see in the video, there was laughter, there was fun, there was motivation, there was singing, there was a brief noetic strike, and there was everything. Some of the parts included me teaching English (that would be present tense), and some others included self-contemplation speech, prepared extemporaneously, by our dearest CCA’s coach, one of our school’s most beloved and stand-up-comedian-alike teachers, Supian Sembiring. You could see the children laughing, gamboling frantically, complete with their innocent, angelic expressions.

But, personally, as I had to confess, all the exhilaration that you saw was merely, with no intention to show that I am a pessimist, tip of an iceberg. In addition, I even wanted to say that what our seniors had done (kudos to Edric Subur, Winnie Illona, and the rest of our mentors) was myriad times much better than what we had made. Perhaps this might sound humiliating, but all I could conclude from this third outreach was a bit ‘epic-fail’ episode.

 

 

Straightforwardly, perhaps I had to explain why I could dub it so. This began from our consensus, of all of us, that we would teach them basic English skills, given that their English scores are deteriorating as time passes (that’s what we heard from the founder of the orphanage, whom we refer to as bapak panti). Afterwards, having been procrastinated more than 2 times from February to April due to rescheduling of school exam, the children having vacation in Berastagi to celebrate the birthday of their largest contributor, and fear of fuel-price hike protests, we managed to conduct it, complete with all the materials to be taught, including past, present, and future tenses. I myself had even prepared grammar exercises for the teenagers, while another mentor of SEALNet, Elvira, also had had a large poster containing pictures of fruits with both English and Indonesian names.

 

Adriana (left) and Elvira (right)

 

In full contradiction, our assumption was totally wrong. It is true that the bapak panti, known as Mr.Zebua, owns 2 orphanages, one of which was our destination on that outreach. Around 47 individuals, mostly primary-class students, are registered in the database of the orphanage we visited. When we reached there, it turned out to be almost exactly 102. Everything we had set and had planned very well was originally intended only to fit 47 persons, but this became our Achilles’ heel when we found out the name tags were already empty (we wrote down all the 102 children’s names in the name tags, with aim to keep the rest – those who stay in the other orphanage – assume we visited theirs).

At the same time, I only printed grammar exercise suited for 20 teenagers, while in fact, it turned out that more than 30 others were also present on the time we visited it.

I taught present tense in front of all the individuals. Deep inside my heart, I conjectured that instead of educating human beings, I was more like bragging in front of statues. Most of the individuals had no comprehension what I was talking about (and so did the mentors and the mentees). Some said that I was more of a ‘don’t-ask-don’t-tell’ type of mentor, leaving them in much confusion – and certainly – tedium. Only few were willing to listen, mostly the girls. The primary-class students stared at me with blank expression. Mr.Supian later told me that these kids had even never been taught pronounciation of English words in their school. Some teenagers had, in fact, been taught such tenses many times in their school. What I could conclude from this statement: okay, I’m a dinosaur.

 

Pak Supian is a superb educator.

 

Our outreach succeeded largely thanks to Mr.Supian’s assistance. Without prior preparation, he spoke so well that he reminded me of the way a priest talks in front of the congregation. That quite helped in spurring their gusto. He led the prayer, the cantillation, and the carol-singing session. I couldn’t help but wonder, while I recorded his talk: how many thousands of outreach sessions had he ever undergone in his life? Mine is perhaps simply one-thousandth of his.

Somehow, it was better to have a ‘half-baked’ outreach, whose execution in reverse bore no resemblance with the timeline we had set altogether, than to have null-and-void at all. In the end, we sang songs altogether (mostly Christian-themed songs with we-know-what lyrics), and we handed out some drawing books, notebooks, unused books, Kuark science magazines, school textbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias, snacks, drinks, and a long list to go.

 

 

I thanked everyone (especially those tagged in the note) who had paid total concentration on their efforts to make the outreach succeed. Particularly to Adriana. She has had multitudinous talents that I hardly possess. She’s magnificent in drawing out the posters, she’s superb in photography, and she’s able to make and edit videos as well. But my deepest kudo goes to Mr.Supian. Given the fact that we are not that financially able to hire such salient motivators like Andrie Wongso or Mario Teguh, he’s been very enough for us to provide satisfaction to these buddies.

By the way, on 29th April, we are still having another outreach session to go. Expect ‘the motivator’ to come back. Be very curious.

 

Both these posters are nicely designed by Adriana (except the future tense, thanks to the help from my classmate, Jesslyn Calosa). Thanks a lot!

SEALNet so far

 

After a hiatus that lasted more than a month long, I finally managed to seize some time to get back to my old, classic habit, in which I poured down my ideas and my experiences, through every single type, while sitting inside an approximately five-by-five-meter space that used to be my childhood compartment. First thing I have to confess before I start the note is my mind was in excess of topics, argumentating seriously inside my head on what to write about. I was considering writing about a ‘special’ relationship between presidents and occult power, while on the other hand, another topic that circulated around my consciousness was plastic surgery among South Korean celebrities, while again, the notion of Indonesia’s exaggerative subordination on imported products, the treacherous, hair-raising thought on scientific methods towards living forever, criticism of vegetarianism, the dangers of driving in Indonesia, and dominant minorities worldwide, pullulated me, throwing me out with all the mish-mashing of all the combined ideas.

Instead of singling out one of them to be the main topic of this note, which perhaps may unconsciously trigger more helter-skelter in my mind, I resolved to write about SEALNet’s progress so far. I’ve never jemmied it for so long that the chaps and bags in United States had no ideas what we had been progressing here, exactly in Medan.

Throughout the first semester, the workshops, as I could admit, was of part success and part failure. They did really savor the part where we asked the mentees to mention as many bizarre, out-of-the-box purposes as possible about the items they had been discussing altogether. They also quite reveled the ‘problem-solving’ part, though they had less inclination to doing presentation. Getting tedium through endless presentations, I laid the idea of having them to do business – one of the most basic methods in practising leadership skills. But, throughout the workshops from November to December, the workshop was, I had to tell you, a total flatness. The main res behind such occurrence was that we were totally lackadaisical in terms of preparation of the material. It was only during the D-day that we began to discuss what we were going to teach. Worse, we communicated our ideas only through Blackberry group chats, which may, in some times, set off technical errors, like my message was not received by another Blackberry member. Another problem was half the members do not use Blackberry, which meant they were lackadaisical on what I was planning to ask them to do and worse, albeit they managed to own them, they did not participate in the discussion (Claristy later admitted that they refused to do so because of my overtly domineering position), so it could be said, between 2 and 3 workshop sessions, we delivered them half-baked, or best described, stale material. Many also criticized me for being too centralized, as though I were the only one to control the whole workshop and outreach, that it heavily burdened my head. Perhaps because of overpressure, my emotion bursted out. I snapped at some of the mentors, and all the mentees were there when it took place, while the workshop was taking place. I didn’t have any captor to stop my buoyant anger from exploding. And I wept afterwards.

I was lost up there. Fortunately, there were considerably hearty friends of mine, like Evando, Nico, Toni, Vincent, Yansen, Steven, etc, who showed full indorsation on me. The night after the incident, I was up in my bed, contemplating of all the wrongdoings I had accidentally committed that made everything ended up so severe. The other acting president, Claristy, had told me that as a leader, I had been too much fixated on my own potential, while albeit I fully accepted others’ ideas, there was tendency I did neglect them. Some time later, after fully discerning her thoughts, I concluded, ‘yeah, she’s quite right. There’s something wrong with our organization, and were my mentality too subtle to say, ‘yeah, it’s my fate, and I’m not destined for this’, I might have disenchanted so many people. Our previous mentors, those guys in America, our principal who staunchfully supported this extracurricular program (my first-grade friends once even ran towards me, and exhilaratingly shouted that he had asked students – during the weekly school ceremony – to get involved in more leadership and social service skills), our supervisor who, despite the bustle, still managed to assist us by giving ideas for better workshops (some of which we did fail to implement), some teachers who had expressed full support for the establishment of the chapter, and particularly, all the mentees who had been willingly to spend some time to be here. To provide me with more consolation, I attempted to assure myself, it’s just the first year, and it’s always the hardest in the beginning, and unless we manage to consolidate well, our SEALNet chapter will just simply be a name that ‘used to’ exist. It still has tremendous potential yet to be explored, and looking at it with deeper perspectives, we can contribute myriad ideas through this body. It’s not simply about workshops and outreach, workshops and outreach. We can do something, in accordance with the potential that we all possess, to solve problems (although I am myself a believer in theory that ‘no best solution does exist in the world to eliminate problems, because it’s always solution that triggers problems, and it’s an unending relationship’). Further, another mentor of SEALNet, Mauren, still places her Panglossian trust on its future. She cited the entrepreneurship project that we did as a ‘moderate success’, although it’s still structurally messy. Many mentees confessed that the part they liked the most was doing this sort of project. And because of this, SEALNet’s cash managed to experience soaring growth – more than 300% – from previously 2.1 million to more than 8.6 million rupiah (as of January 2012). The money itself grew after we had consensus with mentees who were willing to donate some of the money they earned to fund our activities (and it’s non-obligatory, for sure).

But, actually, the main riddle behind all this mess was of my not knowing the keyword of ‘team-building activities’. It was only after browsing Google, that I discovered this keyword had tremendous effect in determining the success of either our workshops, outreach, or even projects. The keyword, as it turned out after I typed it on Google, resulted in more than 200 million pages or so, an overabundance of sources we could utilize for our next workshops in the second semester. Every webpage that I accessed had itself come out with more than 100 out-of-the-box ideas, many of which might be utterly interesting for the mentees instead of endless cycles of brainstorming, structuring, and presenting. All these ideas are not only commodious during the workshop sessions, but also during the outreach, and it, in the long run, helped my mind to launch multitudinous ideas for the projects to be done next year. One of my ideas – that might sound irrelevant, was my plan of donating 1000 or more second-hand books to 5 orphanages which founded it very critical and rudimentary to obtain such Baedeker. Many of my friends were opposed to this notion, because firstly, the target itself was set too high, while secondly, there was also another similar program going on, in which one of Medan’s social entrepreneurs, Dr. Sofyan Tan, proposed another more avant-garde project, by persuading hundreds of companies, institutions (including our school, SMA Sutomo 1 Medan) and distingue figures to contribute. He had set his mind that the ultimate goal of this project was to accept 1 million (that is 1000 by the power of 2) second-hand books to be donated to so-called ‘taman bacaan’, or small-scale libraries throughout North Sumatera, by which Medan is the designated capital. Lastly, not all students would donate their books for the second time, because they had previously done so in the former. At first, I was overtly enthusiastic about this dream, but later on, I consoled myself, ‘the future is still a long way to go. Perhaps we can set even larger targets in the future. Don’t get disappointed.’

Throughout the meeting we held on 24th of December, 2011, we decided that on the second semester, we managed to organize only 5 sessions of workshop, with methods taken from the webpages I had accessed in Google (using that miraculous keyword). The first session would be about negotiation (still remember about the house’s prices? Read ‘The days I had in SEALNet’), while on the second, the mentees were asked to promote – like the way those people do in heavily-dramatized TV ads – chocolate bars we had bought in the nearby canteen in which we recorded their performance. On the third workshop, because it’s really adjacent to Valentine’s Day, we divided the mentees into pairs, and every pair had to design Valentine’s Day greeting card as creatively as possible, utilizing the carton papers we had bought in the school’s co-operative. On the fourth, mentees were divided into groups, and were asked to structure a story as they liked, and presented it in front. Lastly, on the fifth, it would be reflection. In the long run, all the mentors agreed to do so. Afterwards, as soon as the holiday was over, we started to implement all the ideas. In general, all the mentees did really enjoy the sessions better than those in the first semester, particularly in the second and third workshop. They even considered the second one as the craziest part ever, in which they were faced to a situation where they had to act as though they were really promoting in the TV ads. Meanwhile, on the third workshop, all the cards designed were truly beyond what I had previously imagined. They were truly so gorgeous! Some did write very awesome quotes, while others modified the carton papers by putting some beads, or trying to make some folds to make them really look like greeting cards. The best cards that we assessed were published in our bulletin board (and if you have time to visit Medan, please take a look at it). Insofar, things got up better, but the only thing that was totally distinct from the plan we had set out was on the last session, in which instead of doing the reflection, we played game altogether. (for ELDS – our school’s English debating program – members, you do still remember Yakuza game, the trick-or-treat derision, don’t you?)

 

 

 

In addition, we also paid a visit to Tzu-chi’s branch office in Medan, largely thanks to my Mandarin tuition teacher, Miss Jennifer, who also serves as a full-time Tzu-chi member, after long-grueling appointment in which our schedule was repeatedly postponed (not procrastinated, thoroughly) from supposedly beginning of November, to end of November, to the beginning of December, to mid of January, before it was decided that the schedule be held on 5th February, 2012. At first, I thought we might be introduced to sophisticated recycling technology, or to a lesser extent, having tutelage on how to recycle newspapers or plastic bottles. My conclusion was a mistake, indeed. While all of us were brought to the waste depot exactly behind the branch office, I just commenced to realize that it was not a recycling center at all. I asked one of the staff, and he responded that this place was instead utilized as a ‘waste-sorting’ center. There’s quite much unrecyclable waste here, as such, styrofoam and plastic bags. Instead, as an alternative, we listened to their seminar – the main topic was about global warming, climate change stuff, but I found it was more centered on vegetarianism. Supposed to begin at 1 and conclude at 4, it was contrawise prolonged from 1.30 to 5.30 pm (you know the Gummizeit habit of our people, don’t you?) Much of the time was concentrated on promoting vegetarianism, while one staff, serving as a host, claimed that it’s much better, environmentally, for a full-time vegan to drive a sedan car, than a cyclist who eats meat. Most of the mentees said they were really inspired, and truly gobsmacked, at all the surprising facts about global warming and climate change and healthy living. I did, too, but only for the first two parts, while I myself discovered a striking dichotomy between healthy living and healthy planet. To be honest, this was originally my intended topic. But, never mind about that. I’ve been scribing this article for more than 2000 words.

 

 

 

Aside from that, I needed to inform you that we had again made mistakes. This time, they were truly fatal lapsus. We realized the errors after we had 94 certificates (80 for mentees, and 14 for mentors) printed, and only after our school’s principal signed a snatch of our certificates: his position in the certificate was placed instead 2nd after that of our supervisor, not the 1st. Another fatal mistake was identified: we simply put down the abbreviation, incomplete with its real name. He refused to continue signing them, something which made us lose 940 thousand rupiah in vain. And, lastly, we thought that by having our supervisor to examine the certificate’s prototype was okay enough. And it turned out to be a mere partial okay, because the principal hadn’t seen it. This meant we had to prepare another 940 thousand for new certificates.

Nevertheless, for whatever reason, it seemed like we were on our luck at that time. The company accountable in printing our certificates offered us 25% discount, meaning that we didn’t have to pay that exorbitant. Instead of 940, we were charged 705. After two times of printing, we do still have almost 7 million rupiah left in cash.

Within 3 or 4 or 5 months, let’s see what surprises will come out next.