Real interactions will open the hearts and minds of people coming from different backgrounds because fundamentally we are only humans.
Starting out from her experience as a primary school teacher in the remote Bacan Island in North Maluku, Indonesia, Ayu Kartika founded Sabang Merauke. She realized that people, especially children and youths, need to have more understanding about the diversity around them.
Ten years prior to her arrival, there was a riot between societies from two religions that resides in Bacan Island: Muslims and Christians. With thousands of casualties, the government segregated the island into the Muslim village and the Christian village.
Ayu Kartika was working at the 100% Muslim village.
One day, out of concerns that another riot will break out, her students came to her house in a panic and told her, “Ma'am, be careful of the Christians! They can burn down our house!”
She told her students that the riot was far away, but they said, “The riot will fly here!”
Her students had never met any Christians in their lives, yet they already had so much hatred and anger towards the Christians. They didn’t even understand the term “riot”.
She believed that the situation also happens in the other village.
So, when she returned to Jakarta in 2013, she and a few of her friends started Sabang Merauke, an intra-nation student exchange programme in Indonesia.
The organisation brings kids from all over the country to stay with a host family in Jakarta. Both the student and host family are coming from a different background: a Hindu child from Bali living with a Muslim family; a Christian boy from Kalimantan living with a Muslim Javanese family; a Muslim child from Maluku living with a Chinese Catholic family.
They prioritise kids from post-conflict areas. After the programme, the kids will become peace ambassadors in their circles.
Through this live-in, both sides will see that we all actually have more in common than difference. Ayu Kartika believes that diversity cannot merely be taught in classrooms, but also has to be felt and experienced.
Watch the video below about one Sabang Merauke’s participant, a Muslim girl, who lived under one roof with a Christian family.
This story was originally published on Our Better World