I have never been anywhere like it; one country with two entirely separate worlds, and those two worlds crashing on top of each other, clashing into each other’s space and fighting for resources, time and attention. Indonesia is facing the challenges of a rapidly growing urban country while still trying to tackle problems linked to a third-world nation. Surprisingly, there seems to be no physical divide between the ultra-wealthy and the poor; slums next to mansions, abandoned buildings next to glossy skyscrapers, open defecation in front of government monuments. Indonesia has the 16th largest GDP in the world and the second largest economy in Southeast Asia, yet the tide has not lifted all boats, and Indonesia throws that right in your face.
Our first day, we visited a slum built on top of a working landfill. Nothing quite prepares you for the numbness you feel seeing countless family homes surrounded by trash, teenagers without shoes texting on brand new cell phones and young children scratching their heads because of the permanent presence of lice. And just when you think your brain has had enough, a child comes running up to you and kisses your hand. Among the crumbling buildings and heaps of waste, she smiled. She was with her family, and she was happy. I was sweetly reminded of the unwavering humanity of children and why they deserve nothing less than our protection and support, no matter how complicated the solution may seem.
That first day, as we vaccinated children in the area’s health post, it was immediately clear that UNICEF is the leader in creating solutions for these communities. UNICEF is on the ground training health workers, developing technologies to get real-time feedback from new practices in the field, working with the government to make basic health-care needs more available, creating education materials for mothers and empowering children to create solutions. It has woven itself into the fabric of change at every level, impacting policy, attitude and practice across the board.
The remainder of our trip was a whirlwind providing endless moments of motivation to continue our support through UNICEF Next Generation. From having our hearts warmed by smiling school children and our souls inspired by passionate twenty-somethings influencing the world around them, from having our brains challenged by the UNICEF team to create solutions, and our spirits raised by local leaders proud to call themselves Indonesian.
This was the trip of a lifetime, humbling me, inspiring me and bonding me forever to the unequaled work UNICEF does to put children first.
A handful of Next Generation members travelled to Indonesia from the United States recently to see up close how the money they helped raise for UNICEF Indonesia’s Innovation labs is making lasting change. Below are their first-person accounts of their time in Indonesia: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4