I had the privilege of being selected out of five Muslim Australians to go on the 2015 Australia Indonesia Institute Muslim Exchange Program where I spent two weeks in Indonesia. These are my reflections as well as some reflections from the other members in my group: Sarah Chaabo, Tasneem Chopra, Jhon Umar Yusuf Kyaw Naing, Sahema Saberi.

The first two days, I was unfortunately sick by bringing the flu from Australia. The other participants told me they visited the Australian Embassy in Jakarta for a briefing and introduction to the program.

They then visited Paramadina University where they met the Rector, Dr Firmansyah, speaking on topics such as protocol, politics and progressive thought.

The next day, there was a roundtable meeting with Non-Government Organisations such as Maarif, ICIP, Ahimsa, Rahima and the Wahid Institute. Tasneem mentioned how much she enjoyed meeting a mover and shaker, Luluk from AHIMSA, an NGO in Indonesia invested in empowerment of women though income generation projects and civil society activism.

Participants were able to have more of an appreciation of Indonesian cuisine, especially Kueh Dessert that was served with tea.

This was a great event for the participants to network with one another and increase positive international relations.

They also were able to develop more of an understanding of what the objectives were for these Indonesian community organisations.

The next day, we went to Bandung, a city in Java known for its artistic and cultural affluence.

We had the privilege of meeting Ginan, founder of Rumah Cemara who envisions an Indonesia without discrimination towards people with HIV/AIDS and people who use drugs.

For 12 years on, they have reached so many people. Rumah Cemara serves as a rehab/drop in centre for locals, providing counselling, support for addicts (syringe exchanges), sex workers and at risk youth. The initiative to destigmatise people living with HIV has been an ongoing effort of some inspiring change makers, lead by the exuberant visionary, Ginan. Using sports and artists mediums to engage dialogue and transition youth into opportunities that enhance their well being.

Ginan himself had such an inspirational story that he so candidly spoke about.

He used drugs between the ages of 13 to 20 years. Now 35, he has tremendously turned his life around, travelled the world and speaks so sincerely about his mother and God. He said “Blessings of God is through the blessings of your mother.” Rumah Cemara represents the best of progress, inspiration and recovery. www.supportdontpunish.org.

We then went to a village maze where we got to have a traditional home cooked Sudanese lunch. It was amazing. My favourite dish was spinach mixed with garlic, chilli and butter. I wish I could be back there right now.

After Yusuf, Sahema and Sarah went for a horse ride, we visited Kampung Daun (Leaf Village), and it was an outdoor restaurant in such a beautiful mountainous area situated in a jungle. There were little huts spread out over the jungle mountain area. It was so beautiful to eat along a river and in amongst greenery. Definitely a very romantic place. Tasneem had her usual satay whilst we all tried some western dishes and some wonderful Indonesian mocktails.

Part 2 in the next issue!