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Indonesia - An incredible Journey...

Raphael, President of Solibad, returns from a journey where he had the opportunity to visit several programs in Indonesia. He shares his feelings and experiences through a "travel journal."

As often happens, this journey to Jakarta was going to shake up my certainties...

Friday, June 16th. Departure for the 20th coverage of a tournament in Indonesia as a photographer for Badmintonphoto. In my luggage, the usual precious photography equipment to immortalize these magnificent athletes. But not only that. Also, a whole suitcase full of shoes of all sizes, rackets sent by badminton players from all corners of France in response to Solibad's call. Because this journey, almost initiatory, was going to take me far beyond my usual "Jakartan" comfort. Far into the countryside and mountains of Sumatra. Far into emotions. Those provoked by fatigue first, after a week of intense work on the courtside. Also because it was the last time the Indonesia Open was taking place in this legendary venue, Istora Senayan, which vibrates like no other with local enthusiasm. With the cries, laughter, and songs of the Indonesians who support these champions better than anyone else in the badminton world, champions who also acknowledge the magic of the place and pay tribute to this incredible audience and unforgettable venue.

Before that, at the dawn of the competition, we took Kirsty Gilmour and Adam Hall, two of the top Scottish players, into the depths of Bekasi, a suburb of Jakarta, where Solibad has been supporting a program for a few years now, in a village situated near a monumental garbage dump. The two British players have been longstanding ambassadors, deeply involved, and for this occasion, they had collected equipment from their own country for the children. Monang and the other local coaches welcomed the two stars with their characteristic enthusiasm, while around forty kids listened attentively, smiling and thrilled to be able to exchange a few shuttlecocks. We were in an old and immense reception hall inside an abandoned building at the back of a dusty hotel in this suburb, where two badminton courts had been marked out.

After the playtime and the numerous photos taken with the children and their mothers, who had come to enjoy the show, we hopped on the local motorbikes, driven by the older kids - starting from the age of 14 - to visit the families. For 10 minutes, we navigated through the narrow alleys of this village built entirely around the recycling industry, right where tons of garbage disgorged by the Indonesian capital are dumped every day.

Every visit here is a shock. How can human beings have turned this place into their everyday reality? Kirsty and Adam, like everyone who passes through here, are deeply affected. We visit the families of these children who, just minutes ago, were playing on the field with our two amused Scots. The smiles have given way to emotions on the faces of these distinguished guests, stunned by the severity of this destitution. The children, however, have learned to smile in all circumstances. By culture. By necessity. Also, by joy when fate brings moments of sharing with the "outside" world.

The return journey in the shuttle to the luxurious hotel where the players are staying provides an opportunity for our two athletes to express their disbelief. As for me, I am still under the spell of the emotions from the day spent with the children. Moreover, a few hours earlier, I had received a magnificent gift from one of the former scavengers, Ikbal, a young artist: a giant painting created from a photo stolen from my Facebook profile, made using hand-painted shuttlecock caps to recreate my face on this stunning colorful mural. Nearly 80 hours of work, just like that, to bring joy. And another life lesson for me...

The week of the competition goes by, and incredibly lucky, three local badminton stars respond positively to our invitation to return to Bekasi and play with the children. Debby Susanto, former player of the national team, former world number 1, now a specialized journalist. Marcus Fernaldi Gideon, one of the two biggest stars in the country, along with his doubles partner, across all sports. Mariska Gregoria Tunjung, currently ranked 9th in the world in singles. In turn, they find themselves on the court facing the "Bintang Kidul" or "Southern Stars," these little ones in their yellow uniforms, unbelievably thrilled to be able to interact with true icons. Just like Kirsty and Adam, the three Indonesian players dedicate their time with incredible empathy and kindness, whether it's in this gymnasium that doesn't resemble any they have ever set foot in, or when, after the traditional motorcycle ride, they find themselves in the midst of garbage. Each time, they take the time to engage with the young ones, their families, about their living conditions, dreams, and hopes that might involve badminton as a way to brighten their difficult daily lives in the future.

Sumatra, Land of Badminton

A few hours after the end of the competition, the entire team of Yayasan Bintang Kidul is bustling with activity for a memorable road trip to visit other programs supported by our association, especially in Sumatra. Yayasan Bintang Kidul, our partners, have established 10 badminton programs throughout Indonesia where this sport has been chosen to give young people, predominantly from disadvantaged families, the opportunity to engage in a mixed practice that is essential for their health. In a country where inactivity and poor dietary habits have devastating effects, particularly in rural or disadvantaged environments, these programs aim to promote physical activity, socialization, and solidarity, making a tangible difference. Leading this adventure are Dom and Blak, fantastic loving minds and hearts, who have been working for years with the underprivileged in cities and rural areas, believing that art, culture, education - and therefore, sports - offer opportunities and effective remedies for material and intellectual poverty, giving these children a real chance. Alongside them is a third partner, Ipunk, and together they have created a marvelous support structure.

Heading to Padang, for the first stop on this island of Sumatra that I had never set foot on before. An incredible reception awaited me, with dances performed by young badminton players in traditional costumes, their eyes filled with pride. Solibad has been shining here for several years, on T-shirts and giant banners, yet they had never seen any representative before. Now, I am welcomed here like a prince, deeply moved and incredulous in the face of such kindness and attention.

Suddenly, I become fully aware that the equipment sent, the financial aid we provide with our limited means, the time dedicated by all the volunteers from clubs, committees, leagues, and the donations from individuals and organizations have truly found resonance and purpose here and elsewhere. They bring happiness and hope to hundreds of children, thanks to you and us.

The other stages of this journey will be just as remarkable, with warm handshakes from village chiefs, fantastic local coaches, and parents of young players who have embraced the idea that sports can make a difference. Some of them will become grassroot champions, while others will find a big family and mentors through coaches guiding them beyond the realms of sports and into the paths of life.

Debby Susanto, Marcus Fernaldi, and Mariska Tunjung surround Dom and Blak, our local heroes.

Gratitude is omnipresent. Without Solibad, they say, most of these children wouldn't have the means to buy shoes or rackets or even participate in any activity. The journey continues to Harau, a few kilometers from a little paradise of rice fields nestled between mountains, where a magnificent gymnasium, entirely built from coconut wood, hosts a competition created for the occasion, where four Solibad-BIntang clubs from the region come together. It's a beautiful celebration where the best players compete, and the youngest ones gaze in awe at the talent displayed by those who wear the same T-shirt as them. The day is interspersed with a meal enjoyed sitting on the ground, on large banana leaves, with delicious local dishes eaten by hand, as 80 excited kids radiate joy.

As soon as the prizes are given out (rackets and shoes!), it's already time to leave. Some have several hours of travel ahead, while others, not much less, will be squeezed together, laughing, at the back of a pickup truck. They are thrilled by this one-day adventure, where they made new friends and measured themselves against future stars.

The final stage of the journey takes place in the middle of a school where two courts have been created on the lawn, awaiting the refurbishment of the official open-air court made of concrete. As always, we find some familiar faces. Solibad continues to shine here, in the middle of nowhere, through the smiles of these young players and their coaches, all passionately dedicated to this national sport that resonates differently there. It's like a pretext, a helping hand, and a call to hope, providing some lightness in their often heavy daily lives, symbolized perfectly by the feathered shuttlecocks.

I leave Sumatra with a head full of memories, a heart full of emotions, having shared an extraordinary human adventure – all on behalf of everyone who works for Solibad, of course. My thoughts go to my travel companions, Tommy, Ahmad, Ibu K. "dot"com, Ipunk, and also Agustinus, an exceptional professional photographer who joined us, voluntarily, just the day before our departure, to share his genius and immortalize our actions with his camera and magical drone. And, of course, my deepest appreciation for Dominique and Blak, true everyday heroes, whose humility is inversely proportional to the immense joy they bring and the incredible positive impact they have on these communities – not only the children but their entire families, reviving these communities through art, music, culture, education, and badminton. It's an honor to accompany them, and I hope to do so for many more years to come...

Photos and videos by Mikael Ropars and Agustinus Tri Mulyadi (drone).

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