By Our Better World:
I was once a primary school teacher in a remote Indonesian island.
Ten years before I arrived, there was a riot between Muslims and Christians, with thousands of casualties. After the riot, the government segregated the villages: these are Muslim villages, and those are Christian villages.
I happen to be deployed to a 100% Muslim village.
One afternoon, when there were concerns that another riot might happen, my students came running to my house in panic and told me, “Ma’am, be careful of the Christians! They can burn down our house!”
When I told them that the riot was far away, they said, “The riot will fly here!”
These students had never even met any Christians in their lives, and they didn’t even understand the meaning of the word ‘riot’, but they had so much hatred and anger towards Christians.
And I believed, this was also the situation on the other side of the fence.
So I knew something needed to be done.
After I returned to Jakarta from my one-year teaching stint in Bacan Island in North Maluku, a few friends and I created Sabang Merauke, an intra-nation student exchange programme in Indonesia.
We bring kids from all over the country to stay with host families in Jakarta who are different from them: a Hindu child from Bali living with a Muslim family; a Christian boy from Kalimantan living with a Muslim Javanese family; a Muslim child from Maluku living with a Chinese Catholic family.
And we prioritise kids from the post-conflict areas.
We believe that these real interactions will open the hearts and minds of both students and hosts, and make them see that we are more alike than different. In turn, they will become peace ambassadors in their circles.
From my travels and having experienced being a minority, I believe that diversity cannot only be taught in classrooms – it has to be felt and experienced.
How You Can Help
You can help by volunteering to be a host or donating to Sabang Merauke so it can offer more Indonesian youths the chance to participate in the exchange programme.
This article has been republished from Our Better World.