12 December 2014: Two Yale-NUS sophomores’ learning journey to Banda Aceh

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Two Yale-NUS sophomores, Ami and Sheryl (front row, centre), travelled to Banda Aceh in mid-2014

At Yale-NUS, we are grooming leaders for tomorrow through programmes, fellowships, and learning experiences. The Centre for International and Professional Experience (CIPE) offers a variety of these for students to learn from and discover their interests and abilities.

Last summer, Sheryl Foo and Ami Firdaus, Class of 2017, embarked on a transformative journey to Banda Aceh, Indonesia. They were recipients of the Yale-NUS CIPE Social Impact Fellowship (formerly known as the Student Generated Initiative). The Social Impact Fellowship encourages Yale-NUS students to pursue independent or group projects that will contribute to the community while helping them learn. These projects require students to explore and answer an important question that has direct relevance to a particular community issue, problem, and solution including creative initiatives, community engagement projects, or entrepreneurial initiatives to create a new service for a community in neeed.

Sheryl shares her observations and reflections from the trip.

I was inspired to pursue the Social Impact Fellowship supported by the Centre for International and Professional Experience (CIPE) after experiencing another CIPE initiative, the Week 7 Learning Across Boundaries trip to Banda Aceh, Indonesia which was an exciting academic opportunity that combined my interests in anthropology and psychology.

With much anticipation, I roped in my friend, Ami, who shares an interest in particularly large-scale attacks on psychosocial consciousness such as the 2004 tsunami that hit Banda Aceh. We travelled to Aceh from 20 May to 2 June 2014 to explore the psychosocial recovery of youth in the post-conflict and post-trauma society, specifically the role of religion in aiding recovery and women as community leaders.

To facilitate our research, our Rector Professor Brian G McAdoo linked us up with Dr. Patrick Daly from NUS University Scholars Programme (USP), who was working under a research project titled “The Aftermath of Aid”, funded by the Earth Observatory of Singapore. I also had the opportunity of being mentored byand working with distinguished professors such as Dr. Jesse Grayman from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and others from National University of Singapore (NUS) and Yale-NUS.

When the tsunami happened, Banda Aceh was experiencing a 30-year separatist conflict. The natural disaster, although it devastated the area, also effectively ended the conflict which many locals felt was the “will of God”. Through group interviews, we were able to understand different perspectives on how the Acehnese viewed Acehnese separatism and the current ceasefire across different social strata.

One perspective shared by a group of youth entrepreneurs was how the Acehnese needed to put the conflict of the past behind them and work with Jakarta in a bid for a more everlasting peace and progress in Aceh. Known as “The Leader”, this group aims to facilitate and create change by supporting the ambitions and aspirations of youth at the community level in Aceh.

We also met the head official from the Aceh Provincial Government Officials -Women and Children’s Branch, who spoke about the current role of women in their society. After the conflict and tsunami, the Acehnese women seized the opportunity to assert themselves. An interesting phenomenon also surfaced – female imams stepped up to fill the vacuum of authority after many husbands and male community leaders perished in the tsunami.

We concluded that the Acehnese spirit is strong and will endure through these unprecedented changes of modernity influx. Although the fabric of their society is seemingly torn by conflict and disaster in recent history, religion is an effective buffer and social bond connecting the Acehnese people across generations. Additoinally, women have shown an especially enduring and innovative spirit through tough times.

By the end of this transformative fellowship, both Ami and I felt equipped with many invaluable skills in research and fieldwork from conducting interviews to managing focus groups to witnessing the resilience and tenacity of the Acehnese people that will stay with us for a lifetime.

Check out the CIPE Social Impact Fellowship page for more information on how to apply for the fellowship!