Exactly two weeks before I wrote this passage, I and my team received an honor to host and organized a program that, in its noble goal, become a bridge and small ball of snow on the very top of the mountain which expected to start a snowball mobility of people between Indonesia and the United States to and from the two countries.
The fact that the program put into implementation after two years of developed ideas and a near closure point just two months before the actual commence date, has successfully proven the strong willingness and commitment from the organizers from two countries. By this, the credit is given to University of Michigan’s Kate Wright, Lehigh University’s Debra Nyby and Jack Lule and my team in Office of International Affairs Universitas Gadjah Mada (Indra, Kiki, Monik, Abe and Sekar) as well as our boss Dr. Rachmat Sriwijaya and other higher ups in the university leaderships, Drs. Djoko Moerdiyanto, MA., and Prof. Ainun Na’im, Ph.D.
The bridge that we started to build to reconnect the people of Indonesia and the Americans are using the materials of common understanding in the issues of “Religious Plurality, Democracy and Multiculturalism” which presented as the similarity of both societies. Beneath the untouchable character of the program, two University of Michigan students (Carrie Burgess and Ellen Meyers), two Lehigh University students (Anne Marie Kerchberger and Fulvia Vargas), and four Universitas Gadjah Mada students (Agitha Binar Arshapinega, Annisia Dwi Baehaki, Fikar El Hazmi, and Zafira Rahmania Nur Shabrina) under supervision of Kate Wright and Jack Lule, and also M. Edhie Purnawan, were given the chance to equally interacts and eventually constructing a friendship bonds among themselves as the participants while observing and put their tireless effort to understand the series of lectures delivered by prominent figures in their expertise to serve the students better understanding about religious plurality, democracy, and multiculturalism in Indonesia.
After an extraordinarily hard struggle to fight jetlag while at the same time the needs to digest new ideas being delivered by academicians and practitioners on the theme, the participants were given the chance to see for themselves what is the inter-religious relations as the reality for the society, instead of the heated debate among pros and cons in the academic field. The uniquely designed experience started with an observation to Friday prayer in two community Mosques in Yogyakarta, a Catholic Church which incorporated the Javanese culture to its architecture and surroundings, which also strengthened through visit and discussion with leading organization in the issue such as Interfidei (the sole and consistence organization promoting interfaith dialogue), IMPULSE (a multicultural organization which develops dialogue on the multiculturalism issues), Kampung Halaman (a non governmental organization dedicated to promote education to empower youth across Indonesia).
In addition, the students and American facilitators were also submerged into Indonesian culture, in this context Java, through learning about Wayang and observing the lives of the santri (students of Islamic boarding schools) in Pesantren Pabelan, the places highly perceived in the outside world as the factory producing terrorists; at least that’s how the stereotype goes. Thus, quite the contrary, the US students were open their hearts and minds to the strong character of the students in Islamic boarding school as well as their presence inspire many students to study English and starting to dream to come to the United States.
Several days and after few shopping times later, the whole group was received by the King of Ngayogyakarta (Official name for Yogyakarta), Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X on one afternoon to present the royal view of inter-religious activities in the City of Tolerance (Yogyakarta-ed) under a direct involvement of the Sultan as well as through the inspiring philosophical grand design of Yogyakarta in the first place.
The program, currently, take place in the US soil in order to expose the Indonesian students and supervisor to American values on the same issue, and, thus, instigate dialogue and comparing the two nations, not to find out which one is better than the other but more, to find the similarities among their respective cultures and societies.
On the long run, like minded programs, and especially this program, would continue to provide the common ground for understanding the societal dimensions of the two countries among its best citizens, the youths.