When she was 13 Leah Thompson, her friend and her mother went to Bali to visit a girl they were sponsoring to go to school, Made, through the charity Yayasan Kemanusiaan Ibu Pertiwi (YKIP). As an expat Australian living in Singapore, it was a life-changing experience to witness the bare conditions of this Indonesian family. Leah tells suitcases&strollers why being exposed to poverty as a youngster through travel was an enriching and positive experience.
What were you expecting to see or experience when you first discussed the trip with your mum?
Being young I didn't have many expectations of what the experience would be like but I knew that I would be meeting a family with a very different way of life to myself and was excited to meet the girl that my mum had told me about.
How did the real experience compare to what you had imagined?
I found it somewhat surprising and pleasing to see how they were happily able to manage their lifestyle and living space given their economic circumstance. I wasn't expecting the sense of community that I experienced seeing this family with the rest of their village – it was like they were one big family!
Did you feel sad at their poverty?
I was happy because it felt so great being able to give them little gifts that they otherwise may not have experienced. Trying to speak Indonesian to them was fun too, although it did make me a bit nervous. I didn't feel sad because I could see that they were still really happy people and rich with friends and love rather than money. Also because I knew this little girl could go and study at school.
What did you learn from the experience that you wouldn't have learnt otherwise?
I learnt that children are generally happy no matter what their background is. They all have just as much ability to be intelligent as this little girl was.
Did the experience impact your life in any long-lasting way?
Yes it definitely did because it made me want to continue working with charity organisations. If anything, it made me more humble and knowledgeable.
Do you think it is important for children to experience and see poverty first hand?
Yes I do because its hard to fully understand until you've seen it first hand. It really may influence them positively later in life and even make them a better person.
Would you suggest other parents take their kids on similar experiences?
Absolutely. It really puts your own life in perspective and may make them appreciate what they have more. It's also a great opportunity for kids to interact with other kids and learn that they can do this with different languages and different backgrounds.
What is Made doing now?
I'm always interested to see photos of Made and see how she is grown and what she and her family are doing. It's exciting when we get any photos or letters sent over the years. She's still in school and striving which is great because we could see she is such a lovely girl who deserves every opportunity.
To read suitcases&strollers’ interview with Leah’s mother, Carolyn Soemarjono, read Introducing Kids to Poverty, Part 1
To read more about why you and your family should sponsor a child, read this story by the winner of MasterChef Australia Julie Goodwin on suitcases&strollers