By Jennifer Chan
It was our first mission trip overseas. Together with my 12 year old son, we embarked on this trip together as a part of his life learning journey. Little did I know I would be the one learning from this experience.
When we arrived in Kontum on the first day of our trip, we were met with the sight of a beautiful architectural house of worship sitting in a serene setting, surrounded by trees and wide spaces. The Cathedral of Kontum was a sight to behold. Hidden behind the cathedral compound was an orphanage, a boys’ home with a football field, farming land, a basketball court and a well-equipped library and classrooms.
After settling into our rooms, we spent the rest of the day packing books in the library and sitting in on a class for children taught by one of our local teachers, Soan. It struck me that the lights were dim yet many young children were gathered on a floor mat in a small room (which also doubled as the children’s library). Many of the children were physically small with light brown hair. I was later told by Nathaniel, our group leader, that it was the result of poor nutrition!
The night classes for the village children, are an initiative of Barre’s students from the first and second phase program. We were heartened to see Barre’s efforts bearing fruit as the perennial intention of the Barre program was always for the initial batch of students to become teachers to their community, thus passing the gift of education on.
The next few days were spent with our Phase 1 and Phase 2 students in daily morning study sessions followed by lunch breaks and afternoon study sessions. They were eager to learn and stayed engaged with us. I enjoyed our interaction tremendously.
One evening, I had the opportunity to participate in a session with the children in one of their night classes. Together with one of our students Soan, who in turn was their teacher, we held a story telling session. A simple story of a frog and the “fallen” moon. With Soan as the translator and impromptu comic acting on my part, the story was told amidst much laughter from the little ones.
Another memorable takeaway for the week was an afternoon visit to Soan’s village. As we were trekking through muddy padi fields, a storm swept through and our group took shelter in Soan’s home, chatting and listening to the rain making music on the tin roof. No electricity hence no light. Yet warm smiles all around. It was a humbling experience.
On our last day, we visited the lepers’ orphanage and a minority village located thirty minutes by car from Kontum. We saw children washing their own clothes. They had nothing more than a wooden plank in place of a mattress and lived in close proximity of each other. We were reminded of the hardship faced by the minorities of the country and the daily challenges faced by the church. I marvel at the dedicated individuals who worked tirelessly to help the minority groups. They remained strong in their faith and held the belief that everyone is important.
That week in 2016 went by quickly and we are now back to our usual busy routine in Singapore.
Yet, we often look back to our trip to Kontum with much affection and fondness.
2017 marks the start of lessons with Soan. I hope to continue the good work started by many before us.