More Than Just a Counselor

It is not easy – in fact, a lot of times, very frustrating. Many times, the stench of the sewer next to the classroom, where I teach Math and Bahasa every weekend, claustrophobically packed with young starry-eyed slum kids gets to me. Simple concepts of addition and subtraction seem outside the pale of their understanding at times. There are times when the only thing that conquers the guilt of hitting the snooze button in the morning, is that thought of all those kids waiting patiently for my friends and I.

How do I explain what it feels like to be greeted by a bunch of street kids who thirst for knowledge, with hope in their eyes and a smile on their faces? How do I tell you what it means to see eager-to-learn faces running towards me and my friends when they meet us every weekend for their weekly session? How do I describe this feeling of fulfillment? Their sheer joy makes everything worth it.

But that teaching is on pause due to Covid-19, I realized that I had been right all along: I really miss those kids! I do it because I love these kids and want to help them fight for a better future. I do it because it actually gives me the rest from the mundane and hectic working world that you cannot really escape, living in a big city like Jakarta. It keeps me sane. It reminds me of the beauty of being a kid – carefree and able to find joy in simple things like playing hide and seek.

Back at work as a counselor is a different experience. And juggling between family, work and social work is a challenge indeed. “Is it not tiring?”, some have asked. Dealing with kids is never easy, neither is dealing with families. It comes with a lot of pressure because these families genuinely care about the children’s future. Of course there are endless days of meetings, calls, reports. The reason I am able to get through those tough days is simple: I care. My weekends have really taught me that when it gets tough at work on weekdays, you have to just persevere and keep going. Because there is no better outcome than just seeing my client’s happy faces when they get accepted to their dream school or get recruited by a coach to a collegiate-athletic program in the US. On the weekends, I encourage the parents at the slums areas to invest in their kids’ lives through education that would give them access to a better life.

Two very different worlds: my weekdays and my weekends – families that dream of sending their kids to study abroad vs. families that can barely make ends meet. Who would have thought that these two worlds would shape me into a better person. This opportunity to see the opposite ends of a spectrum, would teach me so much about gratitude.

The days spent with the kids from both worlds remind me that in the end, we are all human – trying to get better at what we do while making mistakes and learning from them. Sometimes it is also okay to do things just because we love them, without worrying about tomorrow or caring about how others might judge us.

I wish I had learned all these earlier in life. I cannot redo my life. But what I can do is to teach my clients to genuinely do good for the world. That sometimes the causes they work for, and care about, are bigger than them. That no matter how trivial it may seem, the work they do for the community will always make a difference.