Students learn the simple things while volunteering in Indonesia

September 14, 2010

By Jonathan Moore

Tia Strombeck, Chrissy Hughes, Hannah Sherwood and Bria Dawkins (from left, with two children) wear traditional Malayo outfits during a farewell ceremony in Bulung, at the end of a volunteer mission to Indonesia.

The world recently got a lot larger for two Seattle Pacific University juniors.

Issaquah residents Hannah Sherwood and Chrissy Hughes recently returned from a volunteer mission to Indonesia, where they helped with community projects as locals prepared for Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting.

“I wanted to give back,” Hughes said. “The motto at SPU is ‘engaging the culture and changing the world,’ so I wanted to do that on a big scale.”

The mission trip was part of Seattle Pacific Reachout International, a short-term missions program for students supported by SPU’s John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training and Community Development. Fifty students volunteered in nine countries this summer through the SPRINT program.

Owen Sallee, coordinator for Global and Urban Involvement at the John Perkins Center and staff advisor for the SPRINT program, said SPRINT helps students “expand their understanding of God and the world” by engaging them in communities around the globe.

“Our hope is to help students develop cross-cultural competency, grow in their awareness of community development practices and learn from the example of local leaders who are deeply invested in their communities,” Sallee said.

But before taking off, Sherwood and Hughes had some work to do in their own communities. They sold tulips, held car washes and sent out support letters in order to raise funds for their trip.

They spent their month abroad island hopping with a translator in tow. On each island, Sherwood and Hughes stayed with host families, sometimes in stilted houses raised over the surface of the water. Living with the locals was an experience that allowed for intimate cultural exchanges. They discussed religion and culture, ate traditional Indonesian food and even watched some television.

“The TV was on all the time,” Sherwood said. “So, their perception of the West was Hollywood. For us, it was really cool, because we had the opportunity to break those stereotypes.”

Sherwood and Hughes engaged with the communities through service projects that they carried out on each island they visited. They helped repair a dock, taught English, extended a terrace, built a retaining wall and renovated a mosque. Women were not allowed to work on some of the projects, so Sherwood and Hughes helped by going to the wells to fetch water for the men.

As Ramadan approached, they assisted local communities in preparing for the month of reverence. “We cleared out a cemetery,” Hughes said. During Ramadan, “the Muslims on the island visit cemeteries to honor the dead, so we helped them get ready for that.”

The students spent a lot of time repairing things, but they also got a chance to build relationships and have fun.

“One night we went shrimping in the middle of the night,” Hughes said. “It’s what the fisherman do there for a living. We went out at midnight and walked through the water at low tide and caught the shrimp.”

There was also a jungle hike, complete with monkeys and a jump off a waterfall.

The volunteer mission was a lesson in humility for Hughes.

“The people showed me how to be content with simplicity and really embrace that, and not always feel like you need to strive for more,” she said.

For Sherwood, the importance of basic needs was also magnified.

“I was able to understand families and see that everybody, no matter the language they speak, no matter the environment they have, that it all comes down to love,” Sherwood said. “Everybody needs to be loved and needs to give away love.”

Jonathan Moore is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at

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