Life Changer: My Visit to an Indonesian Orphanage

Manado, Indonesia. In life, we have events that define or shape the role we play in the world. An experience that alters our ways of thinking and doing. A woman catching a bouquet at a wedding may decide to finally marry. A young teenager may watch a vegan inspiring documentary of meat processing plants and swears not to touch another burger for the rest of their days. It’s moments like these that make us unique and add value to our ideas, because not everyone interprets an experience in the same life-changing way.

Matt - Orphanage - 600-400A member of our group, Mathew Tendean Luce with a ten-month old infant,
the same age as he was when his adoptive parents met him in the same
orphanage 23 years ago. Photo: Duane Lyken@DAnthonyPhotos.

This summer, I represented Breaking Walls to join six other Young Global Leaders of The J. Luce Foundation for the Leadership Experience 2018 in Jakarta and North Sulawesi, Indonesia. I spent the first week meeting important and kind people. I sat with strangers at tables where I was treated like family. I oddly felt more at home than back in the states. Isn’t that strange? In a land where the food, clothing, religion, art, the common tongue and even bathrooms are different, I felt entirely comfortable.

Everywhere we went, we received warm welcomes, smiles (and a few requests to take a few photos), it was all positive. One night at dinner, I was invited to perform on stage with the band (which was a horrific and humorous experience all at once) and we danced their most popular dances, which seemed like variations of what we know as the ‘Electric Slide.’ They admired our effort and participation in their culture.

Manado-2Young Global Leader participants and chaperones of the J. Luce Foundation
Leadership Experience ’18 in Tomohon, Indonesia. Photo: Duane Lyken.

In Manado, our team visited Nazareth Presbyterian Orphanage at the foot of the volcano. Twenty three years ago, Jim Luce met his adopted son Mathew here when Matt was only ten-month old. Upset with the squalid condition of the orphanage where Mathew came from, Jim wrote a study to conceptualize helping orphans in the developing world later.

He later founded Orphans International Worldwide (OIW) with a commitment to Raising Young Global Leaders – not only to ensure the physical survival of the orphaned children in the developing world, but also to help them reach their full potential. The cardinal rule of OIW named after his son, Mathew: That each child in care is treated the way one would treat one’s own child (“Mathew’s Rule”). Jim has since raised over $1.5 million for orphaned children in Asia, Africa and Americas.

This spot where we were standing was where it all started. These two lives, and the ones touched by them had been altered forever. I did not speak much, out of respect for their moment. This is the first time Jim and Mathew come back to visit the orphanage together. I only asked Matt how he felt, and he ran his hands through his hair and admitted he was nervous.

When we all entered, there were chairs set up on one side of the common room, where adults were sitting with small children in their arms. On the right side, there was a large birthday poster for a baby, with balloons and colorful strings. Straight ahead of us, there sat about twenty children.

Nazareth Orphanage - team
Our team visited Nazareth Presbyterian Orphanage where Jim Luce,
founder and president of Orphans International Worldwide and The J.
Luce Foundation first met his adopted son Mathew.
 Photo: Duane Lyken.

The first row had older boys, sitting in orange shirts that had a common logo pointing out the important day for the child on the poster. Behind them was a long bench, where toddlers were seated. I scanned all of their faces while we were being introduced to them. I was so distracted by one little boy. He stared at me the entire time and my heart immediately began to open up.

After the introduction, we began to mingle with the children. I at first had a hard time even moving from my spot because I was overwhelmed with the amount of children there, and the sounds of crying I often heard. Then I noticed that young boy staring at me again, so I approached him first. When I came closer, I noticed that he was playing with something; I asked him if I could see it. Of course, he didn’t put it in my hand but I saw it all the same.

It was a light green plastic hollow car about the size of my thumb. Well, actually it was half of a car. He had been running the two wheeled toy on the bench and watching me repeatedly, and next to him was a little girl silently crying. Her face was sweet and she stared at me too. Neither of them made a noise or did much of anything, they just looked at the people around them, as if they had seen strange faces come and go, as if they were numb to it.

Nazareth Orphanage - Peggy Woodside, Mathew Luce, Jim Luce
L to R: Peggy Woodside, Mathew Tendean Luce, and Jim Luce.
Photo: Duane Lyken @DAnthonyPhotos.

I started to tear up myself, because I felt a sense of longing from these children. When they looked into my eyes, I wanted to wipe their tears and give them the world in their little hands. For the next ten minutes perhaps, I talked to both of them. I asked them questions and told them that things were going to be okay. I didn’t need a response from them.

After a while, I got up and walked around the orphanage a bit. I found a play room with a few toys in it, and a small pile of clothes that belonged to all of the children. Then we all met again in the common room for the reason of our visit.

Dr. Kazuko Tatsumura, a Japanese-American philanthropist who wishes to help all the orphans she can, made a generous donation to support the orphanage. Then, we all stood and sang “Esa Mokan,” a Manadonese song that we had been practicing for a few weeks. It was an inexplicable joy to sing for the kids and the women caring for them.

When our visit was coming to a close, I went to the play room and saw the young boy from the beginning, playing with a broken tennis racket-like toy. He looked up at me through the glass, screamed and ran out of the room to me and held up his arms for me to pick him up. When I did, I was filled with joy because he had been so closed off to me before. I laughed with him and walked to wherever he pointed. I took him to the purple balloons, I bounced on my feet and watched his face transform into one of the happiest grins I had ever seen.

One of the group members said we had to go, and when I went to put the boy down on one of their orange chairs, his grin faded and he went still. He looked into my eyes like he had done when I first came. It broke my heart to turn around and walk out of the orphanage like so many people before me had done. But I walked out with a purpose stronger than when I entered.

Nazareth OrphangeYasmin Walker, one of our chaperones, took care of the kids. Photo: Duane Lyken.

When I climbed back into the van, I was more inspired than I had ever been before. I didn’t want that child to ever have to play with half of a plastic hollow car or a broken tennis racket again. I didn’t want to see another pair of young eyes that held so much sadness in such little time.

When I arrived home, they were the first people I told my parents about. When they saw how distraught I felt, they suggested I host a toy drive or donate things I don’t need to the orphanage. I plan on doing that, and much more.

When I walked through those doors into that orphanage on the other side of the world, I did not know I would leave with a new plan for my future. I want people to be inspired to donate things they don’t use or need. I even want to inspire people who want children to consider adoption.I want to shine light on these children, all of them. I want to BE that light.

These children need a home, as well as someone to love and care for them. Some people need a child to love and care for.

As a freshman, I’m still struggling to decide my college major, but no matter what I do in my future,  I know I will include helping the progression of any orphanage I can. I plan on developing this idea in the near future with the help of those who would support it.

Sometimes events in life create experiences for people that alter their ideas and actions. A karaoke night can inspire a future star, a show may inspire a man to become an actor, and a young woman may visit an orphanage and walk out wanting to change the world.

I would like to once again thank Jim Luce and Fran Tarr for giving me this wonderful eye-opening experience. I will never forget it. I would also like to thank Dr. Kazuko and the Nazareth Presbyterian Orphanage for supporting these children and working to give them each a home.

I hope one day I can also make a change in this world – like they did.

Checkout more blogs and information of my previous trip to Chile with Breaking Walls!
Connect with Breaking Walls founder for any questions! 

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Naya Mason
An incoming first-year at Brooklyn College, Naya has been a part of Breaking Walls for almost three years. She served as a Brooklyn Artist in 2016 and 2017, and an Ambassador in 2018. Naya attends Breaking Walls Santiago 2018 and represents the organization in the J. Luce Leadership Experience 2018 in Jakarta & North Sulawesi, Indonesia.