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This essay was written by Lucia Amieva-Wang, Co-Founder of ASRI kids, for her college application.
On my sixteenth birthday I got a cake in the face, I was chased into the South China ocean, and surprised by sixteen of my best friends hiding behind the furniture of our little house in Sukadana. We sang songs into the night and then all sixteen slept over because no one wanted to say goodbye. Six of us slept in the double bed, toes poking out from under the mosquito net; the rest on the living room floor. There was nothing more I could ask for.
Sukadana is a tiny town with one dirt road, on the edge of the tropical forest in Borneo, Indonesia. It is hot and humid and the electricity goes out at least once a day. There are mosquitos everywhere, giant spiders living in the bathrooms, and bioluminescent creatures that light up the sea at night. Life in Sukadana is nothing like life in Silicon Valley. In Sukadana, time passes slowly and we lived in every moment for the moment. In Palo Alto, it seems we run from activity to activity and plan our entire life path before the 9th grade.
Dewi is my age, and like me, she loves to sing and play the guitar. Completely self taught, she has more talent than I have ever seen. The first time I met her, I was nine. It was in 2011 when my sister and I first traveled to Sukadana, where my mother was volunteering with a local clinic. One day we noticed a group of kids at the beach. Though we didn’t speak Bahasa Indonesia, through the universal language of hand gestures, we taught them to play UNO and they taught us how to climb coconut trees. We spent the next weeks exploring the rainforest, taking turns sharing things from our different sides of the world.
At the end of our stay, my family took a trip to Tanjung Puting National Park, a orangutan rehabilitation center, and only a two hour plane flight away. But while we were there, surrounded by tourists from all around the world, learning about the animals and plants endemic to Borneo, we did not see a single local Indonesian kid in the park.
That is how we started ASRI kids, a summer conservation program for kids with the goal of bringing our friends and other kids from Sukadana, to visit their national park. We wrote letters to fundraise and we helped Etty, the amazing conservation teacher, make teaching materials. For us it was an opportunity to see our friends and to experience the simplicity of life. For them it was about the chance to fly on a plane, to discover new things about the amazing place they call home and, somehow as the summers passed, imagine their role in protecting it. Last year, the kids from the inaugural session of ASRI kids had the idea of starting ASRI teens. They wanted to stay involved in the program, help teach other neighborhood kids about conservation, and they dreamed new dreams of becoming architects, marine biologists and conservationists. Dewi, whose parents break rocks on the beach for a living, is now the first in her family to go to college.
We have gone back to Sukadana six times, visiting our friends and growing up together even though we live halfway around the world. Somehow, it is always hard to leave that fast life of Palo Alto to go, and equally hard to come back. But Dewi and I sometimes facetime and play together on the guitar, reminding me to have perspective and take life one moment at a time.