The emperor has no clothes, but remains an emperor

emperor

Did you still remember Hans Christian Andersen? Or, to go a bit deeper, have you ever read his short story titled “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? If you have neither read his stories nor known this person’s name (I assume most of you have), I suggest that we spend some time (re)reading his works. The Emperor’s New Clothes, in particular, is a title I think is worth reading. Allow me to summarize his story in case you haven’t read it, although some guys in Wikipedia have already done the plot summary.

Once upon a time, there lived a king who made wearing the best outfits and costumes his primary quotidian activity. Caring not so much about the kingdom and the people, but rather his appearance, or a very thick sense of fashion. One day, two weavers came in, claiming that they could build the best costumes for the emperor. So fantastic, so amazing, so awesome the designs were, that these outfits could only be seen by people who are intelligent, smart, and ‘at least not stupid’. The ruler took the weavers’ words so seriously that he entrusted them the new outfits. Anyone who could not view the emperor’s new clothes would be labelled ‘gravely foolish’.

The emperor finally wore these new clothes, but his ministers – and other subordinates – were so fearful of facing the reality: the clothes were so seriously microscopic that the emperor, apparently, wore nothing at all. But the ministers were also afraid of losing their jobs, or even their statuses, so they had no choice, but to lavish the emperor with praises. There the emperor embarked on his own parade, where every citizen marched to watch the procession, himself almost completely naked. People already knew the fact that the emperor was wearing ‘nothing’, but out of fear of being labelled ‘gravely foolish’, or hopelessly stupid, they would rather keep themselves in silence. A young child screamed out, but the procession went on. The emperor ‘probably’ knew about this, but, anyway, after all, the ruler prevails.

Obviously, there was almost no such historical example of leaders posing themselves literally naked; the moral lesson of the story is there, but its resemblance echoes for the duration of human civilization. We have seen great, wise leaders, but we have also seen bad, horrible leaders throughout our lifetime. What I honestly worry about is when a society, despite having understood some negative traits associated with the latter, would still cling their hopes on these people. Or when there are swindlers in the weavers’ clothing who deliberately exploit and manipulate the situation in such a condition that we ‘seemingly have no choice’ but to praise the naked emperor, given our personal fear at face value. Oftentimes we wish we could be like those young folks, but most of the time, a lot of us did not. Many factors hinder us, and adults understand that the truth is more complicating than what children usually perceive (this story is intended for children, by the way, but adults should learn, too). Still, ironically, we are simply afraid of telling the truth, when the truth itself, obviously, is already out there – and even visible for most of us.

It doesn’t matter whether we live in democracies, hybrid regimes, or dictatorships, but it is simply the reality of human society that oftentimes we are led by persons who have achieved tremendous feats for the greater good, or by others who have implemented disastrous policies. In a democracy, we can elect a person who gave us universal health care, mandatory minimum wages, multiple peace deals, LGBT rights, etc; on the other, we also have the similar ability to elect a demagogue, an outright racist, a bigot, or even a sexual predator to power. In a dictatorship, there were ‘benevolent tyrants’ who have led decades of economic miracle before democratization occurred; simultaneously, there were also tyrants that left a country in shambles, civil wars, or constant civil disorders. There have also been leaders that constantly give certain communities ‘pork’, in exchange of constant support to the leaders regardless of whatever wrongdoing the leaders have committed, be it a massive corruption scandal, serious human rights violations, or probably, something like sexual abuses, ties to mobsters, or racialized threats towards other communities that may be deemed soft spots or convenient targets. Look at history – not just the last two days – and we can see numerous of such illustrations.

History has seen such ups and downs in human society, but the good thing is that when mindsets change, people can change, too. We can choose to be like any other adults watching the naked emperor’s procession – all the while lavishing our pretentious praises at the ruler, or we can respond like the young boy in the story, and if need be, amplify his voices.

After all, I would remain an optimist. Probably a cautious one.

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Ashraf Ghani: How to rebuild a broken state

ashraf ghani

 

 

Ashraf Ghani (pictured above) believes there is something fundamentally wrong with our world today: he believes the world’s current aid system is not working and highly ineffective, that our world’s education system, in a 7-billion-strong population dominated by young people, is still based on that of 19th century, that capitalism and democracy are malfunctioning in many aspects in most developing countries, and that there is a great absence of a strong, international leadership to solve our world’s ages-old problems.

Afghanistan even suffers worse. It is beset by corruption, terrorism (by-products of Cold War, with thousands of combatants trained by both Russia and United States), and an economy largely domineered by illegal drug trading. Despite gigantic potential revenues from mining sector (the country’s mineral reserves are estimated to be worth nearly 3 trillion US$), all these problems, using current problem-solving approach, will take more than decades to solve. And, we must acquiesce, Ghani, having served as the country’s finance minister from 2002 to 2004, will not be able to solve these problems alone. However, at least, throughout his tenure, the country has seen some major improvements: currency stabilization, budget reforms, and long-term public investment schemes.

He once competed for 2009 presidential election, but didn’t manage to secure enough votes to win. For the second time, for the 2014 election, he will compete once again for the seat. Let’s hope he can bring more positive changes to this new, uneasy, and fledgling nation.

 

Listen to his TED talk to know more how he helped rebuilding a once broken state.

 

Redefining differences

defining the differences

 

It is undeniable that we have learned, by our own instincts, to discover differences among individuals surrounding us. As babies, we begin the lifelong lesson by making preferences either with our family members or with peers of the same origin – say the least, of racial background. Maturing up, we make the differences all the more obvious: we configure our own circles, befriend those of the similar interests with us, of equal skills and capabilities, of the same hometown or skin color, and consider others different from us as adversaries, or something less than humane. Take that to a larger scope, either about schools, cities, ethnic groups, religions, or even nation-states. Unexpectedly, it brings tremendous effects to human civilization.

Wars have been fought because of political interests and differing ideologies; some countries end up shattered and others peak into the paramount victories of the superpower phantasm. Myriad lives have been lost due to conflicts, ranging from microscopic-scale inter-tribal wars (often fought simply because of differing cultures, languages, or even accents), until Armageddon-scale high-technology battles involving predominant world powers. We all envision the heavenly notion of ‘eternal world peace’, but the ‘notion of differences’ we all have formed in our mindsets contradicts in perturbing how we should progress to achieve this dream.

Can we really afford to remove the entire differences defining us as the human race? This essay on Aeon Magazine attempts to explain the complicated human nature regarding perceiving the differences. This is also worthy of a leadership lesson about group unity.

 

Excerpt from the article:

 

The idea of ‘us and them’ was crystallised in the 1906 book Folkways by the American sociologist William Graham Sumner. In his vision, it wasn’t just ‘us and them’ but ‘us versus them’. ‘The insiders in a we-group are in a relation of peace, order, law, government, and industry, to each other. Their relation to all outsiders, or others-groups, is one of war and plunder, except so far as agreements have modified it,’ he wrote. For Sumner, these relations demanded each other: ‘Loyalty to the group, sacrifice for it, hatred and contempt for outsiders, brotherhood within, warlikeness without — all grow together, common products of the same situation.’

He introduced the term ‘ethnocentrism’ to describe ‘this view of things’ in which one’s own group is ‘the centre of everything, and all others are scaled and rated with reference to it’. The term included the tendency for groups to regard others as less than fully human: ‘As a rule it is found that nature peoples call themselves “men.” Others are something else — perhaps not defined — but not real men.’ Sumner saw ethnocentrism everywhere, from Papuan villages in New Guinea ‘kept separate by hostility, cannibalism, head hunting, and divergences of language and religion’, to the great powers, each of which ‘regards itself as the leader of civilisation, the best, the freest, and the wisest, and all others as inferior’. Whether they wielded stone axes, like the Papuans who were still isolated from outside influence by the New Guinea highlands, whether they built ‘dreadnought’ battleships, as the great powers were racing to do, humans would always conjure up an Other to threaten with their weapons.

 

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.

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.

Sailing through a sea of tumults

SATURDAY, 10 SEPTEMBER 2011

Perhaps this is a sequel of the longest, perhaps-most-tedious note I ever wrote approximately two and a half months ago (read: The days I had in SEALNet).

In my lifetime, over 16 years and almost 9 months, I had always thought of how exhilarating it was to become a leader. I always imagined myself being a leader would be, to a lesser extent, at least, not too difficult. You’ve got quite many staff to help you out. Everybody would respect you with the new position you’re entitled with. If you could solve a problem or answer a challenge, your dignity would raise to the seventh heaven.

But compared with feeling it, thinking was metaphorically only one-thousandth the tense of true feeling, assume there were international approval upon setting up a new unit or denomination on the size of ‘feeling’ itself. Unless you have experience, you won’t really feel it. Thinking is just, always and as always, the mere surface of the reality. The deeper you go into the core, the more you will feel how reality actually is.

And that’s what I’ve been going through in nearly three months since the designation of me as a leader.

My senior, Edric Subur, had put up his decision to elect me as the next President of SEALNet Medan Chapter. Beforehand, many of my friends who joined the prior program had forecast about me leading this youth-only organization. At first, I thought of that idea as unacceptable. After the third workshop was over (for more details, just read the previous note), one of my mentors, Ricky Chen, joked that ‘I would be the next President after Edric.’

“You’re just joking, anyway,” That’s what I told him.

“What if you are really elected?” He replied.

I used to believe his words, and almost everybody’s words, that they were making a caprice. Even my English tuition teacher, Miss Erica, joked that someday I would become the ‘next president of Indonesia’. (will a Chinese be voted by the majority, anyway?) When I went home and told my mom about this so-called ‘prophecy’, my mom strongly advised me to turn down this offer, but in the long run, she said, the final decision was up to me.

“Being a president will never always be as easy as a piece of cake,” She told me. “You don’t really have any gifts of the gab. Just tell them to turn down this offer, and as a form of compensation, you can help them by volunteering in the organization.”

“But this program is based in MIT and Stanford, ma.”

“Oh, yeah? Really?”

“Edric even told me there are SEALNet chapters in NUS and NTU. Who knows my position as a president will ease me up to get admitted in these world-hailed universities?”

“Just go ahead, then.”

To heal the tedium, let me just simply push forward 72 hours later. All of us, except our mentors, were waiting in a garden outside one of our friends’ house (Wilbert’s house, to be precise). Only after this minute, I began to realize that indirectly, our future was being decided by our seniors. I stared at the night sky, wondering around the stars, shop-houses, vehicles passing by, and a few apartments. Only a few minutes after, things would have all changed. Until they ordered us to get inside, that’s where Edric executed his decision.

At first, 18 persons were elected to fill in their positions, to each his own. Unlike other organizations, SEALNet always makes use of its so-called ‘bi-presidential system’. As if a country were ruled by two different presidents. There were me and Claristy, having been appointed in the same position. But I found the structure was a bit queer: two presidents with only one secretary? It’s normal if you conceive an idea of ‘one president, two secretaries’, but this is so highly quizzical that one secretary has to single-handedly assist two presidents at the same time. The latest must-teach management structure model in business schools, if I can guess. Here was Adriana Salim, our so-called ‘underling’.

6 Project Managers (Anthony Morgan Tjoe, Budi Andoro, Handoko, Sevien, Winnie Jesslyn, and Wilbert R.A.), 6 Publicity Managers (Davin Wijaya, Eldson, Erick Chandra, Hartono Wijaya, Leonardy Kristianto, Mauren Tanaka) , 2 Recruitment Managers (Julie Christine, Megawati Wijaya), and 1 Treasurer (Jennifer Lie) were each appointed by our seniors at that time. Until this minute, 3 of them had already resigned: Julie Christine, Hartono Wijaya, and Sevien. Elvira Yunitan in the end became the sole Recruitment Manager, having to toil with me, Claristy, Adriana, and the entire Publicity Managers, together with some from Project Division to help recruiting members throughout the Senior High School. Besides doing all the tasks adjusted to their divisions, all of us are also responsible as mentors as well.

Soon afterwards, as soon as we handed in the proposal on establishing SEALNet as the latest extra-curricular program to our school principal (actually he’s the one who introduced this program to our school), in less than one month until we closed the registration date on 1st August, almost 170 students had registered for the program.

I had no idea what the world, or the fate, or the destiny, was trying to undertake at this program – it only started in no more than a month, and soon afterwards, with so much indirect promotion conducted by teachers, and particularly, our school principal (he even asked students to be ‘socially active’ by joining SEALNet, once in a speech conveyed during a school ceremony). In no more than an hour, two dozens of students had already registered their names to Adriana. It was a virtue, but it was a defiance, as well, all at the same time. Teaching almost 170 students while we even had never had first-hand experiences in teaching? I kept on asking this question until now.

The first challenge is providing them with enough teaching modules. The problem is we do not have enough materials to convey our teaching modules. That’s our first weakness. The second challenge, facing some of those who are extraordinarily mischievous. Particularly those from the First-Grade. The third challenge, we lack of mentors. This was added with the fact that after more than two months getting entangled in the program, Sevien decided to resign, only one day before we started the first workshop, that was on 27th August.

“President, I’m really sorry, but I want to resign.” She blabbered, in front of us, while I was copying the teaching modules to others’ laptops. I became dumbfounded in no time.

“Are you really joking?” I was too surprised to hear that.

“I’m admitted to Accelerated Class, and I don’t have much time for it.”

Truth be told, Anthony, Wilbert, and Eldson were admitted to Accelerated Class as well. But they do not resign at all. Perhaps the only cause was Sevien’s over-ambition in achieving everything. After further talks, as I gave her two options whether to proceed in SEALNet or quit, she opted the latter. There, I was really down. For some time, I felt it a bit reluctant to let her go. She has the gift of the gab, she is sweet-tongued, but why must she resign only because of ‘not-much-time’ reason? But, at some points, I realized there was no use of forcing her to come back. She had had the path by herself. And she had the rights to do it. All I could do was just to let her go.

The first workshop was a bit failure. Many of the students protested because we divided them into classes based on alphabetical orders. As I heard from the mentors’ confessions in our BlackBerry chat group, the majority of them showed off their discontented faces. That was the first reason. Second, they seemed to have no idea what we were actually teaching about. I was actually intending to show them 3 videos of TEDTalks by Adora Svitak, Hans Rosling, and Terry Moore, to show them ‘the basic methods of public speaking without too much theoretization’. In the long run, they ended up confused, as I showed them Terry Moore’s video: how to tie your shoes. Their expression was like: what’s the connection between leadership workshop with tying your shoes correctly? Thank God there were Winnie Illona, Jesselyn Angellee, Imelda Junaedi, and Claristy who saved my day. Rather than remain stock-still or ‘frozen’ as stiff as terracotta statues, they switched the originally silent atmosphere into a vibrant one. We played human knot, and everyone bursted in exhilaration. Not much success, as of my opinion.

Regarding to outreach matters, we returned back to Panti Asuhan Pelita Kasih. We did the outreach for 2 days, and in fact, many things that we did there were in all conscience beyond our initial plans we had discussed in many meetings prior. And that was the most expensive outreach we had ever done, and we suffered total deficits. The week before we did the outreach, only 35% of the students managed to pay the registration fee (which we charge at Rp 20,000 per person) and the monthly fee (Rp 2,000 per month straight. Actually I planned to set it at Rp 5,000, but after further lobbying efforts to our school principal, he remained insistent on the 2000-a-month idea). The amounts of money collected were at that time 1.17 million more or less, and we spent almost 1.67 million on the outreach. The bulk of the costs came particularly from transport, in which we had to rent 4 different school buses for 2 days (the first day’s buses cost 600 thousand, the second’s 550). To be honest, many of us had cars, but the main question was: who’s going to drive the cars at the same time our car drivers were homecoming, because we did the outreach during the Eid holiday? One lesson learnt: to organize an outreach during holidays on special occasions would hurt your financial expenditure. For the second day transport costs, some of us had to crucify our money, under the terms of ‘bailout’.

On the first day of outreach, we brought only 12 students to the orphanage. I was pretty much oblivious on the routes heading to the orphanage, but thank God after we spent a few minutes stopping by to ask people the direction to the place, in the long run did we manage to reach it. I was so ashamed. Thank God Handoko has a bit photographic memory. As soon as we reached the orphanage, I could see their expression was a bit different. Half of them remained unchanged as usual – whenever we came, they would greet us and say hello. But many of them were really surprised when they saw us returning back to the orphanage. Some of them, as seen from their mimics, felt like: why on earth are you coming back?

On that day, we focused on another issue besides sanitation: the danger of dengue fever. We divided ourselves into 4 posts (we had never prepared that in our meeting before), each cellotaped with one poster I and Adriana drew together, and we divided the students as well into 5 groups. Each group contained more or less 10 children and teenagers, and they traveled round the orphanage, listening on our explanation. Only did half of them seriously take the notice on our exegesis. Some were like, to be honest, empty-minded. It was of pretty much success, even though it’s not as magnificent as Edric had brought up in the past.

They missed one of the students the most: my long-time ex-classmate, Evando. Despite the fact that this person is really very mischievous, he had very good interaction with the children and the teenagers.

On the second day, there were more or less 22 other students. When we arrived on the orphanage, most of the children asked, “Where is Kak Evando? We want to go on playing soccer with him.” While things ended up very serious on the first day, the atmosphere on the second day was filled with much fun; self-inflicted fun, if I could say. They did the singing, they did the dancing, and I saw that half of them were puzzled by the lyrics; almost everyone was singing Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me. Probably they even never knew that there is someone out there named Taylor Swift. But when it came to singing Michael Jackson’s Heal The World, all of them had already been familiar with it. I saw contentment among the mentees, but I didn’t see so much fun among them. That’s what I myself witnessed.

The second workshop was on today, and it was almost total failure. Beforehand, we decided to divide the students no longer based on alphabetical order; all students of the same grade (except if there are too many) are accommodated into one class. The problem is, many of the mentors forgot to bring their laptops. Adriana actually brought a laptop, but the problem is, there were no special cables which could connect the projector with Macbooks. Afterwards, I lent my laptop to Handoko and Erick, who taught second-grade students just now, before they passed it to Wilbert, Budi, Eldson, Adriana, Elvira, and Davin, who handled first-grade students. I borrowed Leonardy’s laptop, and Leo himself could not teach on Saturday because he also teaches on another extracurricular program. I myself and Jennifer handled third-grade students, and only 8 of them, out of 30, that were coming. I spent much of the time having interaction with these third-grade students (all of them are from 3-Science-01, and I know some of them pretty well), telling them our experiences. The bulk of the problem was when Leo’s laptop suddenly automatically turned off. When I turned it on, here it went.

It needed a fingerprint identification system. Only Leo is the sole individual who could access it. And he was at the same time teaching other students.

I had to wait almost half an hour for him to come and have his fingerprints scanned. Even after we successfully entered the access and showed them our main materials (that was watching Steve Jobs Stanford Uni. graduation speech), there were technical problems with the execution of the video. It walked down slower, slower, until it stopped.

And the class filled with tenth-grade students was almost like a wild jungle when I entered it. I saw some of them were sitting on tables, laying on them, and walked around doing the talk. The mentors had difficulty in controlling them. And they had to ask my help.

Beforehand, I had asked Winnie Illona for help. I also asked her to bring her laptop so that we could watch the video altogether. And she came after the workshop had ended for almost 10 minutes.

There were actually 3 additional mentors (our mentors) who would also help us, and they are Jesselyn Angellee, Imelda Junaedi, and Yolita, but they are still having their student orientation in USU (University of North Sumatera).

Duh.

I was speechless to see the situation. Out of 3 classes, only the class filled with second-grade students which managed to have the workshop conducted well. I saw Handoko and Erick asked all of them, one by one, to express their opinions in front of the public about the video. My class’ students were doing the homework while waiting for the video. And I sat there, contemplating.

Out there, I still remembered what my mom said. You don’t really have any gifts of the gab. Just tell them to turn down this offer, and as a form of compensation, you can help them by volunteering in the organization.

There was one third-grade student who could console me. That’s Ellora. She clapped my arm while I was desperately looking at the laptop, and said, “Come on, it’s just the beginning! Don’t get discouraged!”.

Resign? That thought had come across in my mind more than dozens of times, but still I insisted on saying ‘no’. I was reminded of a story when Hernan Cortez was on his quest to conquer Aztec-ruled Mexico in 1519. Once, all the ships transporting them from Spain to Mexico were destroyed by a raging storm. At the same time, they had pretty much limited time to repair the ships, and the Aztecs were hunting their heads. Deep in the stage of desperation, he ordered his men to set all the ships on flame, and continued with their quest, despite limited numbers.

In the end, you could see the result. And is this going to succeed? Only fate can decide.

Briefly, a few minutes after getting elected as the new President, I had told the mentors, “I never promise success, but I’ll do my best.” But it seems that only a few of them – perhaps, none of them – really paid the attention to what I am saying about.

Let me end this note with another saying: things that have started must be finished. I can’t desert them in the middle of the road. We are sailing together, through a sea of tumults.