Finally, I Understand...

It was a piece of story from my experience from my one year experience as a voluntary primary teacher in Rupat island. This story may appear insignificant, but it shows me a big lesson in life. It shows me how to empathize others, especially those who less fortunate than me.

I was the advisory teacher for our school science olympics team. It was quite difficult back then, since this is the first time for these children to participate in any competition and I myself do not have any educational background in natural sciences. Fortunately, I have a big interest on sciences that I read quite a lot scientific references back when I was younger so that I could share some of my limited knowledge to these children.

Our school is not yet a year-old. It had just been formally established as national school. So, our sources are so much limited. There are not many tools that can be utilized for our trainings and exercises. Therefore, we need to provide the tools ourselves.

We were trying to train with tools that we can collect from our surroundings, such as plastic bags, plastic glass and bottles, tree branches, everything. However, there are times that I did not expect that I must use my own money to buy necessary tools that I cannot find from our environment. This is how I deplete my cash back then.

In our island, there is no bank tellers nor ATMs. If we want to draw cash from our savings, we have to go to Dumai, the nearest city from our island. However, going to Dumai is not an easy thing. Taking speed boat to Dumai is quite expensive so that I can only travel there once in a month in order to waste less money. If I want to spend less money, I have to travel by land through a hellish mudland which spend a couple hours to get to Dumai. Therefore, I need to prepare petty cash enough for a whole month, including the travel cost to Dumai for the end of month. I usually prepare about a million IDR for my livings there.

Since I am the advisor for the olympics squad, that time I spend quite a lot of money for our training to buy tools and books in Dumai. Therefore, I leave not much money for in my deposits and could only prepare myself the usual amount of petty cash for that month, even though I know I must prepare more just in case I need to buy anything else for our activities that month. I was just taking it lightly that I only need to oppress my consumptions for this month. I never thought that I would be broke before the end of month.

One day, a week before the competition, I need to copy some exercises for our training. Copying in our island is very expensive. If in Jakarta we spend a hundred IDR or less for one copy, here, we spend about threefold the cost. This is how I came to be broke. I invite all of my students in our olympics squad, means that I have to provide every single of them with the copies. I never thought that it would be that expensive to copy all of this exercises.

I was quite shocked that I have to pay almost three hundred thousand IDR for those exercises. While I spend my five hundred thousand IDR for my hostfamily, and another one hundred thousand for my personal and training expenses, this leaves me with one hundred thousand IDR until the rest of the month. And it is still  about ten days before the end of month.

Well, surviving ten days with that amount of money is easy, actually. But, don't forget, I must pay for my travel cost to Dumai by the end of month and that cost me ninety thousand IDR. That leaves me with ten thousand. It was crazy.

That was the time when I feel so powerless. Not to mention to hangout in the village coffee stall, I cannot even buy a bread that cost one thousand IDR that I usually buy. I can only see those piles of bread on my way home from school, imagining their taste in my mouth, filling my hungry stomach. Well, it's not that I cannot eat, I can eat with my host family since they always provide me with foods everyday. But, I must sacrifice all of that amenities until the end of month. I must withstand my imagination of consuming all those foods and beverages, only be able to see others enjoying it. I feel suffered that time.

Then I come to contemplation, "this is how those who are less fortunate than me thinks when they see me enjoying amenities in front of them." Those less fortunate people could only see me, withstanding their own desire to have the same thing. But, they can't. They must be feeling powerless that time. They can do nothing but to imagine how is the taste of the foods I ate, the drinks I drank. I am now understand that after all this time, despite of me saying that I want to eradicate poverty, I lack of empathy.

So, this is how it feels to have nothing at all. So, this is how it feels to want something that seems very simple, not that luxurious, but you cannot have it. So, this is why my ancestors instruct us not to show our dinner in front of other people if we don't want to share it with them. This is why, I need to have more empathy, something I just realized that I am lacking of.

But then, something comes up in my mind. Is it too much for me to spend my cash for the sake of my student until I broke like this. I contemplate more, and come up with a conclusion that this is not too much. I have resources for these kids to learn more, while they might not have the resources. It is not too much, no, it is never too much to share what we have for those in needs. It is not like that I will die starving after this. I just have to hold my desires more. Then, I will not stop here. If it is for these kids to go to their dreams, to see Jakarta with science olympics, then I willingly sacrifice more than this. 

All of this journey have told me how I have to learn a lot, how I lack a lot life values. This one told me how to empathize. How I am very grateful to be in this journey. I am a teacher, but it seems I am the who learn more than anyone. I will never forget this experience, the one that taught me how I lack of empathy after all this time.

Smile eternally,