Be inspired. Zack: Spreading volunteering
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“I don’t think that there is much difference among nations. Human being is just human being. Language actually doesn’t really matter, because listening and smiling are both important things to live in diversity.”
His name is Zack Petersen. He was born on September 12th, 1980. He is actually an American that now lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. He has lived in Mauritania and Barcelona before he finally moved to Jakarta. Let’s take a look at his story below.
Q : So, Zack. What did you actually want to be when you were just a kid?
A : I want to be a professional football player. However, everything changed a lot, because you know, as we grow older, we will realize that the world is even bigger and there are so many things to be explored out there. That’s also the reason why I decided to leave Iowa, because if I keep staying in Iowa, I will never experience anything. Then I finally moved to Mauritania as part of the Peace Corps program, and I went to Indonesia.
Q : Why did you choose Indonesia?
A : First, I used to watch Animal Planet too much, and I guess I have to experience it by myself. Second, I didn’t know anything about Islam, and I wanted to know more about that religion. That’s why I chose Mauritania and Indonesia. Mauritania is 100% Muslim.
Q : Would you like to share about your time in Mauritania in the Peace Corps?
A : Peace Corps is actually similar with the Indonesian "Mengajar", you are sent to a place that you don't know, and work in order to create positive impact in the village you are sent to. I was sent to a village named Tekane, it is located at the border of Mauritania and Senegal. Well, if you can imagine how the common small village’s condition is, then that is how Tekane looked like. I stayed in Tekane for 27 months, and I had such a great time in that place.
Q : What is your best moment? The most memorable one?
A : I really loved the time when I played with my younger brothers. But there was a time, when I had just lived for two days in that village, suddenly someone brought me a 3-year-old girl, and she was crying. I had no idea why she was crying until I finally realized that she had fallen into fire and her skin was burned. The hospital was very far away from that village, and the medicine in my first-aid kit would not be enough. But I did what I could do at that time. I cleaned the burned skin and tried to cure it with appropriate medical things that I had. I did it every day until the wound finally recovered and everybody was telling me: “Yeah, man! You did it!” But the point is that I felt a very close bond develop when I helped her. I mean, I was not able to speak their language and I didn’t even know where the bathroom was. It’s like an immediate trust appeared around us. That was great.
Q : I’ve read that you also became a teacher in Tekane. Would you like to share about that?
A : My village actually didn’t have any school. It was just another ordinary day, and my host father asked, “Hey Zack, what are you going to do today” and I replied “I don’t know.” Then he looked outside and said “Take a look at those children.” And it was the beginning of how I finally became a teacher. I taught English. People in Tekane speak 6 languages, including French, but not English, so yes, I taught them. I also did farming, because in my village, if you want to eat vegetables, then you have to plant them yourself. But it was fun. I enjoyed it so much.
Q : What about Barcelona? Did you have the same mission as the one that you had in Mauritania?
A : No, it was different. I went to Barcelona simply to be "refreshed". Barcelona has a lot of museums and parks. It even has a special day when everybody walks to parks. So, yes, it’s a different thing from Tekane.
Q : And now, what are you doing in Indonesia?
A : I work for Jakarta Globe and Berita Satu. My friend is really kind for hiring me to work there. I write in the "My Jakarta" section. And I also became a volunteer at an organization called "Count Me In". Count Me In links people that want to do volunteering, giving information about which organizations need help or any chance to help others. We both connect people and do volunteering together. In Jakarta Globe, what we actually do is participatory journalism. So we volunteer, then we write down what happens in the field. That’s what we do.
Q : How did Count Me In actually appear?
A : In Indonesia, I have volunteered in a thousand places. I often hear people say, “I really want to volunteer, but I have just never known where”. So, I work at Count Me In, write articles, use Twitter and Facebook, so that the statement “I really want to volunteer, but I have just never known where” can be minimized.
Q : What can you say about volunteering?
A : Well, I want to make people realize that volunteering is more than just giving money, it’s all about giving time. It’s not about feeling sorry, it’s about giving empathy. If you want to help kids in the hospital, you have to go to the hospital. You can’t just say this and that behind your desk. Ownership is also important in volunteering. And I’m happy that there are a lot of youth in Indonesia that are concerned and care about this kind of thing. That’s also one of my best moments. Knowing that you guys really care and give a positive reaction to this.
Q : In your opinion, what is the main problem for kids nowadays?
A : Education. I think that education is a bridge to connect people. It’s sad to see the gap between people who have options in their lives and people who don’t. Passionate teachers is also a matter for me. When you are teaching without passion, you just poison the kids that learn from you. So, it is important to have teachers that have a genuine feeling to teach the children, because you have to know that, there will be no kids that don’t want to study. They have such a big passion to learn.
Q : As you have said before, you have gone to several places and countries. How do you adapt and overcome the problems caused by the difference among nations?
A : I don’t think that there is much difference among nations. The human being is just a human being. Language actually doesn’t really matter, because listening and smiling are both important things to live in diversity. We often forget that as a human being, we need to be listened and loved. So, I guess I have no difficulty, and I don’t really have to adapt whenever I go travel to some places with different nations and cultures.
Q : We have heard about your achievements, what you do and have done. What is actually your main milestone?
A : "Count Me In" is actually one of my most important milestones. But in my life, I have never set anything so high. I’m not a guy with a complex and huge goal, it’s always been a little thing. For instance I want to collect books, I want to teach children, and other things just to grow more and more. I do have visions, but if I set it too high, it will be a big down for myself, I’m starting to make excuses or else. But at the end of the day, if I didn’t get what I’ve planned, I got no one to blame but myself.
Q : What is your next goal and what is the upcoming events on Count Me In?
A : I still have so many goals, but what I really want is to make volunteering more popular, so that when you introduce yourself, you are not going to say where you study or work, but where you volunteer. And for the upcoming events, we are now collecting dolls and diapers for the kids in the hospital with several diseases.
Q : Would mind to give a message to youth around the world?
A : I just want to share that what keeps me going is that I realize that I’m not perfect. I also feel that I’m pretty lucky because whenever I look around, my problems are not worth being mentioned. I want to emphasize that it’s better for us to focus on the good things, so that you will never lose your hope and you will still continue to fight to make the change you wish to see in the world.