By Radhe Ayu (YES 2014-2015, Indonesia, placed by YFU in Ann Arbor, MI)
Hello from Indonesia! My name is Radhe Ayu. Going to the U.S. really shaped me to be a person who cares about social and environmental issues and, most importantly, does something about it. In the U.S., we were encouraged to do volunteer service at my host school. That was the beginning of my story with Gabi, the first person that I met with a disability. My teacher at Pioneer High School introduced us and asked me to have lunch with Gabi every Wednesday. Gabi truly inspired me. He is smart, talented with music, and a beautiful, warm person.
When I returned home to Indonesia, I realized that we rarely have a chance to interact with people with disabilities in our daily life. They live a separate life and receive a subpar education compared to the rest of the population. People with disabilities (PWDs) have a hard time finding decent work or income. Less than 2% of PWDs in Indonesia go to university or gain employment after high school. However, my friends and I saw how passionate, hardworking, and talented these students with disabilities are. They have dreams and want to make them come true, so we established ABILITAS.ID (Aku Bisa Berkualitas untuk Indonesia). This program aims to empower youth with disabilities in Indonesia through high-quality vocational training that prepares them to enter the workforce. We believe that people with disabilities can contribute to Indonesia's development. Six years have passed since I finished my exchange year. But the YES program keeps inspiring me to make a change.
When I heard that the YES program opened another grant application in December 2020, I was very excited to apply. My team and I had previously run three successful vocational training programs in culinary arts for youth with disabilities, so we applied for a YES Alumni Grant to run another edition of the program in Lombok. We chose culinary arts because many students with disabilities are passionate about cooking, but they never got the chance to learn cooking methods from a professional chef. And we learned from previous iterations of the program that many of them were able to sell their own baked goods after the training.
Our culinary arts training this year was very exciting because we improved our recruiting system and training method. We wanted to extend the opportunity to talented and passionate students with disabilities in Lombok, so we toured 15 special education schools and held short cooking auditions. We recruited 11 students with disabilities along with four teachers who teach students with disabilities, with the idea that these teachers can help share the knowledge gained during training with their students.
The training was held in a bootcamp style. Instead of having a class once per week for three months, we packed all the training into one eight-day training camp. This successfully kept the students focused and excited to connect with mentors and new friends. The impact made through this program was ABILITAS.ID’s best so far. The improvement of skills from the first exam to the last was huge — we saw an 80% improvement in scores. We added entrepreneurial training to our curriculum, and the students were challenged to sell their baked goods to the people in the neighborhood.
I would also like to celebrate the fact that our volunteers and mentors have become proficient in everyday sign language. Before the program, none of our volunteers were able to communicate in sign language, but after a short training and intensive interaction with participants over those eight days, they were able to communicate with our deaf students and teachers.
After the training, we provided the three best students with capital to start their culinary businesses. Coming from low-income families, they don’t have the ability to buy the appliances that they need. Therefore, this starting capital will support them to get the necessary tools they need to produce baked goods at home that they can sell. In addition to the top three students, one additional participant received starting capital from the local government sub-district of Selong. The team and I will continue to follow up and monitor the participants’ progress with their businesses. Seeing their performance and tenacity during training, I have complete faith that they can turn this opportunity into a decent income. My hope is that this training is just the start of their culinary career.
During the program, I was deeply amazed by the talent, courage, and positive energy that our students showed. Witnessing the progress that they made from day one to day eight left me speechless and full of gratitude. Our participants have helped the world a little in breaking the negative stigma of people with disabilities, showing the world that they are people with abilities. In the end, I realized that there is nothing impossible and every little thing that we do to help matters. Cheers to their courage and dreams. It has become our motivation as a team to keep going and make a difference in our community. I believe that everyone deserves a chance, whoever they are and wherever they are from. I hope that more people out there open their hearts to give opportunities for our youth with disabilities to grow and pursue their dreams.
I would like to thank all my hardworking ABILITAS.ID team members, volunteers, donors, and mentors, who worked really hard to make this amazing training happen. I am very thankful for the headmaster and the lovely teachers of SLB As’syifa and the local government of Selong and Sekarteja for being wonderful hosts. Without their support, this training wouldn’t have happened. Last, but definitely not least, I am very thankful for the YES program and the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, who have supported ABILITAS since the beginning in 2019 and trusted us again this year to run this training program in Lombok.