June 30, 2017 marked the beginning of my journey to Brainfood in Washington D.C. That day I received an email from the American Councils to inform me that I was selected. I was over the moon when I read the email. When I passed this great news directly to my SAGU team, they were just as excited as I was. We realized how important this opportunity is for our small organization to grow.
Several emails after that, I received more good news from the American Councils – that I was to do my internship at Brainfood. I was also provided a brief description of Brainfood and what its mission is as an NGO based in Washington D.C.
Before I arrived, I visited Brainfood’s website to learn more about it, but it didn’t really occur to me how exactly they teach life and work skills to their students. Having visited all the classes, I soon learned that during the 2-hour class, students learn a lot!
- For example, students are assigned in groups of three or four so they can learn about teamwork. Students have to read recipes by themselves, which teaches them to focus on a given task.
- Students also get to decide group expectations. Group expectations set up the culture of Brainfood classes which can be transferred to soft skills. Students need these skills to succeed in any working places. My favorite part is to see students are invited to contribute their ideas to the group expectations. Examples of group expectations are being responsible, being on time, one-mic policy, being helpful, etc. In every beginning of each class, students will choose one group expectation that they would like to focus on during the class. By doing this, students are trained to recognize things that they want to improve and focus their mind on it.
- They are given kudos for things they do above and beyond those expectations, and strikes if they break any rules. Strikes are seen as a challenge for the whole group and it will be discussed together to find the solutions (I’m proud to tell you that we haven’t had one single strike so far!).
Tisha teaching students how to make Gado Gado, an Indonesian salad
So, in a 2-hour class, students learn so many things in a fun way. I will definitely take this home and I really hope that I can also help youth in my hometown Jayapura to learn life and work skills in ways that are fun and enjoyable for them. I also learned that Brainfood has a mission to educate youth about healthy eating, and this is also incorporated in the curriculum.
Now, who wouldn’t agree that food does bring people together, which is why in almost all general households, people have dining tables, right? Also, who doesn’t like food? It may seem like a simple question, but actually it’s the simplicity that carries the power to engage and empower. Brainfood sees this as an opportunity to reach out to youth in Washington D.C.
One of things that I have so far learned from the American people is that doing volunteering is regarded as an American value and how proud they are of it. In the past 2 weeks, I have been able to observe the relationship between volunteers and Brainfood. What caught my attention is that Brainfood does have devoted volunteers. Some even have been volunteering in Brainfood for six consecutive years. Now this is something special to me. NGOs do need volunteers because their involvement means that it receives community support. All NGOs are established with a mission to bring about change in community and it will never be achieved without the community support. I am beyond grateful to be able to see this firsthand at Brainfood, as this too was on my wish list of things I would like to learn during my fellowship at Brainfood.
Tisha with Brainfood volunteers and staff after class
I also saw that all cooking class instructors are allowed room to improvise and be creative in lesson planning, so they may teach their students better. I found this similar to what we have in SAGU Foundation, that tutors are encouraged to be creative in developing materials because after all they are the ones who are in the frontline of making students’ skill development happen.
Tisha teaching Brainfood’s Community Cooking Coaches how to make klepon, an Indonesian snack
Besides attending classes, I also came to weekly staff meetings where I got to see how Brainfood staff support each other, and also a finance meeting. In these meetings, my questions about how to sustain an NGO were all answered. I definitely took many valuable notes from all the meetings and each of them gives me more confidence to do work that my SAGU team and I have been doing. Thank you, Brainfood!
Post-staff meeting group photo
I also had a gardening session once a week and I learned about plants that can survive fall and winter, also types of plants purposely grown inside the garden to naturally repel pests. My favorite part is harvesting and I was allowed to take some produce home to my host family. It was like being given a treat!
Harvests from the Youth Garden, featuring a handmade Indonesian harvest bag
Homegrown is another part of Brainfood that I found fascinating. I was scheduled to be in the Homegrown kitchen once a week. I met the manager and her awesome team and from them I learned how Homegrown operates on a daily basis. I had the opportunity to visit Brainfood’s stall in the famous Union Market where all local DC products are sold. The most interesting part for me personally is knowing that Brainfood also creates job opportunities for their graduates.
The conclusion of my learning during my internship period at Brainfood is that Brainfood creates a clear stage for youth to learn from the basics in the kitchen until experiencing the real workplace world, and Brainfood’s work may also have an impact on the country’s effort to reduce the prevalence of obesity. At this point, if someone tells me that Brainfood is a small NGO, I would say: Define small!
All in all, I am in awe to see how Brainfood uses food as a tool to engage, empower, and educate youth. This internship has empowered and enriched me personally and professionally. I am excited to return to my country and apply things that I have learned from Brainfood. I am forever grateful for this once-in-a-life-time experience and hopefully I will be a better young leader and bring more positive impact to my community in Papua and to my country Indonesia.