Muhamad Iman Usman is currently representing Indonesia in Toronto as an ambassador at the G-20 Youth Summit. Iman, the co-founder and president of Indonesian Future Leaders, and an international relations student at the University of Indonesia, is still only 18 years old yet he has his future all planned. Here, Iman tells us about his work as a youth ambassador, gives us the lowdown on his volunteer projects and reveals who he hopes to meet in Toronto.
So what is your trip to the G-20 all about?
It’s a chance for young people to get involved and speak up about the economic situation, exchange information, listen to lectures in Toronto and represent the other young people living here in Indonesia. We also have a chance to observe the G-20 itself and meet world leaders.
What do you want to get out of your trip to Toronto?
I want to use the opportunity to represent Indonesia and meet other young people in the international relations community.
Who do you want to meet?
I really hope that I get a chance to personally meet Obama. I know we will meet world leaders while we’re there but I don’t know who exactly.
A lot of the volunteer work you do centers around children and children’s rights. Why kids?
It’s a calling for me. I was raised in a good family, and when I was growing up I saw that there were many underprivileged kids in my neighborhood. When I was 10, I knew I had to do something, so I opened a free library for local kids. We gave free courses to them. I taught English and just played games with them to try and help them learn. As I got older, I realized that the laws that are in place don’t actually protect children here in Indonesia.
Children are supposed to be protected. People lack awareness and the law enforcers don’t protect children. For example, we have a law that says children cannot work, but the fact is that many children that live on the street have to work and have to marry at a young age, and from my point of view that’s breaking the law.
Indonesian Future Leaders has been around since 2007, but it was officially established in 2009. We established the community because we wanted to give young Indonesians a way to contribute to society. We wanted to create future leaders who are young, professional, but at the same time able to bring constructive social change to their surroundings.
How many members?
We have 3,800 members around the country and more than 150 active volunteers and 40 committees around the country. And it’s still growing.
Do you think that giving money to kids on the street only encourages begging?
Yeah, I never give money to kids on the street. I don’t want them to see what they’re doing as a job or an opportunity to make money. I don’t want them to see begging as enjoyable because they are making money instead of going to school, and for their parents to keep them working. If you want to help those kids, go volunteer and help teach them something. Giving them books and an education is better than giving them money. Plus, sometimes they just use that money for cigarettes.
Who are your role models?
My parents are a big influence in my life. Both of them only graduated from high school, but they supported me until I could get a scholarship. Another source of inspiration for me is Budi Soehardi, a CNN 2009 hero, the former Singapore Airlines pilot who runs the Roslin orphanage in Kupang [East Nusa Tenggara]. I’ve meet him several times and he inspires me.
When I visited the orphanage, I saw how developed the children were. They can have conversations in English and they go to school and all of them have big dreams. Even my friends in university don’t have any dreams or vision for the future. These kids already have theirs. It’s amazing. Mr. Budi Soehardi and his wife and the other people there are doing something great.
What kind of activities is Indonesian Future Leaders involved with?
There’s Children Behind Us, a weekly free education program for underprivileged children in Bintaro. We established a class there and we give English classes and creativity classes, where the kids paint and draw. And we have School of Volunteers, where we hold workshops at high schools around the city and talk about the UN Millennium Development Goals and provide the students with information about volunteering and fund projects they set up. It’s to encourage and motivate them to volunteer. We also have Students for Tomorrow in which we talk about peace and democracy and the Millennium Development Goals. We plan to send 100,000 testimonials on children’s issues to the government and elementary, junior high and high schools in all 33 provinces.
We want to show the government that these are the voices of the children and that it must pay attention to them.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I want to get a master’s degree, get into community development and establish a foundation for children. I want to get a master’s connected with community development or specializing in youth matters. Then, I’ll develop Indonesian Future Leaders into a properly established foundation for children in eastern Indonesia and become a project development consultant for the foundation.