Reliable Foundation: Trip Report with the John Fawcett Foundation

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I’ve just come back from my 1st trip with the Reliable Foundation team over in East Java, Indonesia. This is my first-hand experiences.

My initial journey with RE started more than 4 years ago. I’ve seen this group grow from just a handful of us inside a Facebook group to now more than 10,000 students.

I’ve always wanted to jump in with a Reliable Foundation trip with JFF. It was previously only open to those in the Platinum Partners coaching program, but just recently it was opened up to all students to increase the amount of impact.

So…I finally had the opportunity I was waiting for! The best part – this was the 1st time that Rhino 1 (The bus we raised $250k for at the last Summit) was in full use.

I’ll share here my experiences. Most importantly, I promise no gory photos of eye surgeries.

Starting the tour with John Fawcett Foundation

Most tours are a bit different, given that JFF mostly performs mobile eye surgery with their fleet of buses to the more remote parts of Indonesia. So my tour might be slightly different than yours.

One thing is for sure: you’ll be seeing the authentic side of Indonesia. If you think you’ll see foreigners around every bend like Bali, then think again. English-speaking locals are harder to find.

Our tour started at the Swiss-Belinn in Surabaya. This is a nice and clean hotel with good food options. Unfortunately, it wasn’t walking distance to anything exciting but did offer good facilities including a swimming pool.

From here, our destination was Probolinggo, a small city in East Java. This is a 3 to 4-hour bus ride from Surabaya, with the bus provided (via contract) by JFF.

This is a two-lane road. There is oncoming traffic which you can’t see.

The journey was a range of organized Indonesia chaos, plus the excitement of barely used highways.

See above: We’re about to have a head-on collision at 60km/h. Maybe sitting in the front seat wasn’t the best idea after all…

On the flip side, who would have thought there are empty 100km/h highways in Indonesia?

The let-down was the airconditioning on the contract mini-bus was really sub-standard and something that should be rectified on the next trip. Quite frankly – it was a hot-box.

Then to add in another let-down, the hotel we were booked into at Probolinggo wasn’t very clean at all. The sheets, walls and bathrooms weren’t that impressive. I didn’t even get photos of this place.

Certainly we’re not pretentious people that expect 5-star elegance, but we still have a standard of cleanliness. Luckily, we were all rebooked into another place courtesy of JFF that was very suitable and 3.5 stars by Western standards.

Small but clean and tidy. 3.5 stars by western standards and I was very happy!

So our accommodation always included breakfast, lunch and dinner. The WIFI was really fast (I was on-boarding a new employee on the last day with a video call with no problems) so really no complaints from here.

Clean In-Room bathrooms at the hotel that the John Fawcett Foundation booked for us

In fact, we all saw these past minor issues as an adventure and a story to tell in the future. This is SE Asia after all. 🙂

The bus that Reliable Foundation built

The next day we were off to the main hospital in Probolinggo which had a 4 day operation to see upwards of 2,000 patients of low socio-economic villages.

This operation is supported by a range of charities including Reliable Foundation. We’re one of the biggest and the logo certainly stands out on this banner!

Reliable Foundation John Fawcett Foundation

This was the main drawcard for a lot of us – seeing Rhino 1. Our new baby!

Reliable Education Indonesia

Trust me, it looks even better in person! It was great seeing dozens of my fellow friends who have become family on the window. Can you spot my name?

The most interesting part is that this graphic was created by Helmy, one of the local operations managers. He’s a man of many talents.

Adam Hudson Reliable Foundation

On the 1st day we were there to see the following things:

  • The patient assessments
  • The Reliable Foundation bus
  • Inside the bus including a live surgery
  • Ask as many questions as we wanted
  • Get hit up with hundreds of selfie requests!

Most of this side of Indonesia rarely see foreigners visiting. It’s also worth noting that students can do as much or as little as they feel comfortable with – there is no pressure.

Here is where trained eye specialists were assessing patents for their needs. Some needed cataracts, whilst others were requiring eye drops or merely sunglasses. Given the capacity constraints, only a small percentage of patients are able to move on to receive eye surgery.

In addition to the 1st day, we got to see eye surgeries inside the buses. Remember – no gory photos here.

There are 2 buses here. The 1st one (on the left of this photo below) is from 2009 and has now done tens of thousands of surgeries.

Mobile Eye Clinic Reliable Foundation Australia

On the other hand, Rhino 1 has just been commissioned and I was inside to see the 9th ever surgery. This bus will restore eye-sight for tens of thousands of people over its lifetime. Well done Reliable Education team!

In addition to the bus, each has a trailer with a high-output generator. You just can’t rely on electricity in SE Asia. These generators aren’t cheap to purchase outright either.

Generators

We also got to see prosthetic eyes being made and fitted.

Prosthetic eyes John Fawcett Foundation
This man is making adjustments to prosthetic eyes.
Fitment of Prosthetic Eyes
The Arlec light was a donation from another RE student previously (Well done ChrisO!)

The best part is being provided with the transparent 2018 balance sheets of the John Fawcett Foundation. We hear often about charities who have extensive administrative overheads. Not here! A little donation certainly goes a long way.

The next day

After staying another night at our hotel in Probolinggo, we were back for another day at the area hospital. It was time to see the patients get their eye patches removed.

Reliable Foundation Eye Patches Removed

This was an emotional time for both the patients and fellow Reliable Education students on the trip. For many months or years, these patients have been partially or completely blind and are now seeing again for the 1st time.

Whilst rarely speaking a word of English, you can tell that they are very appreciative of our efforts. Students would also provide gifts to the children including pencils, books, stickers and balloons.

This 2nd-day visit was shorter as we had to get back to Surabaya since some of us were flying out that evening. That said, we still had time to engage with those who help to continue John Fawcett’s work long after he has passed.

I asked Helmy who works with Gede (pronounced “G’day” and Gede spoke at the last Summit) what is the biggest JFF challenge right now. Their main one, of course, is the logistical challenges with 100x more patients than they have the funding and time for.

Another concern is their current HQ in Bali has a lease coming up for renewal. They are on the hunt for land to build a larger complex with in-house surgeries.

Most of the staff and volunteers present did speak some basic form of English so translations weren’t necessary. Also, we were provided lunch both days with vegetarian options.

Why take this tour

I believe everyone has their reasons to take a tour with the John Fawcett Foundation. Mine is the leverage of impact. Given that Indonesia is still a developing country, you can impact a dozen or so lives with just a small donation.

The counter-argument is that we should support people locally. I personally don’t see the world as a box, and instead, seek to help our neighbours out. Many people reading this have been to Bali where, through your tourist spend, you are helping these people move away from an impoverished past.

You essentially can:

  • See the impact of your John Fawcett Foundations donations first-hand
  • Be one of the very few people to see Rhino 1 (Bragging rights really)
  • Pause and reflect to remember just how lucky we are in the western world
  • Hang out for several days with fellow Reliable Education students
  • Be an advocate for others to do greater good in the world (ahem….)

One thing that I really like is the engagement with fellow students. You get to know people on a more personal level. Even Adam, Joe and Wayne have been on several tours in the past.

There is no prerequisite to come on this tour, apart from being a current RE student or friend of a student. You certainly don’t need to be live and selling, nor do you need to know anyone prior. You’ll have an introductory Zoom call prior to the tour when you’re at home first to get to know everyone.

Summary of Reliable Foundation

The comradery of the participants who all came from different parts of Australia (plus one from the US!) is a testament of the higher calibre that Reliable students have. After all, when you outlay $2,490 USD for this program, you’re pretty well serious about your journey and the impact that you can have on the world.

Small inconveniences aside, I really enjoyed my time on this tour and likely will come along for another one. I’ve realized how a little goes a long way in developing countries.

I also look forward to seeing Reliable Foundation partner with other charities to create a further impact on people’s lives. That said, even with 3 mobile eye clinics now in their fleet, JFF still lacks the resources to carry out their work at scale.

I hope to see you on a Reliable Foundation tour real soon.

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