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December 12, 2012
Brittany Carroll is the Project Assistant at Family Online Safety Institute.
A few weeks ago as I was scrolling through the hundreds of pictures on my iPad; I paused at the photos I took in early July of this year.
Around that time, I wasn’t necessarily furiously typing away on a computer or doing busy office related tasks. I was volunteering at Roslin Orphanage in Kupang, Indonesia located in West Timor. I’d just finished a yearlong teaching fellowship in Taiwan, and a fellow teacher, Karina Legradi, asked me to accompany her to an orphanage that she learned about on CNN Heroes a few years ago. Before embarking on this journey, I knew relatively nothing about Indonesia. Originally, I envisioned the trip to be sunny beaches, wonderful Indonesian meals, with daily massages---that’s Bali, not Kupang. Civil unrest from decades ago displaced a huge population of people in Kupang and orphaned thousands of children.
Karina and I arrived at the orphanage prepared to play games and be available for whatever projects the owners, Budi and Peggy Soehardi, needed help with. Instead, we spent the majority of our time at the orphanage teaching English. Although we only bought a few materials, Karina and I were ready to improvise! We had plenty of practice in Taiwan—I taught about 600 students and Karina had taught 400. To our surprise the children at the orphanage were so enthusiastic to learn English that they wouldn’t let us finish teaching! They would come up to us and continue playing the games, writing English on the whiteboard, and saying the words aloud. It was really amazing to see such enthusiasm for learning.
What was even more intriguing than their excitement for learning was their complete fascination with my iPad. Kids would rush up behind me and watch intently as I would slide my fingers across the screen. I could hear them whispering in Bahasa Indonesian and, even though I didn’t know the language, I could tell that some of the kids were explaining to other kids how the device worked.
Noticing their curiosity, I would hit the camera option that would turn the camera lenses to face me, and you could hear the gasps and the frantic rush and excitement of kids bobbling their heads up and down trying to catch a glimpse of themselves on the screen. At times, I would have 20 heads behind me, all trying to see themselves and touch the screen display. I would select different photo filters and features and the kids would squeal and giggle at the distorted images that appeared. Equally surprising was their knowledge of Western pop music. I would play “Baby” by Justin Beiber and the entire group would burst out dancing and singing the chorus to the song even though they didn’t understand English!
Before my time at the orphanage, when I was living in Taiwan, I seldom ran into connectivity problems. I had Wi-Fi in my house, and access to Wi-Fi at most cafes, restaurants and hotels. I constantly communicated with my family and friends via Skype and social networks, and always remained abreast of the latest news, music, TV shows, sports stations, and celebrity gossip. I was constantly plugged in at all times and most of the population of Taiwan was too—my students often knew more about technology products than I did!
The pervasive presence of Wi-Fi networks in homes and businesses was nowhere to be found in Kupang. However, even without those, I didn’t feel as unplugged as I initially feared I would when the wheels of my plane touched down on Kupang’s soil. My iPad, a relatively small device, had such a unique power of connecting me and Karina to our students in the orphanage – even without internet connection! Maybe another foreigner taught them the lyrics to Justin Beiber’s song or they overheard the song on a Western radio channel. Nonetheless, at that moment in time, we were connected to the beat and ballads of the tunes coming from my iPad. I was able to show them just a glimpse of this relatively “new” piece of technology, and, they were able to master the device within minutes.
These types of interactions with technology transformed the kids’ interactions with Karina and me. What was once reserved and awkward encounters with the kids, turned into contagious can’t-get-enough moments that I will never forget.
Five months later, I often find myself entrenched with work or long lists of tasks to accomplish. When things get stressful I find myself revisiting pictures from my stay at the orphanage. I’m grateful for those still, tranquil and less frantic parts of the day, where I have the ability to see the faces and hear the voices of the kids that captured my heart for those two weeks in Kupang, Indonesia. And, I can do this all with the brush of my fingers sliding across the surface of my iPad.
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