Indonesia is a long way from Marlborough in Victoria but thanks to an AusAID funded program, two local primary school teachers feel closer to Australia’s northern neighbour than ever.
Through the Australia-Indonesia ‘Building Relations through Intercultural Dialogue and Growing Engagement’ (BRIDGE) program, Kathy McVeigh and Melinda Douglas hosted Siti Khodijah, an English language teacher from Surabaya, East Java, at their Victorian school and in their homes for three weeks in March 2011.
Ms Siti gained new teaching skills, put her English language to daily use and experienced at first hand Australian culture.
”I learnt about cricket and netball, attended local festivals and saw the fairy penguins on Phillip Island. I learnt so much about Australia. It was amazing,” said an excited Ms Siti.
Since Ms Siti’s visit to Australia, her students have been regularly communicating via Skype with pupils in Ms McVeigh’s and Ms Douglas’ school. This online communication tool enables students and teachers to practice their English and Indonesian language skills and to ask questions about each other’s countries and cultures.
”One thing we often talk about is religion,’ said Ms McVeigh. ‘One of the great successes of the program for us has been how it has allowed for religious misconceptions to be cleared and fears allayed,” she added.
Ms McVeigh thought nothing could top the experience of hosting her Indonesian counterpart, until she was given the opportunity, along with 16 other Australian teachers, to travel to Java in Indonesia in early 2012.
”We all got to be reunited with our partner teachers, who were now our very good friends. Coming to Indonesia has been the most positive, amazing, phenomenal, life-changing experience,” said Ms McVeigh.
The Australian teachers travelled to Jakarta, Surabaya, Bandung and Yogyakarta.
”Meeting Indonesians, whether it be on the streets or at educational facilities, is the most welcoming experience, they are always respectful and can’t do enough to make you feel comfortable,” said Ms Douglas.
In Australia, Ms Siti taught Australian students about the 2006 mud flow disaster in Sidoarjo, Surabaya, and its continuing impact on the local community.
”I described to the children how, as a result of a continual mud-flowing volcano, tens of thousands of people have been displaced and many schools flattened,” said Ms Siti.
”As a response, the students wrote letters for the children of Sidoarjo, which Ms McVeigh and Ms Douglas took to deliver on their trip,” said Ms Siti.
For Ms McVeigh and Ms Douglas, their journey to deliver letters and financial help to those in Sidoarjo impacted upon them far more than they could ever have imagined.
”An elder in the community who received the letters thanked us with tears running down his face,” said Ms Douglas. “And the children of Sidoarjo wrote letters for us to take back to our students,” she added.
“Without a doubt, the people-to-people relationships fostered through this program strengthen international relations between the two neighbouring nations,” said Bonnie Hermawan, coordinator of the Australia-Indonesia BRIDGE program.
”These relationships are at the heart of Indonesia-Australia relations. It is a ripple effect that extends beyond just the two teachers who come to Australia—it has an impact on so many lives,” added Ms Hermawan.