Under the LEX program, my team and I spent two weeks in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and were given the task of providing sustainable solutions that would help the housewives of Polengan Village hasten the process of making Pathilo Perapi (Cassava Crackers) in cottage industries. But before all of that, we were required to attend a 2-day pre-trip training in Kampung Temasek, Malaysia. The training consisted of learning about the Design Thinking Methodology, getting to know one another, and mentally preparing ourselves to the living conditions there.
Once we arrived at our hostel in Yogyakarta, we met our Indonesian buddies from the University of Muhammadiyah, who would be with us for the 2-week program. They came from different fields of study but were all very friendly and cheerful. For the first few days, our Indonesian buddies were taught the Design Thinking Methodology while we struggled to learn how to speak Bahasa Indonesia. We then spent the next five days in Polengan Village. During my stay, I immersed myself in the community’s reality and interacted with them. For example, I actually tried out some of the Cassava making process, which was surprisingly strenuous on the arms and hands. I also got the chance to get to know some of the housewives that were involved in the Cassava making and listened to their needs regarding the Cassava making process. With all the information that we had gathered during our stay at the village, we brought it back to our hostel to begin crafting our solutions. The whole process took us days and many sleepless nights but we spurred each other on. Everything came one full circle when we presented the solutions to the villages of Polengan during the last few days of the program and they were very excited about implementing them. It was their response that made every effort that went into this project so much more worthwhile.
During the village stay, I have had a few significant learning moments when I was engaging the local community. I learnt about the importance of education. The local community lacked basic education. This restricts their employment opportunities to low income jobs. With low incomes, the villagers might require their children to stop schooling and help out in agriculture, thereby perpetuating this cycle of poverty. This is especially so in Polengan Village, where the general perception for young women is that they do not need education since they will stay as housewives when they grow up. I also learnt about the importance of being grateful. Before I went on this trip, I always had something to complain about. As such, I was constantly upset with the slightest things in life such as a delay in the train or a wrong order at a fast food restaurant. However, all these changed after I returned from the trip. I realized that sometimes to be happy is to be grateful for the things that you already have. I also understood that the easiest way to be grateful for something is to imagine your life without it.
My greatest takeaway from this project would be about OTHERS. I was constantly reminded through the actions of my Indonesian buddies; these acts were not of self-centeredness but were all about selflessness. For example, during our last day at the village, I woke up earlier than usual. Everyone was still asleep because we had a late night cultural exchange program and campfire. Bored, I decided to go out for a walk until it was time for breakfast. When I walked out of the house, I saw my Indonesian buddies cleaning up the grass field in front of the house where the event was held with brooms and dustpans. I was totally speechless when I saw them. I could see the fatigue in their eyes and posture. When I asked them why they did not ask us for help, they just smiled and said, “It’s ok, we can settle this, and you guys need to rest”. It was this spirit of OTHERS that really inspired me. If there were anything I have learnt from working on this project besides the Design Thinking Methodology, it would be about being less self-centered and more OTHERS-centered.
All in all, I am grateful to have the opportunity to have participated in the LEX program. Through it, I got to know myself better, establish genuine friendships, and contribute something meaningful to society.