Noor was my martial arts instructor. She taught pencak silat in a dirt lot next to her home.
Not more than six months prior, I would never have been in this province of Indonesia, Aceh, as it had been closed to foreigners for more than 50 years. But a tragedy had changed that in a matter of seconds—a tragedy that had been felt around the world.
The earthquake of 2004 had hit the day after Christmas or what people in these parts call Boxing Day. It triggered the largest tsunami ever recorded, which struck dozens of countries and killed a confirmed 184,167 people, displacing more than a million. The province of Aceh (in Northern Sumatra in Indonesia) was the worst hit; it was where 71% of all deaths occurred.
I had been teaching at an all-girls school in Kuwait when this catastrophe happened. I was following the recovery work closely when I saw a job posted online to teach sports for girls for an NGO in Aceh. I promptly applied and, after a phone interview, got the job.
When I arrived in Indonesia, I realized there was a big problem. The executive director (who was a foreigner) had never done a needs assessment or even asked the community if an afterschool program was what they wanted or needed. After a couple of months, it became apparent that there were larger needs in the community than just teaching sports to youth.
Sure, there is a place for sports, but they already had their own sports teachers, and they were now losing out on their pay because of the foreign program. The parents needed jobs, and they needed seed monies to get their businesses re-established so they could better provide for their children.