Lisa Parry

As Interviewed by Isabelle Szepatowski, March 15, 2014

Lisa Parry: In Her Own Words

My family moved to Indonesia because my parents were working there with a Christian based organization. I grew up in Indonesia until I was twelve years old, and I have one older sister and one younger brother, who was born in Indonesia. I've only lived on two different islands. I lived on Java, the main island of Indonesia, and Papua. Once I was twelve, we moved back to America, and I attended a middle school and high school in Austin, Texas. After I graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in teaching, I moved back to Indonesia and have been living here since 2004. I was married almost three years ago to a guy also from Austin, Texas, but we first met in Indonesia in 2005, and we now have a beautiful baby boy.

I grew up loving this country, knowing the language, and all my memories from my childhood were from here. My parents and I loved Indonesia, and we always had Indonesians in our homes. I would like to think that's why I’m here, but I came back because I believe everyone deserves the love I've experienced from God and the chance to experience that. I also believe even though this world is not fair, that God is fair, and he sees every person the same, whether poor or rich, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, whatever your place in society or your religious beliefs. Here in Indonesia, I've been working for a faith-based organization, but we are working mainly on education and social development issues. I'm really drawn to people who are working with the underprivileged, poor and helping to lift them up and give them a chance, another opportunity.

When I graduated from college, I knew I wanted to live in a different country, and I wanted the opportunity to live back in Indonesia again. I contacted a couple people I knew working in Indonesia, and they were doing work that I really admired. There was this one guy who had started an after-school lesson program in a trash dump. I contacted him and asked can I learn from you and what you're doing? After he agreed to let me learn from him, I worked with him for about six months, and then found a guy and his wife working with prostitutes and trying to help the girls get out of the situation they were in. They also agreed to let me work with them, so I worked with them for a little over a year. I just watched what they did and how they helped these people and learned a lot from them. They were definitely big mentors in my life.

We don't realize it, but every kid in America has a chance for school and has an opportunity to make something out of themselves. That’s not really an opportunity in a lot of the world. In Indonesia, you have to pay to send your kids to school. So if parents don’t have money, they’re going to cut out education because they were probably under-educated and don’t see education as a value.

I have a child who just turned one, but not only do I have that child, there’s another baby living in our house, and we are going to move towards adoption with that baby. That baby and his teenage mother are both living at our home right now. When I was living single, I will definitely say during my journey and my process, I learned a whole lot from a lot of different people, before I got out and tried to do something on my own. But when I did do something on my own, I had a great team of Indonesian women who I worked with and teached with that helped me.

I’ve been apart of a couple of different organizations while here in Indonesia. As a foreigner, if you want to live here, you have to get a visa to have permission to live here, and you also come in working for different organizations. I’ve taught for a couple of schools, sponsored for different organizations, but the place I was with the longest, that organization’s focus was education. So with that organization we started a small school.

Before we started a school, we started an after school program. What happened was God led us into this community, where a group of kids started playing at our house. Then we started going to their homes and started hanging out with their families, and we saw that they were from a very poor area of the city. They were barely eating, and were in an impoverished area of the city. They were living in shacks, and the first time I met these kids, I knew they weren't necessarily school kids. Some of them were in school, but a lot of them were not, and the ones that were in school, they were not in a very good school. They were in a free school, for the poor, but what happens in the free school is one classroom will have sixty to seventy kids with one teacher, we were finding fourth grade kids who couldn't read yet or sixth grade kids who could barely read and couldn't do simple addition or subtraction, they couldn't do mathematics. So we decided to start teaching these kids the basics.

We started not so much as an after school program but more of a free lesson program because nearly half of the kids were not in school. So three times a week we would go up to this neighborhood, and we would teach. We asked the parents of the kids if they would be open to letting us use some of their houses and set up some benches, and just have really simple lesson programs. A bunch of the families donated scraps of wood, and we made benches and tables for the kids to write and sit on with the wood. We didn’t split it up so much on age, as ability. We gave them this test we made up, to place them in what they already knew how to do. The teachers split up and we taught six year olds all the way up to seventeen and eighteen year olds, really simple reading, writing, mathematics, and a little bit of English.

After teaching in this neighborhood, we decided to create a kindergarten for the underdeveloped communities who could not afford to send their children off to kindergarten, and give their children a head start so they’ll be the smart kids in a class of seventy and keep up with the material. We started another little school and taught fifteen kids letters, numbers, and reading. It’s been four years since we started this school and it’s still going now. There was a lot of things we did wrong, but it probably wouldn’t have survived if we didn’t supplement the school with our money because we charged nothing for these students to be enrolled. It isn’t yet quite self-sustaining.

We had kids that ate two meals a day at our house. There were several kids we knew that had tuberculosis, and so we took them to get diagnosed and made sure they had medicine. We actually have known people that have died of tuberculosis and malaria. The kids living on the streets would come to our house for their meals, and I would give them their tuberculosis pill. There was one time when we had six different kids getting their tuberculosis pills at our house, and so they were coming and eating breakfast, lunch, and diner with us, and I would give them their medicine after the meal. If a kid doesn’t live with their parents, and out on the street, they aren’t going to remember their medicine, so we’d feed them because they would remember to come to our house to get food.

Before we started the school, we took in five girls to come and live with us in our house, and they lived with us in that house for four years. We took them in because in that culture, if a girl already knows how to read and write, her parents will usually stop sending her to school because they don’t feel that school is as important for girls. Because we wanted these girls to continue going to school, we began paying for their education. Well if we were paying for their education, we wanted to make sure they were doing their homework, going to school everyday, not being told to stay home and wash the dishes, so they lived with us.

One day, I sat down with this thirteen year old boy who was not in school, and I asked him Ama, his name, what do you want to be when you grow up? What do you want to do? And he looked at me and laughed and smirked. He said kids that drop out of school, they’re not allowed to be whatever they want to be when they grow up. They don’t have dreams about what they want to be when they grow up. That really hit me, and that night when I was going to bed, I was praying, and I really felt like God said, he may not have a dream for what he wants to be when he grows up, but I have a dream for him. I felt so much compassion and was really impacted that these kids don’t dream because they don’t see their life beyond where they’re going to get their food that night. That really impacted me, and kind of what started this was that I felt like education is really key for these kids being able for them to have a dream and feel they have a future.