Sharing   by Vera Ersi
Vera Ersi was the Building Relationship Coordinator from PU Bima, Indonesia for 18 months. Here she shares her experiences in the field, day in and day out, in a remote community on a remote island.

PLAN's mission and vision are really honorable. I sincerely and deeply honor the commitment of Foster Parents. I'm also impressed by the staff of the Country Office and the Program Units for their commitment to work for and with the people who are not so fortunate. It is like there is no better place to work than PLAN and to fulfill one's religious duties (of compassion, sacrifice, sharing etc. -Chris Soebroto). It is sad however that these honorable goals and objectives are often misinterpreted. And it is sad that the achievement of our goals is not perfect because of less than perfect cooperation.
The families we assist are poor. Usually poverty goes hand in hand with a lack of knowledge. Human development means nothing if it does not go hand in hand with a mental and moral improvement. Proof is our nation and the condition it is in. As I see it poverty is not an obstacle that can't be overcome, but mental development is more important. Our focus to begin from the children is very appropriate, but understanding that is very difficult even for the educated few in the communities, such as teachers and religious scholars, let alone illiterate farmers. That is a challenge for PLAN to work on.
Some things really made an impression on me. As PLAN staff coming from the town to the villages we always become the center of attention and scrutiny. Every little thing we say and do is discussed and valued. Forget one of the prayers and immediately we are stamped 'evil'. Hop on a motorbike with someone of the other sex (a colleague going the same way) and we are both subject to gossip. Send a letter in Comic Sans and we are accused of trying to convert the community to Christianity, simply because the t (t) is like a cross. I think this is serious but it is also funny. Something that is not a problem for us, may become a serious issue in the village. Proof is the article about holidays in Holland that appeared in our children's magazine Berlian.
There is much more that will become conversation items for me in Jakarta. And I'm sure that my friends there will be jealous about everything I have experienced. But eerie events are plentiful also. To be intimidated at night on a village road by someone wielding a long knife happened often. To be stopped by men asking for a cigarette happened many times. Coming home late at night cold and wet from the rain did not occur once or twice. To be provoked by someone who was jealous or not satisfied with us also happened to me. A flat tire of the motorbike while we are in the mountains is now routine. To take a small boat to Donggo in rough seas and without life vests aboard was an experience. Oh well, I think the experience of Field staff is the same everywhere. Not very special, but to me it left an impression.
Challenges also included learning to drive a car and a heavy motorbike. But could I handle that thing in the mountains on the winding and narrow tracks? Accident insurance is not the problem: Rp 100 million. It took me time to master those skills and determination to want it. Fortunately my brains are still capable to overcome such problems and to meet with the children in the remotest villages.
Different again is what we experience in Building Relationships. Telling and sharing all the things about sponsorship is very nice and I have to strain my brain to the limit. Imagine that children don't know in which province Jakarta is, how can I explain about Canada. There is so much that causes the quality of communications from Bima to improve so slowly. But I'm convinced that with mental and moral guidance and a stimulation of creativity and strong education the quality will improve. I only hope that Foster Parents understand the conditions in the Field and that they are patient.
I am also aware that the two parties involved in sponsorship are supposed to understand and appreciate each other's culture and that they should both benefit from the relationship. What frustrates me is that I still have not been able to show our children something of the lives of children in other countries, simply because we don't have a VCR here. But, as people say if there is no bamboo, we can also use its roots. We don't have video, but we still have books and in Bima we now have village libraries with children's books. Through the books children quickly absorb information about other areas.
I hope that the new concept of Building Relationships will not be lost because little by little the understanding
For more information, email Chris Soebroto -
  All Photos by: Mr. Sampoerno, 2000